The Essential Guide: How to Transform Oil & Gas Industry with Robotics

Feb 04, 2022
Energy and Resources | 10 min READ
Robotics In Oil and Gas Industry
While brands like Amazon and Google have been at the forefront of automation and adoption of newer technologies creeping in across B2B and B2C sectors, the oil and gas industry, and the energy sector as a whole, has largely not been a part of such a significant transformation.
Todd Wolfe
Todd Wolfe

Director - OT

Energy & Utilities Vertical


But this is fast changing. The executives in this sector realize the need to teach modern advancements and how those can contribute to the future of net-zero emissions and a sustainable world for everyone to thrive in. It would also push the envelope regarding optimizing operational costs, improving efficiency across the board, and improving profit margins.
It is why we are seeing an increasing number of companies in the oil and gas industry open to adopting robotics to help them in many ways. The period when the coronavirus first hit our shores further propelled the usage of robots and IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things). The landscape has been in an evolving phase ever since.
This article discusses the use cases of robotics in the oil and gas industry and its benefit.
Market Trends
Well, we could be pragmatic and say that the situation is satisfactory. But in reality, we all know that a lot is going on in the oil and gas industry, and the challenges it presents are far more significant than experienced in the last few decades.
Globally, we are experiencing onshore and offshore fields depletion at record levels. It has forced key players to dig deeper and try and explore deep-water and ultra-deepwater offshore areas. These present more significant challenges due to their extreme, hostile, and difficult-to-access terrain largely unknown to human existence.
On the bright side, 2021 saw a record recovery, with oil prices touching their six-year highs. But the next few years are strictly for reinventing and transformation where brands should look to teach technological advancement to their advantage and find newer ways to optimize their resources and processes.
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Application of Robotics in Offshore Oil and Gas Industry
We can't gauge all the possible robotics applications in the offshore oil and gas industry, but we would try to sum up all those already in the play or are expected to go live soon.
Offshore installations pose many challenges for human operators due to their inherent nature. The unfriendly, explosive, and often toxic ambiance makes it difficult for key oil & gas players to leverage human resources for optimum results. It is where robotics come in.
Industry 4.0 presents a unique world of exciting IT and OT convergence opportunities to ensure high profitability and advanced preventive maintenance. Opportunities like AR and VR used for overhauling the oil and gas industry are merely the beginning of it all, and we can expect further inroads.
The Essential Guide: How to Transform Oil & Gas Industry with Robotics
Here are the primary applications of robotics across offshore oil and gas operation types –
Upstream Oil and Gas
The upstream oil sector, also known as the exploration and production sector, primarily caters to the oil and gas industry's search for recovery and production needs. Here, the brands primarily operate for searching for oil and gas fields.
Once they find the wells or figure out a chance, they start the drilling process to recover and safely extract the oil or gas. The inculcation of robotics here would enable players to undertake automated drilling without the need for continued human interference. In addition, industrial robots can also be used for conducting seismic surveys that would help reduce the chances of causing a permanent impact on the existing geological structure while accurately figuring out the areas where they are more likely to find what they need.
For example, key players can employ ROVs (remotely operated vehicles) that come with a video camera, lights, and artificial arms, measure the alignment and penetration of the suction anchor of the drillship and feed it into the system for accurate results.
Midstream Oil and Gas
The midstream oil and gas sector primarily deals with the processing, transporting, and storing of found resources. It is the connecting point that connects the supply of the oil industry to its demand. Given the increased instances of oil spills causing havoc in the marine ecosystem, the usage of robotics can be a boon. With robots taking over, midstream inspection and maintenance can be efficiently handled with the help of machines and AI. In addition, it would also help design, set up, and undertake efficient remote monitoring of resources.
Furthermore, robotics can also periodically track the state of aging infrastructure requiring regular inspection and allows brands to be proactive and prevent any significant hazards.
If any issue occurs, such as blockage, corrosion, or leakage, inspection robots or UAVs (uncrewed aerial vehicles) and UUVs (crewless underwater vehicles) can be deployed to help resolve issues seamlessly.
Downstream Oil and Gas
The downstream oil and gas sector primarily deals in refining and distribution processes of crude oil and natural gas and its by-products, including LPG and jet fuel. It refers to offshore areas that are almost too difficult for humans to reach and survive. Here, robotics can contribute to material handling and automated refuelling without any procedure lapses.
In addition, the inculcation of AUVs (Autonomous Underwater Vehicles), the torpedo-shaped machines that work on their own and can cover a depth of up to 6000 meters, is further helping in improving integrity management, repair, and maintenance of machines engaged in downstream operations.
The Essential Guide: How to Transform Oil & Gas Industry with Robotics
Benefits of Robotics in the Oil and Gas Industry
As per a report by Robotics Tomorrow, the annual robotics revenue can grow between 15% and 20% up to 2028. Two of the key drivers behind this growth would be flexibility and innovation. The oil industry is in the same line and requires significant transformation to keep pace with the other sectors and remain relevant.
In the 1980s, the oil and gas industry first adopted digital technologies. The focus was to improve their understanding of reservoir resource and production potential, boost marginal operational efficiencies, and improve health and safety factors. Unfortunately, even though much data was being produced, the industry barely did anything with it until the last few years.
