After donning a virtual reality headset, an intertwined network of scraped yellow piping with red block numbers seemingly painted there 10 years ago caught my attention as I hesitatingly waited for a shark or grouper to swim by. The lighting in and between the undersea rig at least 50 feet below the water’s surface was eerily dim as the bubbles softly migrated by. As I floated through ladders, piping and scaffolds, I searched for the right valve on the right tank. Phew…so far no sharks…no groupers in sight but then…I heard, from an almost distant and different world, a voice say, “hey, try this handheld motion controller!” Huh? I slipped off the headset and was brought back into daylight, energy and fun that was OTC2017.
Virtual Reality Goes Deepsea (Source: Maersk Oil)
This was my first OTC show and though I’m pretty new to the oil & gas sector, I’m a geek at heart and any nerd would love this show. The convergence of high and low tech…IT & OT has everyone trying to connect with everyone else; or at least simulate what would happen if it did. It seemed like every exhibitor had some type of augmented or virtual reality headset at their booth. Though I only tried one, it was so realistic and fun, if I had the time, I would have tried out 50 of them.
As far as enthusiasm goes, the attendees and exhibitors I spoke to all expressed hope and optimism that the future would be smarter, leaner and more profitable for the industry as a whole. Most exhibitors felt that though attendance seemed to be down slightly compared with last year, it had a much more optimistic vibe. People genuinely felt they were applying the best information technology had to offer to make the industry more efficient…from analytics and big data to IIoT-connected smart devices.
We met with technology vendors ranging from UPS providers to engineering & procurement contractors. Everyone is feeling the squeeze of lower energy prices and the need to extract more production with fewer people and at lower costs. This is creating a lot of opportunity for the “Industrial Internet of Things” (IIoT) where predictive analytics can be used to improve remote operations and maintenance activities. Everyone agreed it’s all about collecting and analyzing data to enable remote and, ultimately, autonomous operations. We spoke to guys who said, “never in my wildest dreams did I ever think my team would be writing code and using joystick controllers instead of swinging hammers and turning wrenches” but that pretty much encapsulates the OTC 2017 sentiment we surveyed.
So it was a bit of a “virtual reality” for everyone, whether it was leaving the past behind and envisioning the future or putting on a headset and virtually swimming beneath an oil rig. It’s a whole brave new world for the energy sector but, we are confident the ingenuity and resilience of this OTC Community will result in a stronger industry that will benefit us all…whether we produce energy or consume it.