How Oil and Gas Mobile Apps Improve Workflows

By Patrick Coogan | Oct 13, 2015

Identifying oil and gas industry workflows in need of investment in mobile solutions boils down to a simple question: In which workflows does the ability to share and collect data from mobile workers in real time provide the opportunity to dramatically improve the efficiency and safety of operations?

This question can be decomposed further to identify some prospective workflows for mobile investment:

Where can mobile solutions help increase uptime?

In today’s price environment, there can be no tolerance for assets that are costing the firm money but are down due to unscheduled repairs and maintenance. In order to minimize downtime, mobile workers must be able to respond to issues quickly, and preferably, take preventative actions to stop downtime before it occurs. Mobile tools can assist in core workflows, which maximize uptime:

  • SCADA Alarm Monitoring and Response:  Providing field personnel and other key decision makers who spend considerable time in the field (such as production engineers) with the ability to quickly review, triage, and respond to SCADA system alerts helps ensure that the most critical alerts are responded to quickly and effectively. Mobile solutions not only allow alarms to be seen and acknowledged, but can also use location data to route the closest personnel to issues to reduce response time.
  • Predictive Monitoring and Preventative Maintenance: The oil and gas industry has made major investments in predictive analytics tools to try to identify machinery that may suffer failure and schedule preventative maintenance before a failure occurs. However, these systems still require human support to achieve their promise. Mobile access to these tools allows critical decision makers who are often on the go (such as petroleum and facilities engineers) to act on preventative analytics data and authorize repairs. Mobile tools also provide the potential to use contextual logic to recognize when maintenance personnel are in the vicinity of an asset requiring preventative maintenance and opportunistically issue the necessary work orders to carry out the needed work. For example, if a maintenance person is assigned to work on a specific machine, a mobile app can also detect and notify him or her about other preventative maintenance repairs that are needed in the vicinity. This way, the maintenance person can make repairs in the whole area instead of sending someone else to the area.

Where can mobile solutions help in the optimization of operating assets?

Working away from the desk is a fact of life in the oil and gas industry. Even office personnel are often out for field visits, training, or other travel. Plus, when operations are 24/7, there is always the chance that the needed person will not be on shift when a decision needs to be made. Furthermore, when meetings rule the executive schedule, it can be difficult for senior personnel to fully keep up with operations in small schedule gaps. Mobile tools can help keep personnel connected and increase data visibility so that the decisions can be made to optimize operations:

  • Routine review of SCADA and Historian data: Putting data in the hands of production engineers, facilities engineers, and process engineers in upstream and downstream operations allows users to view, analyze, and make decisions about operations at any time and any place without the hassle of logging into desktop systems. With this data immediately accessible, engineers can intervene to tune operations to a higher level of performance.
  • Executive review of production accounting dashboards: Putting up to date production data on executives’ phones and tablets allows for quick status checking in the gaps between meetings and provides senior leadership with the opportunity to recognize issues quickly and intervene appropriately. By having real-time production data, executives can provide rapid feedback and continue to improve processes. This can all feed into companies that are striving for operational excellence by continuous improvement.

Where can mobility improve the health and safety of employees and the integrity of the environment?

Health, Safety, and Environment issues continue to be a major focus in the Oil and Gas industry. Automating HSE workflows using mobile applications can reduce tedious manual re-typing efforts, which take attention off of the true tasks at hand while improving visibility into compliance so that “normalization of deviance” can be caught before it leads to a preventable accident:

  • Permitting workflows and monitoring: Automating permitting workflows using a contextually aware mobile application can streamline the permitting process while also providing a way to warn users when they are entering a hot-work zone. By actively tracking users in hot work zones and their permit status, infractions and potential accidents can be avoided.
  • Standard checklist activities: Replacing paper forms and checklists with mobile versions that can be automatically uploaded is often a quick win in terms of data accuracy and reduction of redundant effort. Another major benefit is that switching to mobile data entry allows information in the checklists to be made available to analytics programs which can catch variances and alert HSE managers to potential issues before an incident occurs.
  • Training content: Mobile devices also provide a way to continuously serve training updates to personnel without requiring costly trips into training centers. Short safety briefs suitable for viewing during downtime can help to maintain the culture of safety that is crucial for preventing accidents.

Where can mobility help to ensure that the proper experience and expertise are brought to bear to address operational problems?

With the widespread retirement of experienced personnel in the oil and gas industry, operations are increasingly in the hands of junior staff. To make up for the experience gap, new employees need both human help and better access to reference materials so that mistakes do not negatively impact operations:

  • Maintenance decision support: Mobile applications offer an avenue to use video and audio chat capabilities so that inexperienced employees can interact with more experienced employees in centralized support centers to solve problems. This helps multiply the impact of experienced personnel, who can now effectively be many places at once.
  • Reference to routine materials: Contextually sensitive mobile applications give companies the capability to automatically provide the precise maintenance materials and technical documentation required for a user standing in front of a specific piece of equipment, without the user needing to carry around cumbersome manuals or search through a database of materials. Next generation mobile applications can even provide this information in an augmented reality format, which allows users to view this material as they look at the equipment, leaving hands free to perform the fix.

Where do you see oil and gas mobile apps impacting your workflows?
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