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SCADA Systems: Improving Efficiency in the Oil and Gas Industry
SCADA systems help the oil and gas industry improve operations by managing equipment remotely and overseeing critical processes of the modern oilfield.
Industrial organizations in every industry manage countless production processes and transactions every day. Management teams oversee operations, inspect equipment, gather enormous amounts of data, strive to minimize downtime, and ensure that everything runs smoothly and seamlessly. Performing these duties manually is a nearly impossible task.
One of the most powerful tools for monitoring equipment and processing data in real time is supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) — a control system that makes high-level supervision of critical operations in industries like oil and gas, transportation, and manufacturing a much more manageable undertaking.
The Basics of SCADA
SCADA is a powerful system of hardware and software designed to help industrial organizations in their day-to-day operations. It gives operators more control over equipment and processes, including controllers, input/output devices, communication equipment and systems as a whole. It typically involves several subsystems that manage assets dispersed in remote locations, often with limited connectivity.
SCADA is designed to:
- Control and monitor processes within various parameters
- Gather, process and record real-time data
- Connect employees and equipment through human-machine interface (HMI) software
A SCADA system isn’t always the main control system of an operation. Instead, it focuses more on monitoring and parametrization. SCADA systems gather data from sensors, counters, meters, I/O modules, data loggers, and other devices. The system processes data and sends the information to the main control system of an organization. Operators then analyze and interpret the data to make better business decisions faster and with more accurate and complete information.
A SCADA system is also different from other industrial control systems in that it covers large-scale processes spanning multiple sites that can be separated by large distances.
Additionally, SCADA can accommodate everything from simple processes to complex configurations. Well designed SCADA systems are scalable, so the number of variables they can process ranges from a handful to hundreds of thousands.
It should come as no surprise that the private and public sectors use SCADA systems to enhance their operations and improve their processes. Oil and gas, along with food and beverage, water and wastewater treatment, agriculture, pharmaceutical, telecommunications, power, transportation, recycling, manufacturing, and energy all use SCADA systems in some form.
SCADA systems have been known to deliver results such as:
- Energetics: SCADA systems often monitor data relating to the physical, chemical, and biological properties of energy in industrial organizations such as power plants, heating plants, switch rooms and exchanger stations.
- Manufacturing: SCADA systems are vital in the manufacturing sector for managing production, smelting plants, packaging lines, and warehouses.
- Building Management: SCADA systems control the features of buildings, such as air conditioning and security systems.
- Ecology: SCADA systems help organizations monitor how their operations affect the surrounding environment. For instance, the system can track the emissions of industrial plants.
Ultimately, SCADA systems help organizations improve operational efficiency. They process real-time data, so the control team has up-to-date, accurate information to make smart decisions based on facts and trends. This helps managers avoid costly mistakes and helps them keep operations running at optimum efficiency.
Actions can be completed more quickly and with greater precision when SCADA systems are in operation. The system connects equipment and people, alerting relevant personnel when a potential problem is detected. This mitigates downtime and keeps operations running as efficiently as possible.
SCADA Systems in the Oil and Gas Industry
Accurate, real-time data is key to succeeding in the oil and gas industry. Engineers need operational data from the field to calibrate equipment, schedule maintenance activities and coordinate with third-party logistics to keep the flow of product moving.
Management, meanwhile, uses information analyzed by SCADA systems to calculate production values, generate trends for decision-making, and project company profits. On top of that, HSE and regulatory compliance personnel are constantly on the lookout for potential environmental issues and pipeline integrity.
SCADA systems are powerful enough to handle the complex processes required to operate in the new oilfield. These control systems provide a stable and cost-effective solution to the needs of the oil and gas sector.
Companies turn to SCADA to oversee operations, improve efficiency and minimize downtime. On top of that, they rely on the system for advanced warning and efficient shutdown mechanisms, helping management create deliberate and strategic actions to mitigate damage.
