SMi 2014 M2M Conference, London (June 2014)

Shell on 'frontier automation' and robotics. EU 7th Framework Petrobot project. Eurotech and the internet of things. Swire and the oil country supply chain. Sierra Wireless and the AirVantage cloud.

The 2014 SMi Machine to machine (M2M) conference held in London earlier this year kicked off with a presentation from Shell's Berry Mulder on 'frontier automation,' a.k.a. the 'latest and greatest' in process automation. Frontier means remote working, wireless, video and robotics applied to distant sites for situational awareness and operations. Robots are of particular interest to Shell as they improve safety and reduce production downtime. Use cases include flare stack inspection with drones, tank inspection with the EU-sponsored 'Petrobot' (see below) and robotic drill pipe handling. M2M requires connectivity across multiple devices from field to office leveraging WiFi, 4G, LTE, and internet in what Mulder dubs 'X2X' communications. Workable X2X means good bandwidth and low latency, sometimes across hundreds of kilometres, and reliable means of managing software licenses, authentication and security.

Tim Black provided more information on Petrobot, a project funded under the EU 7th Framework R&D program that seeks to 'open up the oil and gas and petrochemical market for robotic inspection,' (sic). The project is developing a semi-autonomous robot capable of achieving tank cleaning and inspection activities and negotiating obstacles with limited operator control. Different flavours of the robot are designed for work in storage tanks and pressure vessels. Consortium members include Shell, Chevron, Gassco and Vopak.  

Eurotech's Tim Taberner provided an introduction to the internet of things (IoT) , claiming that the IoT is catching up with the oil and gas industry. In fact, Eurotech's own IoT architecture was originally designed for the oil and gas industry to bridge the vertical's plethoric devices and protocols and enable connectivity between process and office systems. Eurotech advocates a 'Twitter-like' approach, decoupling data producers and consumers via a dedicated 'enterprise service bus for machines.' Eurotech's interpretation of the IoT is embodied in 'ESF' its Everyware cloud and software framework, an M2M communications appliance that is programmable via the Eclipse Foundation's Kura project. Everyware is positioned as an operating system for the IoT.

Chris Hook of Swire Oilfield Services painted a picture of an imperfect supply chain with M2M components currently spread across multiple, disparate systems with limited track and trace functionality. This leads to materials shortages or excesses due to lack of delivery status visibility and to the overuse of costly expedited delivery. The solution lies in M2M leveraging a customized commercial-off-the-shelf software platform. Enter Swire's OverVu, a web-based track and trace solution that consumes data from enterprise IT systems and a range of auto-ID (M2M) systems.

Benoit Tournier modestly presented Sierra Wireless as the global leader in M2M devices and cloud services. Oil and gas M2M is growing rapidly with a forecast 30% annual growth and an estimated 400,000 units deployed by 2016. But technology choices confronting oil and gas deployments are complex. Energy efficiency, reliable and secure connectivity and scalability may be hard to achieve. Sierra advocates 'open and standard' technologies as in Sierra's 'AirVantage' M2M cloud - embedding standards from ISO 27001 and the Cloud security alliance. Sierra's poster child is ConocoPhillips which has deployed the AirVantage cloud to enable pipeline and well monitoring. More from SMi.

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