Facilities engineers are the unsung heroes of the oil field. While others are out searching for the latest and greatest, they are busy taking care of the fastly fading and forgotten facilities. We wanted to know how they use technology on the job and identify opportunities for mobile. So, we interviewed a couple facilities engineers who work in the production fields of Texas.
Technology on the Job
So, what kinds of technology does a facilities engineer utilize? I hate to make generalizations about people, but I think we can all agree that engineers love Excel. Facilities engineers use a lot of macros to plug and chug calculations for them. Equations are essential to their jobs, as they need them for everything.
Examples of how they are used:
- Re-rating vessels based on UT (ultrasonic testing) data
- Berm calculations
- SCADA classifications (based on volume and response times)
SCADA = BFF
Consider SCADA systems their BFF, if you will. They can remotely check current tank levels, pump discharge pressures, vessel operating pressures, meter readings and more. Facilities engineers trend the SCADA data to get normal operating ranges which they then use to de-bottleneck (engineer-speak for fixing problems) and optimize systems.
iPhone Apps/Tools They Use On the Job
FE’s take a lot of pictures to..
- Scope projects
- Remember line sizes
- Identify what materials were used
- Identify material ratings
- Record vessel name plates
- Overall layout of the facility
- Hazard identification (power lines, proximity to creeks or houses)
Necessary for planning construction and travel.
Pretty straightforward, used to keep up with meetings, co-workers and scheduling projects.
Engineers do a lot of calculations on-the-go, whether it’s in the field or the office.
Imagining a Potential Mobile Solution
Here are some potential features we think would be beneficial to the FE.
- Add specific team members to projects for updates
- Remote data visualization quickly from anywhere
- Contextually based mobile entry and access (knows which projects are tied to which locations)
- Group messaging
- Push notifications to specific team members
- Assign different team members tasks and deadlines (i.e. send someone to check the pressure on a vessel by 3 PM)
- Pulls up SCADA data specific to your location and equipment
- Walk up to a facility and using iBeacon technology, it pushes all the maintenance history to the engineer’s phone. They would have access to when it was built, old drawings, modification history, what the original sizing was, what materials were used, most recent testing data, etc.
Aging Facilities and Workforce
There is a gap that is not only widening by age but also technology. Technology adoption faces a lot of barriers from older field workers. They prefer pen and paper over smartphones. There is a nonchalance towards technology. They use it because they have to, not because they want to. This can create frustration with the younger generation, whom not only rely on it, but also find it essential to do their jobs.
Most of these field workers aren’t technology savvy. They don’t have smart phones where they could take a picture and update the facilities engineer on important real-time updates with the facilities. They have what they have in their heads and it’s hard to get the information out. The field workers don’t always consider what information and data might be important to the facilities engineer. With the plethora of data they encounter on a daily basis, oftentimes they can’t differentiate what is important to the facilities engineer and why it’s important.
The aging workforce is a highly critical user set to consider because even if we provide tools for part of the chain, it won’t necessarily solve the problem. It may even create more. That is why user research is so critical to implementing successful technology solutions. Oftentimes when we talk to a client, they identify one problem as being the main issue. However, there are so many variables involved that assuming you know the cause won’t cut it. You need to get your hands dirty and get out into the field with your users.
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