Throughout science fiction, we’ve seen or read about predictions in engineering concepts and other innovations. From ideas such as Star Trek envisioning tablets even before we had cell phones to SpaceX’s vision of roping passing asteroids into our orbit to mine precious metals.
We had no idea that a seemingly simple search engine technology could rise into one of the largest corporations or that smartphones equipped with the internet and social media would change how rapidly the world communicates. And these innovations only open the door to even more potential, fast-paced ideas and solutions.
There’s a lot out there about digital transformation, but what exactly does it mean for the global energy industry?
Digital Transformation in an Industrial World
Digital transformation is essentially integrating technology into a business’s operations to enhance performance. This includes optimization, effective data collection, cataloging, and more analysis than we’ve ever had. The potential of these insights increases every day, and this technology can affect and transform a company at multiple levels, from simple day-to-day tasks to company-wide business metrics.
Imagine an oil & gas pipeline operator visits a pump station and, using a tablet or a phone, can instantly access needed processes and procedures and even speak directly to a subject matter expert. Knowledge of a process can decay over time, but with this type of technology, the potential for error is significantly reduced.
Again, imagine an alert pops up on a maintenance planner’s phone that indicates anomalies and increased vibration on a combustion turbine. Although this may have gone unnoticed for weeks or months, this powerful insight can enable effective planning and repair before failure, possibly saving tens of millions of dollars in repairs and downtime.
These are only two examples; there are many more instances where digital solutions can improve the performance of your workforce and equipment health.
Historically, energy companies have been slower to adopt innovations due to potential risk and cost. However, while initially taking effort to shift, the change can be well worth the work. The following few examples of digital technologies and solutions are now proven to support improved plant operations.
Asset Management: Providing Insights Into Equipment Health
Digital solutions for asset management enable innovative and faster data collection and cataloging. Most importantly, in the mountain of data collected, how to categorize, structure, and what specifically to analyze to predict equipment performance, optimize equipment operation, and better plan for maintenance tasks.
Power plant thermodynamic models can be developed to verify plant design, establish performance benchmarks, and evaluate operating data. The models are also used to determine costs of off-design operation, identify load-limiting factors, and quantify the effects of degradation of key plant equipment.
Empirical models can be created based on historical operating data and are effective at identifying abnormal operating conditions, equipment degradation, and faulty instrument indications. This provides information for condition-based maintenance.
Technology such as advanced pattern recognition can detect anomalies on equipment and alert personnel to issues requiring action before problems become significant.
Advanced Pattern Screen Example
As an example, one organization implemented a combination of empirical modeling technologies for improved plant performance and availability. Using a conservative estimation when alerting staff to take corrective action, this system saved the power generation company $2.5 million in one year.
Human Performance: Providing Insights Into Learning, Job Tasks, and Competencies
Digital solutions for the workforce enable better and faster methods of learning; accessing on-the-job help for job tasks; and collecting, cataloging, and analyzing information related to your people and how they are performing.
Learning Management Systems (LMSs), although not a new technology, are evolving. The following snapshot is from a project comparing assessment data from power plant personnel across multiple sites. The information was cataloged in the LMS and used to track human performance over time, including identifying gaps and tracking improvement.
While the example above shows how evolving digital solutions can have an impact company-wide, other digital tools can enhance on-the-job performance in daily tasks.
Beacons can offer resources in the moment of need and in the place where they are needed most by connecting and alerting mobile phones or tablets when an employee nears them. This can create opportunities for on-the-job learning, procedures, and more.
Micro-learning breaks down training into smaller chunks for a workforce faced with time constraints. It can be offered in multiple formats for new employees and can serve as refresher training for veteran employees.
Augmented Reality brings text to life in 3D models, video, simulations, and more. Imagine being able to virtually practice a repair or watch an expert perform an action in a classroom or onsite.
Simulation Training can take operators through plant operating scenarios such as plant startups, abnormal operations, intensive repairs and shutdowns, and more. From guided demonstrations and practice to advanced testing, these programs offer a wide range of ways to strengthen skills.
Virtual Coaching Software can enable the modern mobility of the workforce and offers a unique solution for remote locations through virtual feedback from experts.
These are only a few examples, but technology at your fingertips can enable your workforce in multifaceted ways.
Integrating a new technology can enhance a process, but as more and more innovations arise in our increasingly connected and digital world, implementing multiple technologies can create a full range of options to significantly advance energy organizations. Transforming operations into the digital era can create opportunities for improved equipment health, advanced regulatory compliance, effective risk management and mitigation, optimized processes, and enhanced human performance.
I’ve carried this passion for performance excellence to both my career and to my role at GP Strategies, helping clients achieve business excellence. Much like an athlete, we help clients train to be their best. But we really need to go beyond that to help our clients “make the big leagues.” We take a holistic view of an organization and find ways to improve performance by assessing gaps, benchmarking against the elite, overcoming obstacles, uncovering competitive advantages, and implementing best practices. It takes discipline, perseverance, and dedication to achieve success. As Wayne Gretzy, nicknamed “The Great One,” said, “A good hockey player plays where the puck is, a great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be.” That’s how I think of my client relationships. My job is to help them get to where the puck is going to be.
Craig Dalziel is a Director at GP Strategies Corporation. He leads efforts to ensure delivery of best practice and operational excellence solutions. From conducting operational improvement studies, gap analyses, and benchmarking to implementing solutions, Craig helps lead and evaluate transformation through targeted improvements to key performance indicators.
For over 20 years, Craig has connected companies to resources, methods, and solutions to improve operational performance, deepen economic value, reduce waste, decrease planned and unplanned facility downtime, advance levels of product throughput, and increase profitability, to help organizations achieve long-term excellence.
Latest posts by Craig Dalziel (see all)
- A Spotlight on Digital Transformation in the Global Energy Industry - December 5, 2017
- Are Your People, Processes, and Technology Aligned for the Digital Transformation? - September 13, 2017
- From a Filing Cabinet to a Dynamic, Cloud-Based Training Platform - May 2, 2017