Interview: Emerson's energetic emergence
From being one of the initial Western technology service providers to the regional oil and gas industry, to opening a solutions and education centre in Dubai, Emerson Process Management's Middle East growth has been driven by innovation and localisation
Emerson Process Management is synonymous with energy. The organisation has been present in the Middle East since the 1970s and its growth has mirrored that of the region as a whole. Having been one of the few Western companies to start out in Saudi Arabia during the oil boom years, the company set up its regional base in Dubai in 1992, and is now one of the biggest technology services providers serving the oil and gas industry.
The American company’s emissary in the Middle East and Africa is convinced that Emerson possesses two strengths that separate it from its multitude of competitors: a decades-long presence enhanced by a strong localisation strategy, and a focus on providing effective technological solutions through innovation.
“The number one factor that makes Emerson different from the industry is our presence here. Emerson really prides itself on local manufacturing and local organisation,” Dave Tredinnick, president – MEA at Emerson Process Management, explains during an exclusive interview. “Wherever we operate, we try to localise quite aggressively, whether that’s in Nigeria or in Saudi Arabia.”
“I think the second real difference is that Emerson is a real leader in technology. Technology not for technology’s sake, but technology to really address customer pains,” the experienced executive says. “We really try to understand the challenges that the industry is facing today. And today’s environment is a perfect example of that, with low oil prices and the various other challenges being faced in the MEA area.”
Having been entrenched in the region for longer than most of its industry peers, Emerson boasts of providing “end-to-end solutions” to an impressive list of oil and gas clientele that includes the likes of Saudi Aramco, ADNOC, the Kuwait Oil Company, PDO and Qatargas.
Tredinnick, who claims that Emerson Process Management is “the world’s leader in pipeline management and fiscal measurement”, goes on to explain precisely how, at every stage of upstream operations, Emerson serves its customers: “If we look at the oil and gas segment, we deliver everything for downhole – that would come around, for example, modelling of the reservoir itself, or downhole gauges. When we get to the surface area, around the wellheads, we do things like choke valve control. These telemetry units sit around the wellhead and allow operators, thousands of kilometres away, to control the flow out of the reservoir. And we can do real-time, multi-phase measurement at the wellhead.”
He continues: “If you think about a reservoir where, in certain areas, you’ve got a high flow and you’ve got water breakthrough, you need to be able to see that in near real-time. You need to feed that back into the model, that you have water breakthrough, and reduce flow out of those specific wells, because when you’re processing oil with water, it takes more energy to separate it out. And then, typically, you’ve got to treat that water.
“All of that just adds costs without much value for the oil producer. It’s that kind of solution delivery that we’re able to bring to our customers, which our competitors can’t attain.”
Emerson’s trademarked products, catering to the oil and gas sector, have been taking the market by storm, and the company strives to make significant investments to continue developing cutting-edge products and technologies. Moreover, according to Tredinnick, the company’s growth strategy also hinges on making acquisitions – inducting firms that add value to the company’s oil and gas offering. Emerson Process Management made the most recent addition to its portfolio at the beginning of the year, when it acquired a US-based pipeline management company called ESI.
‘Innovation’ is a word that is used frivolously these days, but Tredinnick stresses that it lies at the very heart of Emerson’s oil and gas business. The company’s MEA chief talks about an ICT-driven concept that Emerson has mastered – an automation technique that he claims is transforming the operations of the company’s upstream customers.
He explains: “‘Pervasive sensing’ is a term that Emerson has really developed. We hear a lot about the Internet of Things (IoT), or the Industrial IoT, or Big Data. The information originates somewhere, and pervasive sensing is really all about that. It’s looking at, for example, wireless technologies that we’ve delivered over the last five, six, seven or eight years, for managing pressure and temperature levels for discreet input and output. These are low-cost devices, with very low installation costs.”
Trednnick further elaborates: “Typically, if you install an instrument, 80% of the cost is incurred in the installation, the cabling, the junction boxes, the marshalling area, and all the work that goes into that. This technology, [pervasive sensing] really reduces installation costs by 80%.
“It lets you get at things that, in the past, were prohibitively expensive – being able to measure, for example, steam traps; being able to see when a steam trap has failed and you’re wasting energy; being able to measure an alarm when they release through a pressure relief valve,” he continues.
“In a liquid application, you may be dumping product into the environment. Think about if you’re in a gas plant and there’s a high pressure situation. If the valve blows, in some of the gas plants in this region, it could be deadly because of the amount of sulphur.”
Emerson’s pervasive sensing technology is, in essence, about gathering and processing a trove of information and data in order to transmit it to operators to help them make informed and well-calculated decisions based on the health of the on-field equipment.
