Advanced technology for upstream excellence
- Elements Magazine
Cutting-edge technologies play an integral role in our long-term ambition: to create breakthrough advancements in the discovery and recovery of hydrocarbon resources. These resources are needed to meet growing global demand for affordable energy that powers growing economies and improves millions of lives.
Our global network of research centers – located in the US, Europe, China, and Saudi Arabia – support this upstream research and technology development, in disciplines such as production management, drilling, reservoir engineering, geology, and geophysics. Many of the ongoing research development projects capitalize on Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) technologies, such as robotics, Artificial Intelligence (AI), and machine learning.
"Deploying advanced upstream technology will allow Aramco to maintain its competitive advantage in upstream excellence," said Ashraf Al-Tahini, manager of the Company’s Exploration and Petroleum Engineering Center - Advanced Research Center (EXPEC ARC) and CEO of Aramco Upstream Technology Company.
"Some of the problems we’re working on are very unique challenges. That really provides excitement for our people who are working on developing technologies," he said. "To work with something entirely new, which leaves the conventional approach behind – that alone is energizing."
"We are very fortunate to have the care of the company in terms of development and training engineers to have the right skill sets," he added. “This is paving the way toward the future, because technology will become the most important method to enable oil production at its lowest cost."
Another upstream advantage is the focus on communication and collaboration.
"We’re a very connected company,” he said. “So when we are trying to develop a solution that eventually will be used, we work with the people who will implement it. We’re all on the same team."
We are accelerating the deployment of industry-leading robotics and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) throughout our operations. A range of robots – including drones, underwater robots, tractors, and ground crawlers – comprise our UAV and robotics fleet.
These emerging technologies offer more cost-effective and efficient inspection capabilities.
From high in the sky, UAVs can map an entire area in a short space of time. These vehicles, called ‘drones’, also perform project observation, security surveillance, and environmental monitoring, among other applications. From great heights, UAVs inspect current assets and collect exploratory, high-resolution images.
This technology also makes emergency responses safer, as situations can be investigated without putting human lives at risk, and we are tapping into other novel machinery, too. We are now also deploying real-time data monitoring, machine learning, predictive analytics, and robotics to further improve our operations.
And it’s working.
By using drones and wearable technologies to inspect pipelines and machinery, Uthmaniyah Gas Plant (UGP) cut inspection times by 90 percent, reduced inspection costs by 10 percent, and sped up safety and emergency response by 5 percent. UGP has expanded the use of UAVs to include methane leak detection to address greenhouse gases (GHG) emissions and for internal vessel inspections to minimize confined space entries.
These applications of new technology we’ve developed have not gone unnoticed. In 2018, for our use of UAVs, we won the Best Exploration Technology Award at the World Oil Awards. The next year, in 2019, our Company’s progress at Uthmaniyah Gas Plant was named "Manufacturing Lighthouse" by the World Economic Forum (WEF).
Internet of things, big data and artificial intelligence
We aim to lead in the deployment of advanced technologies in the energy sector, and to set new standards in innovation and technology development. We’ve pioneered state-of-the-art solutions that leverage cutting-edge computing and the Internet of Things (IoT).
IoT is a system of interconnected computing devices. These devices are hooked up to electronic sensors, which constantly collect huge amounts of data. The volume of information gathered is so substantial that it cannot be processed by traditional software. Instead, it is analyzed by Artificial Intelligence (AI), which reveals patterns, trends, and associations. We use AI to process these massive amounts of Big Data, gathered by IoT, to improve our operations.
One of our offshore drilling rigs is the first of its kind in the Kingdom. It uses AI-enabled machine-learning to detect drilling anomalies in real-time, sending automated notifications to warn the crews at work. The system was recently awarded ‘Best IoT energy deployment’ at the World IoT Awards.
Monitoring oil wells at Khurais
At Khurais, one of our largest oil fields, we have deployed 40,000 sensors to monitor more than 500 oil wells. These IoT sensors generate Big Data, which is analyzed by AI. This AI then generates predictive models, which forecast oil well behavior.
This has helped us reduce overall power consumption by 18 percent, reduce maintenance costs by 30 percent, and cut inspection times by around 40 percent.
For these great strides, Khurais recently became our second facility, after Uthmaniyah Gas Plant in 2019, to receive the prestigious WEF "Manufacturing Lighthouse" award, given to recognize "leadership in using Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) technologies to transform factories, value chains and business models, for compelling financial and operational returns."
There is definitely a trend at work. Our Abqaiq oil processing facility recently joined the list to become our third facility to be recognized by WEF as a ‘Manufacturing Lighthouse’. Abqaiq is the largest oil processing plant in the world, responsible for providing about 5 percent of global oil supply.
"That three of our key facilities have been added to the Global Lighthouse Network in less than three years is a testament to the importance we place on our Digital Transformation Program – and the rapid pace at which it is advancing," said Aramco’s Digital Transformation vice president, Nabil Al-Nuaim.
"Through pioneering the large-scale use of 4IR solutions, we are setting new benchmarks for global industry. In the process, we are achieving significant improvements in cost, efficiency, product quality, energy consumption and environmental performance."