Internet of Things marching into the mainstream with step-change advances for oil and gas

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The emerging Internet of Things (IoT) could be the largest technological revolution ever, with far-reaching implications for consumers and industry alike.

For Schulich Engineering associate professor Steve Liang, IoT is just the kind of omnipresent technology that Xerox PARC chief technologist Mark Weiser was talking about when he said this in the 1990s:

"The most profound technologies are those that disappear. They weave themselves into the fabric of everyday life until they are indistinguishable from it."

"It’s going to happen," said Liang, who is also founder of SensorUp Inc., during a University of Calgary-sponsored Distinguished Speaker Panel on March 15.

"The question is, [will it be] done by you or to you. The next thing is, it’s going to change every aspect of our lives. Think about sensors everywhere, in your shirt, in your mug, on your floors and your lights—it’s going to be everywhere.”

The winners in the industrial IoT space, which by all accounts it is a much bigger space than the consumer IoT, are those who are going to figure out how to take assets and make them more productive, said Gandeephan Ganeshalingam, chief innovation officer with GE Canada.

“This is an emerging era—what is emerging is also disruptive,” he said.

“The whole digital industrial Internet of Things revolution is not happening in the fringes, it’s marching into the mainstream. The benefits for our society are incalculable—it’s enabling innovation, diversification, jobs, and it’s enabling competitiveness and differentiation as well.”

GE is wholly invested in the concept, Ganeshalingam said.

"We believe the next tranche of productivity will be led with digital tools, artificial intelligence, sensors, software. We think to achieve that next level of productivity, industry really needs to think about a whole new operating system, akin to what Microsoft Windows did before we had Windows or what iOS did to our phones before we had iOS.

“Imagine a world where you have gone past predicting when assets are going to fail, to actually using artificial intelligence to prolong the life of an asset. Imagine a world where you are using data to connect previously disjointed or misaligned functions or silos in your organization, to execute seamlessly on behalf of customers."

GE has built a team of over 25,000 people and invested over $1 billion to basically create a digital company inside the 125-year-old industrial giant, and created the industrial IoT platform Predix, he said.

Successful oilpatch IoT

Ganeshalingam pointed to three successful IoT examples in the oilpatch.

The first involves solving much of the complexity of a multistage hydraulic fracturing operation, which he described as akin to performing open heart surgery blindfolded.

"A lot of what they have to do, they cannot see. And so there are very specific milestones and events that they have to detect before they go on to the next step in the frac process, and we are coming up with new sensors and technologies to enable that to happen.”

GE worked with Calgary start-ups True Site View Inc. and Cold Bore Technology Inc. to develop new solutions. True Site View uses a combination of low orbit satellites, drones and lasers to create a digital twin of a well pad. Engineers work off that digital twin to measure, design and build the complex connections between the frac pumpers and the well pads.

“We do this to millimetre precision. The end result is rig time that is cut in half,” Ganeshalingam said.

“In fact, when we create the digital twin of that site we can lay on your existing designs and the software automatically detects where your rework is going to happen. The application goes well beyond the frac, to eliminating rework on capital projects across any vertical,” he added.

Cold Bore has developed acoustic sensors that stay on the surface and are able to detect significant milestones that occur downhole, such as when a frac ball has been properly landed or a sliding sleeve has opened.

“Knowing that the ball from a ball launcher has seated perfectly so you can execute the next frac is really important. They are able to do that,” Ganeshalingam said.

“We are able to use this information to provide situation awareness to the frac operators and help them operate that much more safely. That new data that we are now collecting can be used to optimize the next wells in the completion system.”

A SAGD operator with a shortage of steam was looking for a more efficient way to allocate steam to its well pads. In this case, GE worked with Calgary start-up White Whale Analytics.

“They helped us build an ensemble model of over 100 machine earning algorithms. We trained these algorithms using the customer’s proprietary data and were able to model to almost 100 per cent accuracy exactly how that reservoir and that field performs, which then gave us the licence to forecast for that customer how to allocate their steam on a daily basis, over 24 hours, over a week, so they could allocate the steam in the most efficient manner.”

GE has also worked with another local start-up, Hifi Engineering, to develop pipeline pinhole leak detection technology using fibre optic cables.

“They have spent millions of dollars, filed 30 patents, and taken regular telephone fibre and turned it into the world’s highest fidelity sensor. They are able to detect all kinds of events on pipelines, from pinhole leaks to leak predictors like strain, thermal, intrusion and other types of events that lead to a new leak,” Ganeshalingam said.

GE and Hifi have joined forces to fully commercialize the technology, which is cloud based and accessible from anywhere in the world, he added. The companies are currently active in a number of pilots around North America.