Digital technology is changing the industry

Dec 23, 2018
4 min read
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Simon Evans, director of Digital Engineering at SNC-Lavalin speaks about the what the future may hold for the industry as greater use is made of emerging technologies such as automation and artificial intelligence


SNC-Lavalin is one of the pioneers embrace digital technology, combining technological skills with traditional engineering   expertise, to create long-term value and drive operational excellence for its clients who represent major upstream, midstream and downstream oil and gas projects worldwide. Simon Evans, Director of Digital Engineering talks about the company’s digital approach, including the ‘digital twin’ concept and use of immersive technology.

What are the most important innovations in the field of digital engineering currently taking place?

Data reuse is a key theme. The integration of digital technologies across the design- build-operate lifecycle will enable us to mine and analyse historic and current project data to inform and design future projects and improve the management of assets. Tools such as automated parametric design, drones for surveying and inspection, and virtual and augmented reality are changing how we deliver projects to our clients.

How will the technology evolve in the next five and 10 years?

Digitalisation is radically changing how companies operate. Over the next decade, we will see a number of technology advances in automation, data analytics and design, driven by the underlying need to reduce operating costs and improve efficiency by optimising and standardising production methodologies.

With advances in sensors and automation, it is likely that all high-hazard sites will be fully de-manned during normal operations by 2030. Standardised design will mean we see fully IoT enabled, automated facilities, with data analytics providing optimised production and uptime. Ultimately, perhaps by 2050, exploration, development and interventions will be completed remotely.

Machine learning and artificial intelligence will help us generate insights that inform field execution, enabling us to produce designs rapidly and also shift more of the work into the design part of a project, which both reduces cost and de-risk the construction.

What innovations do you think will most benefit the oil and gas sector?

The digital twin approach, wherein you use digital scanning to create a highly accurate 3D environment of an asset through data capture, enables an asset owner to leverage its data to create and sustain value across a full lifecycle. Used on greenfield projects it allows you to integrate data into a model at the outset that embeds efficiency and productivity gains into the ongoing operation of the facility.

Efficiently cracking the digital twin for brownfield sites would deliver considerable value to asset owners. The missing link in the chain is converting geometric data into CAD. The technology industry  is  investing to address this, and have made significant progress including using image recognition and ML, though it is probably  more  than two years from being fully automated.

How innovative are companies in the sector, especially in comparison with other energy providers (including oil, nuclear and renewables)?

Gas companies were not hit by price changes as dramatically as the oil majors and thus haven’t been forced into seeking the same levels of innovation to maintain operations efficiently; but now we’re starting to see initiatives aimed at driving operational efficiency. Digitalisation has the potential to reduce costs by up to 30 per cent, so people are certainly seeking advantage here. Speaking generally, there is much innovation in renewables driven by lower budgets in it, and tighter margins. SNC-Lavalin and Atkins has and continues to be involved in some large innovations across a number of sectors. One example: we were the first company to successfully fly a drone over a nuclear power station (Dungeness, in the UK) with all the CAA approvals.

Will new levels of training be necessary to equip industry professionals to emerging technology?

Absolutely. “Digitalisation” requires a cultural shift and training is key to ensuring the adoption of emerging technologies. Additionally, there will also be a change in the makeup of workforces to include more data analysists and digital engineers.