Analysis: Put the digital oilfield at your fingertips
Information-driven SCADA systems can help improve decision-making and boost productivity, say Andy Weatherhead and Zack Munk of Rockwell Automation
SCADA (supervisory control and data acquisition) systems are taking on a bigger and more business-critical role as oil and gas producers modernise their operations in the digital oilfield.
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 IT-level databases, contextualise and present that data to workers in real time as meaningful, actionable information. Users can monitor operations at whatever level is most relevant to them, and dive deeper into production or asset data if needed 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 (IIoT) devices and other new technologies being adopted in oil and gas production.
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 analyse data closer to its source. And they can support new messaging protocols like MQTT, which more oil and gas operators are adopting as a means for delivering data across their operations.
Delivering results today
Many oil and gas companies are reaping the benefits of modern SCADA systems. For example, a company with large onshore operations spanning multiple fields lacked real-time visibility into its operations and was hindered by multiple data silos that could result in missing or poor-quality data. The company transitioned to a ConnectedProduction architecture from Rockwell Automation. This includes a system wide production-intelligence layer, which integrates all data sources into a single ecosystem. It also has a modern SCADA system with dynamic dashboards and reporting.
A modern SCADA system is just one of many technologies that help bring the digital oilfield to life. But it has one of the most important roles to play. The modern SCADA simultaneously supports multiple best-in-class analytics from a variety of vendors, allowing the right analytics solutions to be applied to achieve key business goals. This can range from predictive analytics for improving uptime to model-based analytics for monitoring and optimising production.
Operators can use these capabilities to monitor information that’s relevant to their role, make 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 (KPI) versus targets, and a prioritised list of required actions to meet business goals. In addition, current performance can be compared to past performance. Operators can drill deep into each site, viewing well-pad performance, and drilling even further into a well or pump’s 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 of well-performance indication and influence key operator decisions, such as if pressure should be increased. Gas-lift analytics can help operators to know if they’re over injecting gas and identify the proper ratio of oil and gas injection.
A modern SCADA system can deliver all this information live, with constant updates. This can create a far more dynamic decision-making environment than traditional systems.
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. They 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, like spreadsheets, PDF reports and emails, and then aggregating it in a single place.
A modern SCADA system automates these processes. It seamlessly collects, combines and contextualises data from multiple sources into text or graphical information on flexible dashboards.
The dashboards in the system can be easily designed and customised for each individual end user, depending on the type of information and viewing format that is needed.
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 visualisation that’s right for each user.
SCADA systems have historically been complex technologies to maintain and modify. Modern systems, however, are scalable and flexible. They can be easily adapted to operators’ needs without intervention from vendors or specialised 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 processing equipment or bring in new technologies. These changes can be time consuming, and they require that producers make corresponding changes in their SCADA systems. Failing to keep up with these changes can erode a producer’s data integrity.
To reduce the time required for these changes and to help protect data integrity, modern SCADA systems can use auto-discovery capabilities. They can automatically recognise new devices and walk users through the configuration process.
The modern systems also allow users to create automated workflows. This could include generating an alarm for the maintenance team or automatically creating a work order in a business system if certain predefined events occur. Users also can make content annotations, like leaving a comment in the system to inform operators about a faulting pressure transmitter and providing detailed instructions if the alarm occurs.
There are concerns that come with adopting modern SCADA systems – chief among them is security. Still, such concerns shouldn’t be a roadblock. There are established industry best practices for addressing security and other issues. After they are addressed, a modern SCADA system can give companies the visualisation they need to make the most of both their technologies, and help them unlock the many opportunities for improvement within the digital oilfield.