New SCADA Systems Help Operators Fulfill Potential of the Digital Oil Field

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Supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems are taking on a bigger and more business-critical role as oil and gas producers modernize their operations in the digital oil field.

The systems are no longer mere operations-monitoring tools that produce large volumes of data in static displays. Instead, modern SCADA systems can collect production data from all operation data sources, including Information Technology (IT)- level databases, and contextualize and present those data to workers in real time as meaningful, actionable information. Users can monitor operations at whatever level is most relevant, and dive deeper into production or asset data to investigate specific issues.

Modern SCADA systems can seamlessly integrate with a producer’s existing infrastructure, while also accommodating the growing number of industrial Internet of Things devices and other new technologies being adopted in oil and gas production.

For example, modern SCADA systems can integrate new data concentrators that can communicate on multiple networks and connect to multiple vendors’ technologies. They also can support edge-computing devices, which collect and analyze data closer to their source. And these systems can support new protocols, such as Message Queuing Telemetry Transport, which oil and gas operators are increasingly adopting as a means for delivering data across their operations.

Delivering Results Today

Many oil and gas companies already are reaping the benefits of modern SCADA systems. One such company is an operator with large onshore operations that span multiple fields. The company lacked real-time visibility into its operations and was hindered by multiple data silos that could result in missing or poor-quality data. These data-related challenges resulted in staff spending 50% of its time manually extracting, manipulating, and verifying data to make decisions.

To improve its data integrity and improve efficiencies, the company shifted to ConnectedProduction, a Rockwell Automation architecture with multiple technologies for digitizing the oil field. The architecture includes a systemwide production-intelligence layer that integrates all data sources into a single ecosystem and features a modern SCADA system with dynamic dashboards and reporting.

Workers can use the SCADA system to view high-level production summaries and identify and drill down into issues encompassed by the summaries. The system can also send notifications to workers through their mobile devices as needed and supports predictive analytics to anticipate and head off downtime issues. The system is able to auto-discover new assets on the architecture, which could help to minimize the implementation time for a planned expansion of wells in the company’s operations.

Better Analytics To Drive Decisions

A modern SCADA system has one of the most important roles to play in implementing a digital oil field by simultaneously supporting multiple best-in-class analytics from a variety of vendors and allowing the right analytics solutions to be applied to achieve key business goals. Solutions could range from predictive analytics for improving uptime to model-based analytics for monitoring and optimizing production.

Operators can use these capabilities to monitor information that is relevant to their role, make needed quick decisions, and improve asset performance to operate at peak efficiency and on target.

At the highest analytics level, users can view their entire operations on a single dashboard. This provides real-time, dynamic key performance indicators (KPIs) vs. targets, and a priority-ranked list of required actions to meet business goals. In addition, current and past performance can be compared. Operators can drill deep into each site, viewing well-pad performance (Fig. 1), and drill deeper into well or pump performance.

Rod-pump control analytics, for example, can use downhole card information to provide insights into the downhole conditions and identify if equipment is running optimally and if intervention is required. Plunger-lift analytics are retrieved from the field and displayed as a timeline to indicate well performance and influence key operator decisions in areas such as pressure management. Gas-lift analytics can help operators determine if gas injection adjustments are necessary and identify the proper ratio of injected gas to oil.

A modern SCADA system can deliver information live, with constant updates. The result is a far more dynamic decision-making setting than is possible with traditional systems that provide less timely information and minimal opportunity for digging deeply into data. For example, a production or maintenance supervisor could pull up a dashboard each morning that shows the key wells and equipment that need servicing that day. The need to compile and aggregate data reports from emails and Excel exports is eliminated, which saves hours of work daily.

Fig. 1—Well-pad performance is shown on a dashboard that allows deeper inquiry into individual well or pump performance. Source: Rockwell Automation.

Expanded Visualization

Advances in SCADA technologies are helping improve not only what information workers see, but also how and where they see it. Modern SCADA systems allow workers to view information from more sources and on more devices. The systems also can significantly reduce the amount of time workers spend manipulating data to produce the information they need.

Some companies report having production employees spend up to 50% of their time manually managing data. This can include collecting data from multiple sources, such as spreadsheets, PDF files, and emails, and aggregating it in a single place.

A modern SCADA system automates these processes. It seamlessly collects, combines, and contextualizes data from multiple sources into text or graphical information on flexible dashboards. This can save significant time—and frustrations—over manual data-management processes and provide information in a more intuitive, easy-to-understand format.

The system dashboards can easily be designed and customized for each individual user, depending on the type of information and viewing format needed. An executive or operations manager could use dashboards that display production-target information for all sites, while an operator could have a dashboard that relays information for one specific site or asset type. Dashboards also can be customized for anyone who has remote access to the SCADA system, such as a centralized expert or support provider.

Modern SCADA systems also take advantage of responsive design. Dashboards will automatically adjust to a worker’s screen size and orientation, such as a computer screen, tablet, or smartphone, to provide the visualization that is right for each user.

Greater Ease of Use

SCADA systems have historically been complex technologies to maintain and modify. However, modern systems are scalable and flexible. They can easily be adapted to operators’ needs, without intervention from vendors or specialized personnel, and be seamlessly integrated with new or legacy technologies.

For example, oil and gas production sites are constantly changing. Companies often need to modify or replace processing equipment or bring in new technologies. These changes can be time-consuming and require producers to make corresponding changes in their SCADA systems. Failure to keep up with these changes can erode a producer’s data integrity.

To reduce the time needed for these changes and help protect data integrity, modern SCADA systems can use auto-discovery capabilities that enable the system to recognize new devices automatically and walk users through the configuration process. New control screens and faceplates for the devices can be automatically generated and added to existing dashboards, reports, and KPIs. Should a device go down, the system can use quality attributes to flag potential instances of poor-quality data.

Among the beneficiaries of modern SCADA systems are maintenance technicians, who to reduce downtime on gas lift compressors, for example, can go into a dashboard, select gas compressors from a designated field, and begin viewing reports on their performance.

The modern systems also allow users to create automated workflows, which could include generating an alarm under specified conditions or automatically creating a business system work order if predefined events occur. In addition, users can make content annotations, such as leaving a comment in the system to inform operators about a faulting piece of equipment or providing detailed instructions to respond to an alarm.

Tap Digital Oil Field Potential

There are concerns that accompany the adoption of modern SCADA systems and other ConnectedProduction technologies, chiefly about security. Only a comprehensive security approach can protect a company’s intellectual property, productivity, people, and other assets.

These concerns are important but should not be a roadblock to implementing a new SCADA system. If established industry best practices are followed, a modern SCADA system can give companies the visualization and analysis they need to make the most of new and legacy technologies and unlock the many opportunities for improvement awaiting within the digital oil field.

New SCADA Systems Help Operators Fulfill Potential of the Digital Oil Field

Andy Weatherhead and Zack Munk, Rockwell Automation

18 September 2017


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