Organizations that work in all levels of the production process – upstream, midstream, and downstream – will find a use for advanced data systems. A quick rundown of how SCADA systems help oil and gas businesses provides an overview of the benefits to these and other businesses and shows how it applies to each level of operation.
- Crucial decision-making: Data gathered by a SCADA system helps an organization study data carefully, anticipate trends and execute strategic responses immediately.
- Error reduction: SCADA system automation support eliminates human error. This precision reduces the risk for downtime and improves efficiency.
- Automation: SCADA systems automate routine tasks that were previously handled by employees. This allows for faster and more reliable project completion, which increases productivity.
- Long-distance supervision: A SCADA system allows an organization to supervise and control machinery in various geographic locations, especially when it doesn’t have enough manpower. It forges a reliable communication between the control center and far-flung equipment.
- Crisis response: When a machine fails, a SCADA system helps management mitigate the damage immediately and minimize environmental disasters.
SCADA Systems in the Upstream Sector
The principal role of a SCADA system in the upstream sector is remote data transmission. It gathers crucial information from oil wells and sends them to headquarters, where the organization can analyze it.
The information that a SCADA system transmits includes insight into the conditions of products and equipment during operations. For instance, the system notifies operators when the oilfield is first breached and monitors the crude oil as it comes out of the ground at pressures of more than 23,000 PSI.
The SCADA system helps prevent blow-outs, verifies the safety of pumping and watches out for the integrity of the well-bore. The system also aids reservoir engineers in determining quantities of oil and gas, especially during the first few minutes of production.
At the production site, the team extracts a mixture of oil, sand, and water. They have to be separated into different streams. SCADA systems oversee the performance and safety of the involved machines, like the hydro-cyclones that spin the crude oil to separate them from other debris.
With reliable data transmission, the team can use accurate, real-time data as the basis of its decisions and respond to critical situations faster. SCADA systems also reduce personnel visits – it controls more operations with less manpower and minimizes hazards for employees. On top of that, it provides better control and coordination of complex site operations, which cuts operational costs further.
That is not its only role, however. SCADA systems also optimize the complex coordination of operations among multiple partners. For instance, SCADA involves industrial processes that cover business operations conducted by different organizations. By monitoring critical industrial processes by the oil wells, it supports the coordination role of operations personnel.
SCADA Systems in the Midstream Sector
In the midstream industry, oil pipelines span thousands of miles, traversing harsh terrain and even underwater conditions. Organizations use SCADA systems to monitor the status of the oil flow throughout its journey from the wellsite to downstream plants. It does so by managing the field instruments. With thousands of miles of pipelines, there are numerous pumping, compression, block valve and delivery stations, each equipped with devices such as flow, pressure and temperature gauges and transmitters. These keep the pressure of the pipeline constant, whatever the weather condition or terrain and keep the extracted products in optimum condition.
Additionally, a SCADA system detects and resolves leaks that may emerge during operations. Organizations, therefore, enjoy safer and more reliable midstream processes.
SCADA Systems in the Downstream Sector
The downstream oil and gas industry is responsible for receiving and refining crude oil at processing plants, turning them to various products, such as liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), liquefied natural gas (LNG), gasoline and diesel oil, among others.
Refineries often involve 24/7 operations, and organizations need a software system that manages and monitors the plant’s performance and output. SCADA systems prepare downstream processes for the inflow of the product. Industry publication Control Engineering explains that operators use SCADA systems to supervise PLCs and IPCs, which are the focal point for a plant’s inputs and outputs. They also use it to control sensors, actuators and other devices.
In case of unforeseen circumstances, SCADA systems can detect errors, alert personnel and mitigate damage – in other words, SCADA systems help ensure safe operations.
How SCADA Works
The term SCADA system refers to both hardware and software devices. Hardware gathers and feeds data into computers that run SCADA software. The computers process the data and present it promptly. The SCADA system records all data and events onto a hard disk. We’ll look at the specific parts of a SCADA system’s hardware, as well as the various applications of its software tools.
