A unique challenge faced by the Midstream Industry is that most critical assets are remote and often unstaffed. For pipelines, the edge has a variable definition and is very dependent on the point of operation. With a challenging network, midstream companies seek strategies to be more competitive, improve production, and drive down unit costs. Converting real-time data into actionable information at the device level is driving adoption of digitalization solutions like Edge Computing.
“What gets measured gets done”W. Edwards Deming
The Edge is Redefining Data Management
Edge Computing is the latest innovation restructuring data-management strategy. According to a recent Gartner report, the majority of new data will be generated at the asset (device) level where its usefulness is not constrained by scale or capacity limits. Edge computing enables processing at or near the point of origin, from where the data is sent on-premise or to the cloud for analysis and management.
“75% of data will be created and processed outside the data center or cloud by 2022, up from 10%.”Gartner
Where the Information is and How to Use it
For midstream companies, all assets are remote and function in open environments. Edge computing is a physical-digital-physical cycle in which data is collected by physical sensors, analyzed digitally, and can automatically result in changes to physical equipment.1 Edge computing provides optimization/digital-automation solutions for operations that are beyond the data center and have no on-site staff.
Real-time responses at the device level are possible through edge platforms. However, data integrity becomes extremely important when implementing corrective actions. In addition, technology selection (hardware, software and monitoring devices) is a critical design point because in midstream operations, control/monitoring systems are deployed independently, without manual oversight.
Basics to Building a Sustainable Edge Computing Platform
Midstream companies have many options in designing their digitalization and Edge Computing architectures. Digitalization projects require a future-proof strategy that addresses present needs and allows room to expand with new developments. For long-term sustainability, the plan should be a living approach that balances operational requirements within manageable guidelines.2
Remote operations have different needs than centralized facilities and function without on-site staff and with limited assistance from IT. Consequently, the reliability of the platform is critical to protect data quality and to ensure continuous operations. The edge platforms should be simple, autonomous and secure:
Simple. New advancements in hardware and software are occurring at faster rates. A simple platform design should have a “future-proof” architecture and accommodate new advancements (hardware and software). Changes are constant conditions in the digital transformation revolution. Especially for pipelines, the flexibility to deploy software patches and updates quickly across several sites is a huge value consideration.
Autonomous. Midstream operations and assets are located thousands of miles apart. The edge architecture must be reliable and rugged to continuously operate in open environments. “Zero touch” technology enables monitoring and controlling remote assets without on-site staff and IT personnel.
Secure. As more field assets are connected, security and cyber-attack prevention are major design criteria. Edge Computing platforms should have redundant architectures to minimize interruptions and data losses due to equipment failures or malfunctions.
IIoT and Digital Transformation are major disruptors to how companies operate and manage business. But with forward-looking plans and a roadmap to guide the integration of Edge Computing technology, early adopters can increase flexibility and agility, weathering future market shifts with confidence.
Literature Cited1Kadis, J. “Seven trends help deliver improved reliability,” Reliability ehandbook: Raise your Plant’s level of Reliability, Chemical Processing, July 2020.
2Bittman, T. et al, “How to overcome four major challenges in edge computing”, November 4, 2019, Gartner.com.
To read more about how to build an industrial digitalization strategy to remain profitable and sustainable, download Winning at the edge: A new frontier for pipeline management.