ABC Wellsite Automation 2019, Houston

Devon on move to MQTT. Anadarko’s NI RIO-based infrastructure for large sites. Kepware on wrapping legacy scada with MQTT. Cirrus Link’s three way path to MQTT-enabled IoT. Extreme Telematics and the Oilfield IoT Consortium. ABB, optimization through automation. Technip’s UCOS software-based scada.

The fifth American Business Conferences Wellsite Automation Conference was held earlier this year in Houston. We have selected Brandon Davis’ presentation on the modernization of Devon Energy’s scada systems as the scene setter for this internet of things-focused event. Devon is using high tech IoT solutions to speed access to real time data from the field. Today, operations need a robust network that includes drilling rigs and frac vans and that spans on-location, corporate WiFi, cameras and fiber-optic sensing. Fracking operations make for even bigger demands on the network. OEMs are delivering new products and capabilities. Newcomers are pitching the sector with IOT solutions that do more stuff in one device, promising more wells, more meter runs and more optimization. The programming model is shifting from legacy scada. Edge devices are currently used for protocol conversion but there is growing interest in their replacing more legacy PLC/RTU functionality.

Today’s scada is problematical in that systems are interdependent, integration is hard and data latency is problematical. Devon is moving to a ‘future state’ broker-based scada architecture that provides protocol conversion (to MQTT) along with edge computing and storage. This has decoupled applications and now auto-generates tags and structures, easing application integration and assuring real-time data delivery. NodeRed runs on the frac skids with a Postgres database for local storage.

The edge approach has proved easy to deploy on Modbus and Allen Bradley applications. Modbus mappings make device data accessible where MQTT is not available natively although measurement and log data still need attention. While data brokers are relatively available and easy to implement, subscriber are the ‘least mature piece’ in the oil and gas sector. Few scada hosts and Historians can currently subscribe to MQTT messages although some vendors have such on their roadmap. Meanwhile, Devon has successfully built its own subscribers which, Davis believes, ‘will be key to integrating real-time data systems across the corporation’.

For Rogier Pouwer, Anadarko is moving to larger, multi-well pads that enable economies of scale. But large pads and high well counts require introduce potential problems of control and safety, knock-on effects from process upsets and complex logistics of staged construction and frac schedules. Anadarko uses a National Instruments RIO-based infrastructure to integrate skid packages with the main control system. MQTT is being investigated as a further communications option. Cyber security is a constant preoccupation as control systems move ‘from a world where you build higher and thicker walls to one where you need to be able to continue to be productive while constantly being infiltrated’. Anadarko has been investigating wireless devices with a view to reducing costs and making future I/O expansion easier. The trials showed marginal cost savings but demonstrated that wireless communications are very reliable. Pouwer observed that current operations technology has not caught up with IT standards and has led to stranded data and network bottlenecks. This, while users need more data and expect to be doing more with it, leveraging data science, analytics and machine learning.

Steve Sponseller from PTC Kepware provided use cases to demonstrate the value of MQTT. Kepware’s Kepserver sits between in-field data sources and IT/historian/data lakes, providing multiple outbound protocol conversions including MQTT. MQTT ‘wraps and extends’ legacy scada systems and enables ‘tightly integrated loosely coupled’ applications as opposed to today’s single vendor ‘behemoths’. One producer replaced around 90 ETL jobs per day with an MQTT-enabled publish and subscribe model. Now data goes (via MQTT) into ApacheActiveMQ, MuleSoft (for integration with ERP) and a Cloudera data lake for analysis with Spotfire R Studio. The Pub/Sub paradigm has been hugely beneficial.

Arlen Nipper (from Cirrus Link) delved deeper into the merits of MQTT. Cirrus Link’s big opportunity came when Steve Koenig at Phillips 66 wanted a better way to utilize his new TCP/IP based VSAT system and bridge the field to SAP. MQTT is ‘simple, efficient, stateful and open’. It is great, because it left a lot of stuff out, including security! So deployment involves a few other considerations. Nipper offers a three-step route to IoT enablement, 1) decouple! connect devices to infrastructure, not to applications, 2) demonstrate a ‘superior’ operations technology solution and 3) provide a ‘single source of truth’ for all equipment tags. Cirrus Link recommends using MQTT Sparkplug and ‘real’ middleware such as its own Chariot MQTT Server. A 2018 survey from the Eclipse Foundation is said to demonstrate the primacy of MQTT which has now overtaken HTTP for IoT applications.

Mark Scantlebury (Extreme Telematics) weighed the pros and cons of edge computing versus the cloud. While the cloud offers ‘infinite’ storage and processing power, it is costly to get high frequency data over the cellular network or satellite. The edge offers fast, low power hardware with built-in modems and can be cost effective for custom analytics. ‘Full stack’ edge processing solutions mean you buy hardware, apps and monitoring service from one vendor. These closed systems will collect and manage your data and sell you access. But such providers are not, in general, domain experts. On the other hand, buying your own hardware means developing your own solutions. Other possibilities in-between are emerging, leveraging the fact that edge computing is 10x cheaper and 10x faster than current PLCs. Again, MQTT is key, offering integration with other IoT devices such as GPS, accelerometers and modems. Scantlebury introduced the Oilfield IoT Consortium, a group of operators, technology companies and manufacturers/service companies whose mission is to create a collaborative environment between oilfield stakeholders that wish to adopt IoT. More from

For those who are still after a single vendor solution, Braden Robinson presented ABB’s ‘optimization through automation’ offering. This offers domain-specific solutions such as ABB’s Plunger Analysis System 2.0, pattern recognition software that uses loading cycle history to recommend setpoints, or to pinpoint deficiencies in well performance. An operator training system helps new operators learn how to tweak plunger lift without of putting the well at risk, and to trial ‘what if’ scenarios.

Andrew Cappello presented UCOS, TechnipFMC’s ‘user-configurable open system’, a software-based, object-oriented control system that comes with pre-configured applications. On the basis that ‘software eats hardware’, Technip sees its software as replacing today’s PLC environments and flow computers that ‘unnecessarily bind flow calculation to proprietary hardware’. UCOS works across cellular, satellite, wired and Sigfox networks and is also integrating IoT technologies like MQTT, AWS IoT Core and Greengrass. Use cases include tank level monitoring, automated well testing and multi-phase metering.

Next years ABC Wellsite Automation Houston conference is planned for the 28/29th January 2020. More from American Business Conferences.

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