15 Disruptive Use Cases of RPA in Oil & Gas Industry

Nov 02, 2021
What is Automation in the Oil and Gas Industry?
Robotic Process Automation (RPA), also known as automation technology, is a set of digital technologies that enable autonomous orchestration of processes formerly accomplished with mechanical machinery-aided human effort. In the oil and gas (O&G) industry, RPA can power autonomous orchestration of processes on the field, in the back office, and even on shipping channels. As the energy sector reels from a fall in prices, rising pressure on the sustainability front, phases of labor shortages, and falling margins, energy companies, especially in the O&G sector, are set for success with automation-focused digital transformation in oil and gas industry.
Todd Wolfe
Todd Wolfe

Director - OT

Energy & Utilities Vertical


Sanjay Bajaj
Sanjay Bajaj

Former SVP & Global Delivery Leader



RPA Use Cases in Oil and Gas
Automation brings big promises in optimal operations, cost-effectiveness, better results on the bottom line. Oil and gas companies must note that RPA technology needs to be implemented along with a roadmap, where IoT network maturity, networking capabilities, and edge computing play a central role. However, complete digitization can help energy companies score big wins in 70% lesser engineering hours, 60% reduction in data interpretation time, 40% lower maintenance costs, up to 5% more production, and 30% faster delivery. Here are the top 15 use cases of automation in the oil and gas industry that enable leading companies to turn those numbers into reality.
#1 Rig and Well Drilling Automation
Well planning and construction, which typically accounts for 40-70% of an O&G company’s CAPEX, can be turned into a differentiating factor with automation. Currently, offshore rigs require 100 full-time employees on board. With automation of the drilling process, which consists of hazardous tasks like drill pipe lifting, pressure drilling, and drill string assembly, and others that call for a high degree of precision, such as well fracking — O&G companies can orchestrate the entire well drilling and rig construction process with 10-15 FTEs.
Moreover, by injecting intelligence into automation-based platforms, geospatial data, surveys, and flow controls can be internalized with exploration analytics toolsets to automate the various steps associated with the well-planning process. In a mature state, drilling workflows are completely digitized using submersibles, connected sensors controlling the machinery, and interfaced with tablets and augmented reality.
#2 Remote Monitoring
The oil and gas industry is an asset-intensive one, where mission-critical systems that track environmental data points such as temperature, pressure, flow rate, motor torque, tank levels, and amperage must be monitored 24x7. Added to this are situations that call for instant attention - such as compressor failures, power outages, high tank levels, or low water pressure.
Where monitoring these variables calls for round-the-clock human presence, callout devices, and PLC alarms, and onsite drones can automate the monitoring process and eliminate the need for keeping human eyes fixated on the screens and machinery to avoid expensive downtime. Moreover, monitoring automation brings zero error and negligence to onsite operations, increasing uptime and reducing costly workforce hours.
#3 Field Operations Automation
Field operations in the oil and gas industry, when running on the manual mode, are powered by field workers that can spend only 25% of their time on the target activities. However, with advances in wireless networking and fiber connectivity, installation of fixed cameras, and land and sub-sea robotics, field operations can be automated to identify troubled and sub-optimally running components and virtually eliminate inspection time.
Moreover, augmented microwave imaging and connected worker platforms are also being leveraged to automate reporting and communication in field operations. At high maturity, field operations automation is powered by fully connected assets, augmented with observability solutions, and conditionally optimized with digital twin technology.
15 Disruptive Use Cases of RPA in Oil & Gas Industry
#4 Oil and Gas Production Optimization
Production optimization in the oil and gas industry accounts for over $50 bn of the total value. However, production automation and optimization consist of varying environmental conditions. With current networking technology, a major chunk of the production process - such as pressure reduction in the transfer line, nodal analysis, inflow performance analysis, digital separation optimization, and sub-surface equipment handling can be automated and integrated with alerting systems for highly optimal production.
Automated processes, gas lift insights, flow rate variables, and production analytics can be integrated into the operators’ digital platform to improve their decision-making while empowering them with key controls for real-time intervention. Lastly, production automation also enables operators to run the plants and minimum allowable rates during challenging times when demand stoops, thereby increasing the profitability of production operations in the long run.
#5 Logistics and Fleet Management
Delivery logistics account for ~15% of total production costs for oil and gas companies. Optimal logistics operations are critical for achieving industry-leading paradigms such as just-in-time delivery of drilling equipment, minimal emission levels from trucks, optimized water-hauling, and remote material tracking post-purchase of equipment.
These paradigms are activated by end-to-end connected logistics, powered by automated fleet management and complete visibility into all the moving parts of the fleet. Logistics automation can also reduce the cost of delivery vehicle service by 20%, dropping the total cost of materials by 2%, representing a 2-3% overall reduction in cost per BOE.
#6 Regulatory Compliance
The oil and gas industry is heavily regulated, and sustainability-oriented directives will only take the costs of violations higher than before. With some oil and gas companies paying nearly $30 bn in fines, compliance automation can retrospectively safeguard O&G operations by creating audit traceability and guard-railing operations with rules-based process guidelines.
From programming logic that aligns business and production processes to compliance imperatives to report generation automation, compliance automation can bring end-to-end operations of upstream, midstream, and downstream arms of O&G companies to the limelight, thereby helping avoid costly fines and eliminating incidences of violation which cost reputation in addition to a negative impact on the bottom line.
Modern compliance software is also loaded with carbon tracking features that can also help companies adhere to stringent emission guidelines and achieve sustainable operations in the process.
#7 Back-office automation