The Essential Guide: How to Transform Oil & Gas Industry with Robotics
Now that the transformation is finally happening, here are five top perceivable benefits from the inculcation of robotics in the oil and gas industry -
Safer Rigs
On 6th July 1988, an incident shook the entire oil and gas industry. Yes, we are talking about Piper Alpha, an event that claimed 167 lives and destroyed a 14,000-tonne oil rig. While it remains one of the deadliest offshore oil rig calamities, robotics can help ensure that we minimize the chances of any such unwanted occurrences tormenting our lives again.
One way to ensure safer rigs is by allowing automation to be an integral part of the system. Given that offshore rigs do not require high flexibility, hard automation would be a safer bet.
Today, more and more manufacturers are leveraging their oil rigging structures by inculcating automated pipe-handling and tripping systems along with ADC (autonomous drilling control) systems, which eliminate continuous human intervention, thereby reducing the risk of lapses. In addition, it has allowed humans to visit the site once or twice a year and let the rig operate independently.
Higher Cost Savings
Offshore oil rigs have always suffered from higher costs because of many reasons, such as inclement weather, ensuring people working are safe and protected, and the presence of an emergency solution that can help them escape unscathed during an emergency.
So, if you minimize human presence in offshore rigs, we will already experience a significant cost reduction. While robotics help in achieving it, there are more ways it helps reduce cost costs.
With the help of AI baked into these rigs, they use complex algorithms to map well, perform calculations, and make informed decisions, allowing them to drill longer without making costly mistakes. In addition, the ability to undertake real-time monitoring has enabled eliminate issues with manual handlings, such as production errors and concentration lapse.
Improved Operational Efficiency
In a perfect world, it should be possible for any third-party vendor to make a good algorithm on how to drill efficiently and how to do different work processes in the well. And it is happening quite a lot," says Per Ivar Halleland, Senior Expert, DNV GL.
In its present form, robotics do not necessarily put the best driller to shame, but given the AI and ML chops at play, these machines are expected to learn fast and not repeat their mistakes. It would give them an edge in the long run. In addition, robotics-infused rigs are better at spotting data inconsistencies and potential shortcomings, allowing them to be proactive and take the requisite action before it is too late. It contributes to improved operational efficiency for the oil and gas industry players.
Frequent and Safer Inspection
The oil and gas industry uses underwater robots with an underwater docking system. These machines are capable of reaching areas that humans presently can only imagine. Plus, these are modular and come equipped with Ethernet connectivity, enabling them to maintain strong signals.
These have a self-contained battery system capable of operating without any mothership and also perform their routine inspection without harming the marine ecosystem. Furthermore, given the presence of underwater robots, rig handlers can be proactive and undertake frequent inspections, ensuring optimum safety and fewer breakdowns.
Improved Data Generation
Improved data and reports would be essential if the oil and gas industry wants to evolve successfully and undertake the steep transformation journey. While traditional methods, such as satellites, ROVs, and support ships, have worked amicably well, there is a need to look beyond them as they suffer from a myriad of bottlenecks.
With robotics, brands can now undertake advanced data analytics with the help of real-time data solutions, such as METOC (meteorology/oceanography), loss detection, and more, without incurring additional costs. These can propel them to develop advanced solutions that are sustainable and better equipped to handle the challenges that come their way.
Real-life Examples of Robotics in the Oil and Gas Industry
Now that we have discussed the probable applications and benefits of robotics in the oil and gas industry let us look at some real-life examples of how brands have been able to use robots for their offshore endeavors -
Spot From Boston Dynamics
Spot, a quadruped robot from Boston Dynamics, has been deployed once in the Norwegian Sea (Skarv FPSO) and another time in the deep-water Gulf of Mexico for a plethora of purposes. The former collected sensory readings, scans, and images and seamlessly shared them to the user's network. The latter was used as a substitute for human beings and was deployed in challenging offshore sites where it scanned for methane, identified potential leaks in deep water, and allowed the team to read gauges.
Taurob Inspector from Equinor and the Oil and Gas Technology Centre in Aberdeen
Another fantastic example of robotics in the oil and gas industry would be the Taurob Inspector created by Equinor and the Oil and Gas Technology Centre in Aberdeen in a joint partnership with ARGOS. The phenomenal piece of creation can take UHD images and videos, record sound, gather data, and even detect gas leaks. It has been tested at the Shetland gas plant, where it passed with flying colors, and the brands further want to deploy the solution at their offshore facilities.
Inspection Robots by Solinas Integrity
Solinas Integrity, an Indian startup, developed a fleet of robots that could inspect flow rates, help in pigging, and undertake pipe integrity assessments without taking a toll on structural safety. Its product line-up included -
  • iPig, an inspection robot for assessing oil and gas pipelines,
  • SEPoy for tank inspection,
  • iGlobus for detecting oil and gas pipeline leaks, and
  • Endobot for advanced leakage detection.
Future of Oil and Gas Industry
While it was a slow starter, robotic technology in the oil and gas industry has taken giant strides in the last few years. While what we see is already exciting, the results are far from complete and will require a lot of improvements across the board. It is safe to assume that the industry presents its unique opportunities, but there is a need to tweak the end products to ensure that they can cater to them in the best possible manner.
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