Tredinnick cites another example to illustrate his point: “In a plant, typically you have assets that are very critical – turbines, compressors – and for years there have been devices on those that will alert you when there is a potential problem. You’re measuring vibration, you’re measuring temperature. And yet, if you go down below that class, to class II or III devices like less critical pumps, fans, rotating equipment, maybe associated with conveyors, it’s been very difficult to justify instrumenting those.
“Today, with wireless technology, we can get to those devices quickly and provide that information back to operators for the maintenance of those resources, so they can take action before there are catastrophic failures.”
Emerson Process Management has been actively trading in pervasive sensing technology for the last five years, helping clients accurately monitor and manage the health of their assets. To date, multiple operators have implemented this innovative concept in their oilfields, and numerous wells have been automated through this technology.
One of the prime benefits of this technology is that it promises to accelerate operations, offering users significant time savings of between 70% and 80%.
“In the past, to automate a well you had to bring electricity to it, you had to bring cable to it, or you had to put in a solar panel. With a wireless well, you can automate it in less than a day. If you talk about speed, it’s very, very fast – to go into a field and to be able to collect near real-time data wirelessly, versus the traditional RTU (Remote Thermal Unit) method,” Tredinnick says.
Spreading its wings
Emerson Process Management has quite recently strengthened its roots in the region, and considerably elevated its stature as a major technological services provider to the oil and gas industry, with the opening of a new facility in Dubai that houses a Solutions and Education Centre. Located within Emerson’s regional headquarters in the Jebel Ali Freezone (JAFZA), the 5,000 square foot facility is Emerson’s attempt to engage with its customers on a far deeper level, by providing valuable, case-by-case solutions and imparting vital knowledge that will enable its clients to operate more effectively.
The Solutions Centre, which Emerson claims is “the first facility of its kind in the region”, provides customers with a hands-on experience of the latest technology for operations management. Equipped with concepts such as augmented reality and 3D imaging, and installed with Emerson’s latest automation technologies, the centre provides an integrated, fully collaborative platform that enables users to experience a holistic view of their operations and, consequently, achieve optimisation.
At the Solutions Centre, customers can interact with Emerson’s local and remotely-based experts, as well as with their own executives and operations staff, to discuss challenges, develop application solutions, manage projects, and troubleshoot problems, regardless of location. The facility can connect to Emerson’s other facilities around the world, and to customers’ production sites, to enable data exchange and remote collaboration.
The Education Centre strengthens Emerson’s capability in helping customers to train their new recruits, improve the skills of the current workforce, and adapt to new technologies. Delivering courses on the entire spectrum of automation disciplines, the facility maximises learning through live demonstrations and training on actual technologies and systems. Each student is provided with dedicated resources such as field instruments, I/Os, control and safety system simulators, and wireless technologies, allowing them to apply what they have learned in real-life operations environments faster and more efficiently.
The Education Centre can host virtual classrooms, where certified instructors deliver training live and online, and customise training programmes through a blended learning approach that combines both classroom and online instruction. The facility is connected to the network of Emerson training centres around the world, which helps bring students and experts together.
It is easy to believe that expanding its regional base in Dubai is part of Emerson’s conscious drive to spread its reach to even more oil and gas players in the region, as well as to be perceived as more of an end-to-end solutions provider, which will help the company rapidly distinguish itself from its competition.
“I think it has to do with Emerson’s shift [in strategy],” Tredinnick explains. “We’ve always been well-known for products and systems, and services, but we’ve seen a shift in our organisation in the last two or three years towards really trying to understand the challenges our customers face, uncovering the pain that they’re facing, making sure they recognise what that pain is and how they can address it, and what the end game looks like. In these centres, we’re able to do that with a blend of technology,” he continues.
“We can pull in experts from around the world. We can work in an almost virtual environment within the customer’s plant and identify the factors that are causing their problems. So we bring our experts, they bring theirs, and we all work on a solution collaboratively.”
Emerson’s Solutions and Education Centres are just the first of this type of facility for the company; it has more similar projects in the pipeline. As part of its policy to support Saudi Arabia’s localisation drive – known as the In-Country Value (ICV) programme – Emerson Process Management is on course to launch a centre in Ruwais in October, Tredinnick reveals, focussed on addressing issues related to the asset lifecycle of both the upstream and downstream sectors.
Emerson has made an even greater stride in the kingdom by collaborating with the King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals to announce a bigger Technology and Innovation Centre – along the same lines as the Dubai facility – that is set to be launched in mid-2017. Aside from aggressively pursuing its localisation target in Saudi Arabia – which currently accounts for 55% of its workforce – Emerson intends to be closer to, and better serve, customers such as Aramco.
To sum up Emerson’s motivation for setting up these technical centres, Tredinnick says: “What we’re trying to do is make sure our customers realise that it sometimes takes much more than a simple product or system fix. It often takes knowledge and expertise from both sides to address those very critical issues.”