With the pandemic underlining the fragility of physical work models, offloading back-office operations onto a remote-ready platform that a digital workforce can operate is critical in finding the agility needed for continuous operations. These tasks include marketing and sales processes, HR processes like onboarding, payroll management, invoice reconciliations, and operational metrics reporting.
By integrating process metrics into persona-focused virtual work platforms, back-office automation can reduce the costs associated with a workforce-intensive unit in the oil and gas industry and improve the employee experience and reduce attrition rates.
15 Disruptive Use Cases of RPA in Oil & Gas Industry
#8 Data, Analytics, and Reporting
With a vast amount of structured data generated from SCADA systems, surface and sub-surface process control data, and time-series production data, analytics automation can inject efficiency gains into the production process, refinery efficiency and ultimately improve the profitability of overall operations. However, reporting processes are currently being run in manual mode, and extracting data from disparate systems to collate them in one place brings redundancy into an otherwise automatable process.
Reporting automation is an easy-to-implement use case that can be leveraged to generate customized reports for various stakeholders at regular intervals, ultimately bringing learnings and insights into action in the oil and gas industry.
#9 Workplace Safety
The oil and gas industry is replete with high-risk processes where manual intervention leads to hazardous incidents even in the most controlled and monitored environments. However, automation of these high-risk processes in the rig construction, drilling, and fracking stages can help eliminate the need for human intervention.
In addition, connected wearable health devices and cameras, and drones augmented with image recognition technology can be leveraged to improve workplace safety by alarming in case of hazards. Environmental monitoring solutions can alert onsite employees proactively to avoid hazards before they occur.
#10 Pricing
With the demand for oil and natural gas peaking in 2030 and reducing after that, the need for maximizing gains on each barrel has become critical. However, a lack of pricing guidelines during deals and complex contractual arrangements render legacy cost + margin - based pricing models ineffective. However, by using strategic price management tools powered by real-time market variables and delivery of deal-specific price guidance and incentive pitches to sales staff, oil and gas companies can achieve over 2% higher annual returns.
Such toolsets also internalize mix analysis, rationalize input costs across multiple parties, thereby securing the pricing perimeters within profitable ranges, even when the markets fluctuate and demand levels waver unpredictably.
#11 Order Processing
Most oil and gas companies are characterized by siloed operations when it comes to ordering fulfillment. What complicates order management processes further is that paper-based processes create the need for multiple back-and-forths to confirm production levels, volume commitments across deals, and a healthy flow within the downstream supply chain.
However, most tasks within these processes lend themselves well to automated execution through RPA bots - for example, order capture, billing, credit/debt management, shipment order accuracy, and shipment documentation and status tracking can be completely automated, thereby eliminating inaccurate orders, reducing costs, near-complete transaction accuracy, and nearly 40% productivity gains.
#12 Pipeline Monitoring and Surveillance
Gas pipeline construction and maintenance projects can often turn into a cost black-hole when regular field visits and inspections call for multiple trips and the inability to respond to fast compounds losses. However, IoT devices tethered via LPWAN networking can deliver real-time asset data such as cracks, wall thickness, flow rates, and external data such as soil pH, resistivity, humidity, and moisture levels to rules-configured monitoring systems.
Armed with real-time status of the pipelines and automated monitoring and maintenance triggers, zero inspection trips, and instantaneous response to incidents can deliver big savings for downstream oil and gas players.
#13 Lease Record Management
In the oil and gas industry, most documents still exist on paper. Because these documents are digitized to add up to unstructured data ultimately, automated document management systems are a must-have to keep track of lease termination, renewals, land files, property files and contracts outlining terms of joint ventures, and other critical documents. Otherwise, back-office workers end up under paperwork, and legal expenses can hamper an otherwise profitable venture.
Automated lease record management is all the more critical for global players with operations spanning across multiple geographies and legislations, where leases must be digitized to avoid legal conflicts and interruptions to operations.
#14 Asset Management
Upstream and mid-stream oil and gas companies rely on thousands of expensive assets in orchestrating production, refining, and transportation. As a result, a comprehensive asset management platform that automates and standardizes acquisition, operation, maintenance, and decommissioning of assets with complete visibility across multiple sites is a key element of operational excellence, making the operations resistant to market volatility improving profitability.
Asset management automation platforms also integrate with predictive maintenance solutions, bring seamless asset management that results in enhanced performance, and maximize the value of capital expenditures for O&G businesses.
#15 Procure to Pay Automation
Because the oil and gas industry brings unique constraints in the Procure-to-Pay cycle, standardization is central in P2P automation. The Petroleum Industry Data Exchange standards enable a streamlined exchange of technical data points that enable O&G companies to automate their P2P processes, injecting efficiency in the process while reducing invoice clearing times and backlogs.
P2P excellence is also critical for maintaining cost competitiveness, and automation can bring promising results while improving profitability for upstream, midstream, and downstream players.
The oil and gas industry is at a tipping point, and automation brings big promises in the form of potential value untapped in the industry. Moreover, automation releases operations from heavy reliance on human intervention and forms a stepping stone to enabling remote operations for a digital workforce. The next few years will be decisive in demarcating the leaders, and automation will make early adopters a strong contender, especially as it brings savings and cost-competitiveness to an industry combating pricing pressures.
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