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Capture Immediate Business Value with Incremental Investments in IIoT

by John Fryer

Hydrocarbon producers face extreme pressures to reduce operational costs and boost efficiency. This is easier said than done. Standing in the way are outdated operational technology (OT) infrastructures that run supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems, historians, and automation control systems at satellite facilities and remote pumping stations. Often installed decades ago, these systems gather potentially valuable data, but it’s painful or even impossible to extract it for high-level analysis.

Meanwhile, IT teams at these same energy firms are making huge strides with virtualization, connectivity, and data analytics. If OT upgrades continue to be stalled, energy producers are handcuffed from tapping into the power of the industrial internet of things (IIoT) technologies that are redefining the oil and gas industry. Linking machines, equipment, and sensors with advanced control systems and analytics is vital to propelling efficiency gains and unlocking business insights to drive growth.

What can you achieve as an intelligent, connected enterprise? Consider Columbia Pipeline Group (CPG) (recently acquired by TransCanada Corporation), an operator of nearly 15,000 miles of gas pipelines across the U.S. CPG upgraded its OT with fault-tolerant, SCADA systems that generate real-time operational data and business analytics. In the first year, CPG saved $2.3 million in maintenance and reductions in unplanned downtime and expects to run at 100% capacity with near-100% availability. Today, those savings are over $9.8 million.

How can you evolve your firm into an IIoT-enabled enterprise without pursuing a total upgrade right out of the gate? At Stratus, we recommend a step-by-step approach involving incremental investments in IIoT:

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Step 1: Begin at the Center

First, upgrade your control environment, such as level 2 supervisory control and level 3 operational and control infrastructure. This enables immediate gains in uptime performance and efficiency, while creating a foundation for incrementally upgrading distributed control systems throughout the plant and at remote locations. While data from level 1 process controllers and sensors remains unchanged, you still use that data for advanced analytics to improve operational and business planning.

Step 2: Expand Outward

Extending an intelligent, connected enterprise to individual machines throughout an operational infrastructure—including individual sensors, actuators and control valves—takes automation and predictive management to an entirely new level. Rather than collecting data every few seconds, your environment collects data almost continuously from hundreds of sensors and feeds it to analytics engines. Future upgrades to the level 1 basic control environment and level 0 infrastructures can unlock tremendous value through increased productivity and efficiency, and reduced unplanned downtime.

Regardless of your upgrade plans, a solid availability strategy is essential to capturing the full benefits of modernization. Replacing outdated PCs with virtual servers offers significant footprint reduction, streamlined diagnosis and repair, simplified provisioning of new applications, and reduced systems management workload, among other gains.

Despite the advantages, consolidating control applications on a single physical machine replaces multiple points of failure with a single point of failure, which can increase risk of unplanned downtime. This can be easily addressed with a fault-tolerant, always-on virtualized processing environment. Unlike traditional failure recovery, these fault-tolerant solutions prevent failure from occurring and loss of in-flight data. An uninterrupted stream of data is critical to IIoT, especially as the volume and value of data increases.

While change introduces risk, it’s essential to keep pace with intensifying demands on the hydrocarbon industry to increase efficiency and reduce costs. A thoughtful, incremental approach to upgrading automation and control infrastructure helps you reap the advantages of modernization while minimizing risk. Don’t wait. The sooner you take the first step, the sooner you will capture the compelling financial and competitive advantages of IIoT.

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