Pump Oilfield Data into Central Offices with Edge Analytics

March 1, 2019 Erik Sherman

With thousands of worksites spread across difficult terrain, oil and gas companies have major maintenance challenges.

Monitoring rigs, pipelines, and other equipment with human resources alone is simply not sustainable. The endless hours of windshield time spent by field technicians to monitor production equipment are both expensive and ineffective.

Remote monitoring and control can make operations far more efficient, reducing field head count by 40%. And as the windshield workforce ages out, producers are deploying technologies to collect field data, analyze it, and take appropriate actions in real time.

Solutions deployed in the field—no matter how remote or harsh—can provide edge analytics and better integration between OT and IT. And this can result in immediate cost savings by reducing production downtime and inefficient site visits.

Case in point: A global energy company needed a better way to collect and transmit gas flow and temperature data. It determined that digitizing its oilfield operations across North America and multiple European countries could enhance efficiency. To achieve this goal, it introduced a wellhead automation monitoring system for its natural-gas production.

The old way required continual on-site monitoring by field engineers. And for those areas that were out of human reach, the company transmitted all process data over expensive cellular or satellite uplinks.

Another pain point was the limited real estate for computing and communication equipment. On-site cabinets could not accommodate multiple devices for collection, compute, and remote connectivity. It needed a multifunction system that both fit in a small space and operated safely in a potentially hazardous production environment.

To address these challenges, the company deployed the Smart Oil Field solution from Moxa Inc. The combination of hardware, software, and communications became a hub that linked field system data with the central control office over a cellular connection.

The company was able to achieve its key goals with a scalable system that seamlessly integrated with the existing operational environment.

Real-Time Analytics at the Edge

The Moxa solution collects and processes large volumes of data from a wide variety of sensors and devices that monitor temperature, pressure, flow, video output, and more.

It acquires and stores this data locally, performing real-time edge processing to make operational information available in the most efficient and usable forms. The system uploads only essential data to the cloud for analysis and monitoring—reducing the need for expensive high-speed bandwidth, as shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1. Architecture of the Moxa Smart Oil Field solution.

Traditional monitoring systems such as SCADA or programmable logic controllers (PLCs) are the workhorses of oilfield operations. But OT and IT protocols don’t mix—typically leaving production machine data out of digital reach.

“When a drilling machine fails or there are some errors in production, the companies can't get the information in real time,” said Taita Chou, product manager for Moxa. That often means critical and expensive delays in production.

For remote monitoring, analysis, and control, OT technology needs ancillary systems to collect, analyze, and move data between the field and central office. This typically includes:

  • Compact edge computing devices built to withstand hazardous environments
  • Real-time analytics from edge to cloud
  • Software tools that enable monitoring and remote control

Ruggedized for IIoT in the Field

The Smart Oil Field platform is designed to meet the needs of remote and potentially hazardous oil and gas field production monitoring. The platform is powered by Intel Atom® processors, which deliver the computational performance needed to power data collecting, edge analytics, and wide-area communications.

Like most equipment designed for oil/gas field deployments, the Moxa hardware is built for harsh environments. It includes an industrial-grade fanless design with no moving parts, and can withstand an operating temperature range of -40°C to 70°C.

What’s exceptional is that Moxa has obtained the global certifications required to deploy equipment in hazardous environments. The Smart Oil Field solution has been certified for Class I Division 2/ATEX Zone 2, IECEx, and DNV GL maritime safety—where the potential for fire and explosion are real.

The system converts between Modbus and MQTT communications protocols—essential to data acquisition, analysis, and transmission. And the system’s built-in IoT bridge reduces the amount of data transmission necessary. This reduces traffic costs to and from a public or private cloud database—over an LTE or Wi-Fi data link.

Edge analytics, data collection, transfer, and monitoring are all handled by an integrated system gateway. The cloud-hosted software service provides a map view to locate and remotely manage these gateways. Device management, firmware upgrades, configuration changes, and system upgrades are all handled from a control center.

It’s no surprise that oil and gas producers are turning to the Industrial IoT for field operations. Modest investments in digital oilfield solutions can result in huge operational improvements, cost savings, and a competitive advantage.

About the Author

Erik Sherman

Erik Sherman is a journalist, analyst, and consultant with a background in engineering, technology, and business management. He's written about such topics as semiconductors, enterprise software, logistics, software development, advertising technology, scientific instruments, biotechnology, economics, finance, marketing, and public policy.

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