Shell has been leading the industry in digitalization, rolling out a variety of digital technologies across its oil and gas operations. Chief among them is assisted reality, which the oil supermajor leverages to connect its global workforce and enable frontline workers to get assistance from an expert remotely. With RealWear assisted reality devices deployed in a dozen countries, Shell is transforming how its frontline workers resolve complex issues and reduce unplanned downtime.
Shell may have been an early adopter of assisted reality for plants and workers, but the technology is increasingly being adopted across the industry. Remote assistance is a “hot application for industrial wearables, giving field service personnel the chance to have a live call for troubleshooting with an expert located elsewhere,” Lauren Gibbons Paul wrote in AutomationWorld. “The expert on the other end of the call can essentially see through the eyes of the onsite worker and offer over-the-shoulder assistance.”
Using assisted reality to provide remote assistance can be a critical competitive differentiator in an industry that frequently calls on experts to help resolve complicated or unfamiliar issues. Assets across the industry are aging—42% of offshore facilities are older than 15 years, and the average age is likely to increase due to limited investment in this area—and travel time can add up quickly when an expert has to be dispatched by helicopter to service malfunctioning equipment on an off-shore oil rig.
How Remote Assistance is Changing the Oil and Gas Industry
Remote assistance using assisted reality devices delivers a wide range of benefits in the oil and gas industry, including the ability to:
- Reduce downtime: With the cost of unplanned downtime significant—an idle drilling rig can cost $30,000 to $50,000 per hour, and an outage at a polyethylene plant can total hundreds of thousands an hour—increasing the efficiency of repairs is critical. Assisted reality devices allow frontline workers to initiate a video conference with a remote expert who can walk the worker through the diagnosis and repair process in real-time. With some applications, the expert can even remotely “draw” or annotate on the worker’s hands-free screen to illustrate a process or share instruction manuals or other training assets.
- Make repairs safer: The very nature of the oil and gas industry is a hazardous one. Extraction often takes place in remote areas or in unpredictable conditions (e.g., high winds and extremely noisy environments). Remote assistance using assisted reality reduces or eliminates the need to send a worker who’s an expert in equipment and processes—but not necessarily familiar with the ins and outs of the jobsite—to make an in-person diagnosis or repair.
- Better leverage specialized knowledge: With a skilled workforce retiring in the next few years, the number of technicians available to travel offshore will be reduced, further increasing the importance of remote assistance. Being able to train frontline workers more efficiently while increasing the number of employees a single subject matter expert is able to mentor exponentially increases the reach and impact of skilled workers. “Folks are retiring in big numbers. These younger workers have to be supported,” said a former general manager of Connected Plant/Connected Worker for Honeywell,a global supplier of RealWear’s assisted reality solutions.
- Reduce travel and the associated emissions: Travel has an impact on the industry both in the form of costs (transportation and logistics accounts for 37% of the costs associated with unplanned downtime, for example) and on companies’ abilities to meet their commitments to a cleaner energy future. Remote assistance reduces the travel required, making operations cleaner and more efficient.
A Few Tips to Get Started With Assisted Reality
“A new era of computing has arrived,” says Michael Kaldenbach, former Digital Realities Lead at Shell. “Just as laptops and mobile phones are standard for desk workers, voice command and augmented reality for wearable computers will become commonplace for field staff in our industry, driving safety and productivity.”
Here’s what you need to keep in mind as you get started with assisted reality:
- Understand that wearables are more than a gadget—they’re a digital toolkit that can connect people, plants and processes. Yes, they can be used to solve a single problem (and are often best implemented to use with a single problem at a time before expanding to other applications), but they have wide use across the organization, from remote assistance to regulatory compliance, asset management and maintenance and more.
- Ensure that you pair deployment with appropriate training. Focus on the use case or use cases that are relevant to the individual employee, and consider training the most tech-savvy workers—or those who have expressed interest in new technology—before leveraging those workers as evangelists as you train additional users across the organization.
- Invest in the future of your workforce now, not when you’re experiencing a critical shortage of skilled workers. Oil prices are surging, giving oil and gas companies a critical window to prepare for (and fund) the transition ahead. Deploying assisted reality now can give you a head-start on the future of clean energy and enable you to build the workforce skills you’ll need to survive and thrive.
Learn more about how to create a successful strategy for deploying assisted reality—and a greater understanding of the full range of benefits assisted reality delivers across the oil and gas industry—in our white paper, “How Oil and Gas Leaders Are Leveraging XR Technologies.”