Midstream Companies Can Also Benefit from IIoT and Mobility

By Tim Shea

Industry Trends

Over last several weeks ARC has been blogging and writing about the benefits of IIoT enabled solutions for upstream oil & gas companies, but it is clear that the entire oil & gas value chain – upstream, midstream and downstream – can benefit from leveraging Big Data, analytics and other IIoT enabled technologies to help reduce costs, improve production, increase productivity, improve collaboration, and typically improve profitability.

A recent Wall Street Journal  CIO Journal article talks about energy pipeline company The Williams Company, an early adopter of what is now known as the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT).  It has embedded sensors in pipelines for decades.  But the effort is just now beginning to pay off in earnest, due to the creation of mobile software the company uses to monitor and resolve slowdowns in natural gas flow.

A tapestry of sensors and software help the Tulsa, OK company monitor activity across its 800-plus facilities and along 33,000 miles of pipeline.  Traditionally, operations staff passed some of this data, collected from sensors attached to meter stations, compressors and gathering pipelines, to 1,500 field technicians.  But because reports were often short on detail, field technicians lost time pinpointing the location and scope of the problem.

A new mobile app developed by Williams, called Pi, leverages the company’s investments in sensors by delivering to field technicians’ smartphones metrics on gas pressure, flow and vibration levels, in a visual map of status along various pipeline points.  Launched in 2013, Pi has helped improve operational efficiency, and, in one region, boosted gas production revenues between $1 million to $2 million.

While the Internet of Things has been fueled in part by the declining cost of sensors and connectivity, Williams’ work is an example of another engine of IoT’s growth: new platforms and services that help employees better manage and analyze the streams of data.

But to make its decades-long investments in the Internet of Things applicable for field technicians, Williams spent more than $1 million building and buying software to support mobile apps.  It built software to enable employees to access mobile devices through single sign-on credentials and a centralized “enterprise service bus” that allows corporate applications to communicate with each other.

Pi democratizes sensor data, delivering to smartphones pipeline readings that indicate throughput status. A green reading shows optimal throughput, while a yellow reading suggests a slow-down.  A red reading indicates a freeze-off, in which water produced alongside the natural gas crystallizes and blocks the flow.  Freeze-offs can cost Williams millions of dollars annually in gas that cannot be processed and produced.

One of the key takeaways was that the patience that Williams exhibited in making a decades-long investment in IIoT and mobile solutions seems to be paying off in spades now and positioning the company to be even more successful in the future.  In ARC’s Leak Detection Systems market study we discussed how companies could leverage IIoT enabled solutions to enhance the effectiveness of their pipeline integrity programs and help mitigate the risks and damages that pipeline leaks or ruptures can wreak.


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