As a part of the global and dynamic oil and gas industry, there is a constant need to sustain profitability using the latest technology. Thanks to innovative solutions like the cloud, mobility, and advanced analytics tools, oilfield operators can extract more value from their assets and maximize uptime.
To stay competitive in the industry, oilfield facility operators are adopting state-of-the-art solutions for a better view of real-time production data and enhance operations. This adoption also allows them to respond to issues as soon as they arise and helps identify potential issues before they become incidents.
Improvements in operations and production translates to increased efficiency. With the right oilfield equipment, people and resources working together, you can achieve your operational goals with lower costs and a better safety record. One way to do so is to adopt facility automation services to help you make logic-based decisions at your facility. The two most common systems include Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs) and Industrial PCs (IPCs).
Automating Processes in Oil and Gas Operations
Upstream and midstream operators are starting to make the shift towards automating their operations, and the historical solution for this type of automation has been the use of programmable logic controllers (PLCs). This industrial control system can automate specific processes, machine functions, and even entire production lines. Unlike traditional computers, PLCs are set apart through the following key features:
- Input and output (I/O) modules – A PLC’s CPU processes and stores program data. Unlike traditional PCs, however, they have I/O modules that connect to the machine. These modules provide information to the CPU and trigger specific results.
- Communication protocols – Apart from its I/O devices, PLCs can also connect with other systems. It features a range of ports and communication protocols to make communication with other systems possible.
- Human Machine Interface (HMI) – PLCs are capable of interacting with users in real-time through its HMI. The operator interfaces could range from text readouts to touchscreen panels. Either way, they allow users to review and input information to the PLC correctly.
PLCs work by receiving information from a connected sensor or input device. After processing the data, it triggers outputs based on pre-programmed requirements. Depending on the I/O, PLCs can monitor and record data like operating temperature and machine productivity. It can also perform other functions like sound alarms during equipment malfunctions, or start and stop processes when needed.
Oilfield operators use PLCs to regulate activities and streamline production. The automated system helps regulate petroleum extraction, transportation, and distribution processes. A single person can operate an entire system and control when to start-up, monitor, and shut down operations. With these innovative systems, you can use a single control system to start or stop the pumps at your facility.
Shifting to Industrial-Grade, PC-Based Automation
PLCs have been the go-to choice for control systems among oil and gas operators, and other industrial applications, for decades. Since the introduction of IPCs during the 1980s, however, switching from PLCs to industrial PCs became a viable alternative for those in the oil and gas industry.
The popularity of IPCs coincided with the rise of cloud-based industrial networks that provide users greater flexibility than PLCs, with less downtime when making changes or upgrades to an existing system.
While PLCs were useful for speeding up production and automating processes, they do not meet other demanding requirements like extra data storage, networking capabilities, user-friendly features, the ability to update processes remotely and more. IPC technology, on the other hand, was designed to perform tasks like communication, data storage, and number crunching and can be upgraded by pushing out new software remotely without the need to take a facility offline.
IPC technology is present in various facets of development — from smartphones to cloud computing. The oil and gas industry is no exception to these changes. With the dawn of the digital manufacturing and the proliferation of smart devices, companies are turning to IPC-based automation to achieve their business goals.
The commercialization of digital products is calling for a greater emphasis on data, information exchange, and the collaborative execution of processes. And IPC-based automation solutions are more suited to those applications.
Helping Oilfield Companies Manage Integrated Operations
High-performance IPCs are designed for reliable and continuous operation in the extreme environments typical to the oil and gas industry. As a cost-effective IPC-based automation alternative, those in the upstream, midstream, and downstream sectors are adopting the IPC to drive integrated operations and boost profitability.
The oil and gas industry follows mission-critical processes controlled by systems subject to extreme conditions, heavy regulatory penalties, and environmental damages. Some PLCs may be suitable for the extreme operating conditions that the industry requires but are limited due to the platform on which they operate. Since IPCs are engineered for performance, reliability, and durability, they are better suited for the job as they guarantee data protection, real-time operations, and deployment flexibility.
PC-based automation solutions have been so efficient, in fact, that it is helping the industry drive “integrated operations.” The term refers to the gathering, consolidation, and analysis of data in the entire oil and gas value chain in real time. This is truly the definition of a “digital oilfield” and not the use of one piece of technology disguised as an integrated system.
The Features of PLCs and IPCs in One Device
Using PLCs and IPCs may be different, but both systems have their advantages and disadvantages. Depending on your requirements, they can continue working hand-in-hand in your operations.
IPCs have a distinct edge, however, since they combine the advantages of both systems into one device. These include:
- Extreme ruggedness – IPCs operate efficiently in extreme conditions common to oil and gas applications. These include desert environments or refinery operations that could “cook” the insides of a standard PC.
- Robust developer resources – One of the most significant advantages of an IPC is that it allows operators to run applications that combine PLC control logic and enterprise-oriented PC applications. After all, IPCs can run PLC logic and integrate non-PLC functionalities, as well. As a result, it gives process and industrial engineers the liberty to tailor their applications to fit their requirements.
- Real-time operating systems – IPC users have the benefit of executing processes instantaneously. These fixed-precision timeframes often take place in a matter of milliseconds.
- Large data storage – IPCs have a vast data storage that allows users to collect high-speed data from different process applications. This could play an important role in operations with limited communication capabilities.
SitePro is a digital oilfield automation company that offers oil and gas automation and SCADA solutions to operations of any size. We use IPCs for our automation and data collection operations instead of antiquated PLCs. By taking this approach, our customers can continuously update their software and equipment without shutting down operations or sending technicians to the field.
Email us today for a free software demo, and let’s talk about the way we can automate your operations saving you time and money in any market condition.