Public petroleum and natural gas company Saudi Aramco is committed to using innovative Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies to deliver energy more safely, sustainably and efficiently. As part of a wide-ranging digital transformation program, the Saudi Arabian company—one of the world’s largest in terms of revenue—uses assisted reality devices to facilitate a variety of inspection activities, from enabling technical and inspection assessors to evaluate a potential manufacturer to maintaining human safety requirements and supervising inspection activities and mechanical testing.
Its success has been recognized by the World Economic Forum, which named the company’s Uthmaniyah Gas Plant (UGP) a “Lighthouse” manufacturing facility for its use of drones and wearable technologies. When Saudi Aramco adopted these solutions to inspect pipelines and machinery, the company was able to reduce UGP’s inspection time by 90%. Across the board, the oil major has found that wearable technologies have contributed to a 70% increase in safety compliance and a 10% improvement in productivity.
Inspections are a fact of life in the oil and gas industry, which has been regulated for more than a century by a variety of federal, state and local agencies. Laws designed to prevent wasted resources and protect the environment as well as the health and safety of workers and the general public are enforced through permitting and regulatory inspections.
In oil and gas, compliance spans a wide range of activities. Companies must take ownership of their upstream suppliers and any extraction sites they build and operate on, and engineers must inspect the quality of work completed by a large number of subcontractors. In response, a growing number of oil and gas leaders are now using assisted reality wearables to conduct a wide range of inspection and regulatory activities more safely and efficiently.
Three Emerging Use Cases for Assisted Reality in Oil and Gas
- Regulatory remote inspections: Assisted reality wearables allow companies to complete inspection rounds remotely via two-way video, with one person wearing the device and another on the other end seeing through that worker’s eyes. For example, when COVID-19 hit, restricting travel by its commissioning team, Maersk Drilling turned to assisted reality wearables to successfully perform a Special Periodic Survey (SPS)—which includes detailed structural investigations and inspections to ensure that a rig is structurally sound and watertight—remotely on a harsh-environment jack-up rig.
- Enhanced safety: While digitalization in oil and gas has lagged behind that in other industries because the technology used elsewhere hasn’t been a good fit in a culture known for a heavy emphasis on safety, assisted reality is changing the equation by offering multiple benefits when it comes to safety compliance. With many oil and gas operations taking place in hazardous environments, assisted reality helps reduce or eliminate the need for an on-site expert while enabling collaboration between front-line workers and those experts. Assisted reality solutions can also be used to provide in-the-moment safety instructions and automate and facilitate the safety checks that are pervasive across the industry.
At Saudi Aramco, assisted reality wearables not only enable the company to improve safety performance but also provide a “useful prompt for people to think about safety afresh.”
- Quality and process compliance: Assisted reality devices enable employees to view and complete any workflow with a few simple voice commands, and their managers can analyze their work in real-time. Technicians can capture photos and videos as work is done, then review and archive them at shift change.
“[With assisted reality wearables,] we’re not missing steps, we’re not missing part of the process. So now we can systematically force them to do checks, in the manner we want to do them,” says David Redding, Digital Innovation Manager at Schlumberger , who saw says he saw a 33% efficiency gain on the maintenance side of operations.
A Few Tips to Get Started with Assisted Reality in Oil and Gas
Here’s what you need to keep in mind before deploying assisted reality across your organization:
- Start small, then scale as needed: Don’t try to boil the ocean by attacking all aspects of regulatory, safety, process and quality compliance at once. Instead, choose a single use case to start with—something measurable, where you can objectively demonstrate the ROI of assisted reality. Then, once you’ve proven its value in that application, evaluate other areas of your organization that could benefit. A measured rollout allows you to build confidence and identify any needed improvements before a mass deployment.
- Understand your existing safety and compliance culture: Choose tools that are going to be a good fit for how your safety culture currently operates—and the regulations to which it is subject. Ask yourself: What are the processes we need to validate, and what are the steps involved? “There are different standards across the world, and equipment certification can take anything from six months for a simple product to three years for anything big and complicated,” says Blaine Tookey, technology principal at BP.
- Consider your unique safety needs: Make sure that any equipment you select meets the needs of the environments in which your employees work, whether it be on an offshore rig or on a drilling site. Intrinsically safe, hands-free, ruggedized head-mounted displays keep heads up and eyes forward while keeping workers situationally aware.
Learn more about how to create a successful strategy for deploying assisted reality—and a greater understanding of the benefits assisted reality is delivering across the oil and gas industry—in our white paper, “How Oil and Gas Leaders Are Leveraging XR Technologies.”