Change is afoot in how oil and gas players execute major projects. Some in the industry are talking about a future in which standardization obviates the need for product specifications and any customization is handled entirely within the realm of software. We might not be there quite yet, but the trend is clear.
This is significant for many reasons, but it is a natural by-product of the advance of technology and a basic business imperative to control costs and improve quality.
For years, the oil and gas industry has believed that a customized approach would yield the best results. Certainly, in some parts of the industry, this remains true. More highly specialized projects require more specialized solutions, but for more typical projects, there is an increasingly strong argument for taking a different path.
Less customization opens the possibility of mass production of standardized hardware, and even software, which brings costs down. But these are just the means to an end. The real objective is greater predictability around both the performance and the delivery (design, installation, testing, commissioning) of the solution. Standardization reduces overall system price because suppliers can reduce engineering hours along with the cost of the hardware itself.
One example of this is soft marshalling. Suppliers have practiced this for years, and the advent of flexible, single-channel I/O has made it even easier to cut down the complexity of a given project design.
Controller-centric I/O promotes an inflexible serial execution model that exposes the project owner to delays. Soft marshalling and late binding mean that hardware and software are no longer joined at the hip. Project tasks can run in parallel and late-stage changes can still be accommodated without disrupting the critical path.
How much of a difference are we talking about? ABB estimates that applying such a project execution model can shorten the design, engineering, installation and commissioning time of typical large, greenfield oil and gas automation projects from 100,000 hours to about 50,000 hours.
This has implications not only for O&G operators but EPCs as well because it implies significant change in the way projects are procured and designed.