SCADA Hardware Architecture
SCADA systems are composed of several subsystems, the most important of which are the remote terminal units (RTUs) and the programmable logic controllers (PLCs).
- RTUs act as data concentrators. Connected to sensors on-site equipment, they convert sensor signals to digital data. They employ telemetry hardware, which sends these digital data to the supervisory system. On the other end, RTUs receive digital commands from the supervisory system and transmit them to the end devices.
- PLCs monitor programmed parameters. They can monitor liquid levels, gas meters, voltage, current, pressure, temperature, humidity, viscosity, volumetric flow rate, mass, and more. Organizations program PLCs through structured language and elementary logic operations. They usually have more sophisticated control capabilities than RTUs. Sometimes, they are a substitute for RTUs as field devices because they are more economical and versatile. PLCs are best associated with older generations SCADA systems but are quickly being replaced by Industrial PCs.
- Industrial PCs (IPCs) are used for process control, data acquisition, and analysis. Unlike PLCs, IPC functions can be updated remotely via cloud-based control systems. This degree of connectivity allows for immediate modification and upgrades to the existing control system. While PLCs were the standard for years, they are not "smart" tech like IPCs that offer advanced features and the ability to update their programming through the cloud.
- Telemetry systems connect PLCs and RTUs to the main control center and data warehouses. They are either wired or wireless. Wired telemetry media in SCADA systems include leased telephone lines and WAN circuits. Their wireless counterparts, meanwhile, include satellite, radio and microwaves.
- Human-machine interface (HMI) presents processed data to the operators. It usually requests data from data acquisition servers.
- Servers are responsible for the acquisition and management of data for a set of parameters. There are different servers for certain tasks. Some handle alarms, while others file data. Data acquisition servers, for instance, bridge software services with RTUs, PLCs and IPCs via telemetry.
- A supervisory system is a computer or group of computers that handle data during operations and sends commands. An extensive communication infrastructure connects this system to RTUs, PLCs and IPCs.
SCADA Software Applications
The SCADA system gathers and processes data in seamless motions. Here are some of the highlights of SCADA software application:
- Monitoring: SCADA systems are programmed to execute commands for critical situations. For instance, operators peg the parameters at 60% of the tank volume. Any value above that would either alert the concerned teams or operate the machine without human intervention.
- Data acquisition: The process begins at the RTU, PLC or IPC. Sensors gather data from equipment in various locations. Each sensor accounts for a function; for instance, some gather data on the water flow from the reservoir to the water tank. Others, meanwhile, gather input on water pressure as the fluid exits the reservoir. The data is then compiled and formatted so that the control room operator in front of the HMI can adjust or override normal RTU controls.
- Controlling: RTUs, PLCs and IPCs are largely responsible for carrying out control actions. The organizations (especially operators) can intervene in these decisions. For instance, a remote actuator controls the flow of fluids through the pipelines. The SCADA system’s software tools, however, allow staff to change the parameters and adjust alarm conditions.
- Data communication: SCADA systems use wide area network (WAN) and local area network (LAN) networks, which consist of internet protocols. A LAN is a group of computers and devices connected to one another, usually within the same premises. A WAN, on the other hand, has a wider reach – it connects LANs, allowing the SCADA system to reach equipment in remote locations.
- Historian: This is a software service that stores time-stamped data, Boolean operations and alarms in a database. The SCADA software can use this to query data or populate graphic trends in the HMI. It usually gets its data from a data acquisition server.
- Information presentation: Most SCADA systems involve human-machine interface systems (HMIs). RTUs gather and process information and send them onto an HMI. The HMI then translates this input to signals that the machine would understand. It provides a graphical presentation of the system and allows operators to input commands. For instance, the HMI could display a picture of a pump connected to a certain tank. The operator could monitor the flow and pressure of the water and input necessary adjustments.
