Oiling the wheels of a vital industry sector

The oil and gas sector has long been an early adopter and proving ground for many emerging AV technologies in mission critical roles, Paul Bray reports.

Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon using the Pro from Clevertouch when she opened the Oil & Gas Technology Centre in Aberdeen last year

Oil and gas is an industry where people and machines are tested to the limit, so it’s an ideal proving ground for AV systems and the companies that supply them.

“The oil and gas sector has long been an early adopter of emerging AV technologies,” says Haroutioun Ohannessian, MEA director of sales at SiliconCore. “Techniques such as augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) are already relied on for mission critical operations, and companies are installing AV throughout their buildings, in command and control centres, network operations centres, executive briefing rooms, auditoriums and conferencing suites.”

It’s easy to see why AV is such a significant part of the energy sector’s tool box. “Drilling can cost millions of dollars a day, and AV is essential for data visualisation and analysis,” says Frank Sheehan, CEO of integrator HyperSphere. “Seismic and other geological data can be analysed in a variety of visual ways, for example drilling simulation which can ensure the accuracy of the drilling process. It’s also much safer and cheaper to train staff away from possibly remote or difficult environments, and VR offers a great opportunity for simulation.”

Cyclical industry
Oil and gas is a notoriously cyclical industry and the slump in energy prices during the last couple of years has led to some AV projects being delayed or abandoned. But there is now cautious optimism about a rebound.

“Over the past six to nine months we’ve received a growing number of enquiries from oil and gas companies,” says Peter Brown, Clevertouch’s business development manager for Scotland. “A year ago we were struggling to get a foothold in Aberdeen, but now companies are actively seeking out new technology. And the industry’s rising fortunes have had a knock-on effect with service companies. For instance we’ve installed several interactive screens in the meeting rooms of a helicopter company serving the rigs.”

In such a tightly controlled environment as oil and gas, control rooms rely heavily on videowalls and screens that visualise large amounts of data and relay video and data feeds from remote cameras and other monitoring equipment.

Every stage of the process may have its own control room, from extraction and transportation to process control and security, says Michael Nevzorov, senior business development manager for LSI and engineering at Mitsubishi. “In most cases, control rooms require high-end display systems such as DLP cubes, with high levels of reliability and redundancy due to the mission critical and 24/7 nature of the application.”

However, David Crafton, North America vice-president of sales at SiliconCore believes that LED will be a growth area in control rooms once its advantages and lower lifetime costs are fully understood.

Situation or crisis management centres at energy companies’ headquarters also require large, high-resolution screens to show detailed information from multiple sources, says Nevzorov. Because 24/7 operation and high redundancy are not always necessary, these normally use extra narrow bezel LCD or DLP videowalls, with early adopters already looking at LED.

Simulation plays a big part in training crews in environments that mimic the high-risk environment of a rig, says Tom Smith, a simulation solutions architect at Holovis. “This is done through high resolution, screen-based solutions including CAVEs and VR head mounted devices to create 1:1 scale, realtime environments that are as close to the real thing as possible. The visual solution is often combined with surround audio, gesture- or tool-based interactivity, and even motion to replicate the movement of a ship at sea.”

Flight simulators may train workers in how to disembark safely from a helicopter, or inflate a life raft if they ditch in the sea. Actual accidents can be re-run in the simulator using data from the aircraft’s black box flight recorder, to work out what went wrong and devise training for similar emergencies.

AR service & maintainence
Servicing and maintenance is being transformed by the use of AR, which overlays computer-generated content on to the user’s view of the real world around them. “Engineers can use a tablet-based system to scan machines to help with troubleshooting, and follow guidelines for conducting maintenance or changing parts,” says Smith.

Antycip Simulation recently completed a 5x2m 4K stereo single screen display for reviewing seabed geological data to help better design, model and analyse the options for drilling, piping and developing oil and gas fields. “The size of the screen, depth of detail and use of VR have led to better insight, better communication and better collaboration,” says Antycip’s marketing manager, Frank Reynolds.

Dexon Systems is doing a roaring trade in videowalls for the control rooms of remotely operated vehicles (ROVs). “The ability to display live camera images, sonar and telemetry data simultaneously for pilots to react on is key,” says Andrew Rothery, Dexon’s business development manager. “ROVs can be 4,000m below the surface carrying out tasks that need extreme accuracy, so the time to display the image coming from specialist onboard cameras is key and could mean the difference between success and failure.”

The technical demands of this can be prodigious. Dexon’s customers are now asking for 4K camera images to be relayed from depths of 4km.
In the somewhat less demanding environment of energy companies’ offices, AV is supporting business operations across the board.

“Collaboration displays are combining their audio and video capabilities not only to support traditional video conferencing but also to enable remote people to work on shared documents in real time,” says Dietmar Salewski, EMEA sales director for energy, utilities and security at NEC Display Solutions Europe. “Typical applications include situational briefings to board members or task forces, video conferencing, meetings and training.”

“The need to collaborate across different locations is the main reason many oil and gas companies are installing AV in their offices,” says Graeme McGuire, managing director of integrator AVOne Solutions. “Every morning they have a call with their teams on the rigs. Interactive screens allow these meetings to become fully collaborative with screen sharing and video conferencing, such as Skype for Business. They also enhance project planning around asset maintenance, sharing and annotating across plans and diagrams in realtime.”

The requirement for in-depth data analysis is increasing rapidly, fuelled by the flood of data from cameras and sensors connected to the Internet of Things. “Businesses want realtime updates incorporating big data that are easy to understand in a visual format and on one screen, so they need to display information on a large scale without image uniformity issues or inconsistent colour,” says Ohannessian.

“In exploration and production, ultra-high resolution is critical as geologists are looking at detailed seismic information and making drilling decisions,” adds Crafton. “A mistake here is extremely expensive. Currently very high resolution projection is being used, such as 4K, but the increasing resolution of LED is making it a possible alternative.”

The inhospitable environment in which oil and gas operations often take place can be as challenging for integrators and vendors as for the energy companies themselves.

“The North Sea is one of the harshest environments in the world and service companies need to be certified for offshore work,” says McGuire. “Working across the rigs requires a lot more pre-planning; you can’t just pop back to the office if you forget a cable or connector!”

Adds Nevzorov: “We also often face challenges in communicating the importance of reliability, performance and long-term cost of ownership to IT managers, contractors and consultants. They may have little knowledge about AV systems in terms of reliability, redundancy or long-term support, and mainly look at the price tag.

“It’s rare that we see redundancy rates, power consumption, heat dissipation or extended lifetime discussed in tender specifications, and it’s not unusual to meet customers who are seriously considering buying consumer-grade LCD displays for 24/7 mission critical applications. This short-sighted approach can often lead to a situation where the cost of ownership becomes extremely high and support is questionable.”

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