After COVID-19: how to ensure offshore operations are safe and efficient?

Here Keith Tilley, CEO of Intoware explains how digitisation technologies will safeguard your offshore workforce and help deliver greater efficiencies.

The confined spaces of offshore operations mean that disease can spread quickly, oil and gas companies have responded by cutting their workforces to help limit the threat of COVID-19 and to reduce costs.

Since the start of the year, many oil and gas operators have announced budget cuts. The current pandemic has forced companies to reduce staffing to the minimum safe level while workforce numbers are also being held down by cost cutting and a low oil price. This has meant that many companies have now postponed as much maintenance as they can for offshore platforms.

According to consultancy, Rystad Energy, ‘More than a million jobs in the oilfield service industry are likely to be cut in 2020 due to low project volumes brought upon by the COVID-19 epidemic and the on-going price war.’

Maintaining safe operations is of critical importance, this has not changed because of COVID-19 and right now the industry needs to make savings too, leading many companies to now consider how to accelerate their digital capabilities.

But historically the industry has been slow to embrace digitisation thanks mainly to a lack of knowledge and inertia, particularly when oil prices were high. With prices unlikely to return to their former peak the time for digital optimisation is now.

According to Forbes, ‘89% of operations teams say COVD-19 is already impacting their analytics and business intelligence budget and initiatives’.

Offshore data analysis

Prior to the pandemic, Intoware developed its workflow platform WorkfloPlus using mobile and augmented reality technology. The aim was to help digitise audit and compliance processes required in downstream, midstream and upstream operations.

As we found that by switching to digital work instructions, oil and gas companies can build a huge bank of data for audits and also use the same information to predict when failures may occur. The very nature of the high-risk oil and gas industry means that health and safety, compliance and audit checks are frequent and detailed. Unless these processes are done digitally, they create a massive volume of paper which is difficult to track and impossible to measure with any degree of accuracy.

Done digitally however, anybody from the worker, to the supervisor or auditor can see the characteristics of a check in real time, the impact it has and provide digital evidence, such as pictures or data, to know it is done correctly - all in a fraction of the time.

One of our clients was asked in a recent audit, ‘how many times was filter ‘X’ changed last year?’ Historically, this would have taken a day to find the information and prove the claim. Today, it takes the team three clicks and less than 10 seconds.

The capture, analysis and utilisation of this knowledge is therefore, a real ‘game-changer’ for the oil and gas companies. By providing real-time analytics, workflow technology is delivering new insights that will help deliver greater efficiencies, reduce costs and drive innovation. But how do these technologies improve worker safety when operating, inspecting or maintaining offshore equipment?

When the WorkfloPlus platform is integrated with wearable computers (HMT-1 headsets) from our partner Realware, it helps makes safety a reality by allowing workers to make decisions using a single ‘hands-free’ device mounted to a standard hard-hat. Technicians comply with safety protocols and that compliance is recorded so there is electronic evidence.

Technicians, especially those who are new to the job may require maintenance support. The HMT-1 headset enables them to contact a remote expert, who can use live video to instruct the technician and send them annotations that they can see on their device as if they were projected on the equipment itself, ideal for an emergency repair.

The new ‘hands-free’ workplace

Currently government rules mean it’s not safe to be within two meters of another person and we won’t be able to touch our devices without wiping them down or eliminating them completely.  This means it’s more difficult than ever to make offshore inspections and take photos or video or rely on your handheld device. COVID-19 has made everything more challenging, so increasingly companies are looking to introduce more contactless solutions such as the HMT-1 headsets to help safeguard lives.

Digitisation integrated with wearable tech generates everything from workflow improvements, to heightened accuracy of recorded data to real-time data monitoring and predictive maintenance for a safer contact-free offshore working environment.

The impact of COVID-19 and the oil prices war will continue, with the need to cut operational costs remaining a priority. But the key question right now is how can we maintain the safety of our people and continue to operate offshore? This crisis should be the catalyst for oil and gas industry needs to re-consider what the future or work will look like and accelerate the digitisation of its processes.


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