Setting System Parameters
The SCADA system allows operators to change the parameters of various controllers and enable alarm conditions.
Here’s an example. The SCADA system detects that a certain batch of products has an unusual number of oversights. It notifies the system quickly, and the operator halts production. Another facet of the SCADA system assesses the situation, finds where the error occurred and projects the data. The team then uses this information to apply fixes and resume normal operations.
Such a versatile system is invaluable to the oil and gas industry. From detecting a critical leak in one of the pipelines to remotely opening a release valve if too much pressure builds up on a pipeline, the system can either alert the involved teams or initiate an action based on its programmed commands.
This way, the SCADA system mitigates the damage and minimizes the hazardous conditions that the leak or high-pressure levels could have created. Consequently, it prevents production loss and ensures robust revenues.
Keeping SCADA Systems Secure
Although most SCADA systems have security measures in place, organizations should ask their providers to walk them through steps they can take to improve security. Here are some tips companies could explore:
- Limit connectivity to involved personnel, and limit access to the scope of the personnel’s job
- Restrict access to specific devices only
- Put a thorough authentication measure for each device and change passwords often
- Consider virtual private networks (VPNs) for corporate networks to allow the team to share data securely
Investing In Reliable SCADA Systems
The SCADA systems industry should enjoy healthy growth in the coming years. Business Insider reports that the trend of the worldwide market is optimistic — the total global revenue of SCADA systems in the oil and gas industry would register a compound annual growth rate of 3.2% from 2016 to 2023.
The huge global demand for energy from carbon-based fuels are among the factors that propel this growth. Additionally, exploration and production are leaning towards more remote and hostile environments, which require better monitoring systems.
Improving Efficiency With SCADA Systems
The SCADA system was developed as companies needed to expand and improve their operations. At first, they relied on people to control huge equipment, which soon became a challenge. And it was even more difficult when the facility ran equipment over long distances. This, in itself, was time-consuming and costly.
Control engineering urges oil and gas companies to invest in monitoring systems to increase productivity to resolve these issues. More extensive use of IT-based automation would pave the way for faster expansion of oil and gas production.
As SCADA systems made their first appearance, operators gained more efficient management in the upstream, midstream and downstream sectors. This tool improves operations in various oil and gas facilities – the time, source of controls, way the equipment works and is controlled and more. They make the company more productive, aiding specialists and adding value to the operations.
The system’s effectiveness is such that it was able to grow and evolve over little more than half a century.
- The 1950s saw the development of the first computers for industrial use. Huge sectors, such as the major utilities and oil and gas companies, were at the helm of this new technology.
- In the 1960s, industries began using telemetry, which is the automatic measurement and wireless transmission of data from remote sources. Sensors from geographically dispersed machinery gather information (such as temperature and pressure) and convert them to specific electrical voltages. A multiplexer then combines these voltages with timing data into a single data stream. The multiplexer transmits this stream to a remote receiver, which will deconstruct it into its original form (i.e., temperature, pressure and timing data) and display them onto operators.
- 1970s experts coined the term SCADA and started developing its hardware and software — specifically, mainframe computers. These allowed companies to monitor and control automated processes better. These computers, however, were not connected to one another – each SCADA functioned as a single unit. As such, these were known as monolithic SCADA systems.
- In the 1980s, local area networking (LAN) technology and PC-based, human-machine interface (HMI) software helped improve SCADA systems further. Soon, people were able to connect their SCADA systems with one another. These were called distributed SCADA systems. Many of these systems were owned exclusively by organizations, so they upgraded and reconfigured them freely. The catch of the uneven development, however, is that these systems couldn’t communicate with SCADA systems from other organizations.
- The 1990s and 2000s saw organizations launch SCADA systems that were geared toward universal communication. The innovation adopted an open-system architecture, allowing one system to communicate with other SCADA systems from other organizations. On top of that, people could connect more devices to their SCADA network. These were called the networked SCADA system.
Later, organizations began using personal computing and IT databases, which used structured query language (SQL). SCADA developers, however, do not use this language, creating a disconnect between IT databases and the controls covered by SCADA systems.
Modern SCADA systems resolve these issues. They incorporate IT into traditional SCADA technology, improving the efficiency, security, productivity and reliability of SCADA systems. Those that have a SQL database allow data to flow throughout the organization. They have paved the way for greater transparency and efficiency. People can also log historical data from a SCADA system to a SQL database, making data analysis and trending easier.
Industry Innovation: Wireless SCADA Systems
Wireless SCADA systems speed up the control and transfer of both live and historical data to the organization’s headquarters. Moreover, companies enjoy cost savings when they opt for wireless technologies. They don’t have to contend with hefty installation and permit costs. Nor do they have to trench and run conduits. At the same time, they don’t have to face repair bills, machine failure and downtime when environmental conditions degrade the facilities.
Wireless SCADA systems aim to improve the reliability of the control architecture while reducing operational costs. Continuous research on SCADA systems, therefore, pave the way for better hardware and software, helping organizations and even entire industries improve operations further.
Hesitation in Investing in a Solution
Despite its numerous benefits, oil and gas companies are slow to take advantage of SCADA systems compared to other industries. Control Engineering reports that investment rates in the oil and gas industry have been dipping, in fact.
The industry prefers time-tested production methods and technologies. In some cases, they steer clear of IT-based automation because of the complexity in computing the return on investment (ROI); people cannot accurately quantify the benefits that SCADA systems bring.
As a result, companies experience many setbacks in operations. For instance, oil and gas companies in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria are behind on their technological upgrades, so they contend with continuous and often unnoticed damage. Not only did it disturb operations, but it also led to environmental pollution.
The slow growth has a silver lining, though. It gives engineers a chance to plan the improvement of operations, especially in low-price markets, where automation has a greater impact on productivity and profitability.
As financial pressures push organizations to cut operational costs, they need to find a way to manage growing assets spanning greater distances, with smaller budgets and fewer people. After all, rigorous management of new projects and streamlined operations are critical components in the oil and gas industry, especially as processes become more complex and competition grows fiercer.
Oil and gas companies who are interested in this technology stand to gain via increased productivity and profitability. The SCADA systems, therefore, are instrumental in easing these industry challenges. Just by investing in a SCADA system, they’re one step ahead of the game.
Implementing A SCADA System
A typical SCADA system lasts for about 15 years. Because of the systems’ longevity, it’s crucial that organizations dedicate thorough research and thought to acquiring one. As machinery and technology improves, operational automation needs will grow. It could be difficult to accurately predict how your facilities will expand over the years, especially because the market, demand, production and workforce is bound to change.
The solution is to find an automation partner who can foresee the trends and the potentials of innovations. Such a partner would guide you through the changes that the organization might face in the coming years.
Here are some questions a company and an automation partner might look into when evaluating SCADA systems:
- What are the company’s objectives and what role would the SCADA system play in achieving them?
- What changes in the operations would help the business in the long run?
- How would the SCADA system eliminate or reduce inefficiencies and costs?
- Would the new SCADA system:
- Prolong the lifespan of assets through proper monitoring?
- Improve productivity and equipment performance?
- Produce better products and services?
- What costs would the new SCADA system entail? These should include the potential inspection, maintenance and repair bills.
- Does the SCADA supplier have a positive reputation? Does it offer support for troubleshooting, upgrades and others?
Given that SCADA systems would be one of the most critical functionalities of an oil and gas company, they should exhibit superior features, such as:
- Support for current and future needs
- Considerable reliability and cost-effectiveness
- Integration with an organization’s existing data systems and hardware at all sites
- Accommodation of future changes, such as maintenance routines
- Security measures in place to mitigate potential security risks
- Robust hardware that can handle tough environmental conditions
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