Lower drilling day rates demanded by operators during the lower for longer cycle meant drilling contractors had to reduce their operating costs to survive. With fewer vessels under contract during the downturn, drilling contractors must differentiate themselves beyond the traditional criteria, such as drilling equipment capability and safety. This means focusing on availability and efficiency.

That was at the heart of a partnership formed earlier this year between GE and Noble Corp. with the two companies launching the world’s first digital drilling vessel, targeting a 20% operational expenditure reduction across targeted equipment and improve drilling efficiency.

Since operations began, operators in the offshore drilling sector have relied on the performance of individuals, leading to significant performance inconsistencies and variance. That traditional operating methodology was severely challenged during the downturn and compelled drilling operators to seek new ways of working and investigating innovative ways to achieve operational excellence.

“With shifting market dynamics, the offshore industry is on the cusp of change,” said Noble Corp. CEO David W. Williams. “Drilling contractors must seize the moment to enhance their competitive edge. We believe the shift to data-driven decisions will have a significant effect on drilling efficiencies. It is imperative for our industry to embrace the digital revolution to stay efficient and nimble.”

Krishna Uppuluri, vice president of digital products for GE’s Marine Solutions, concurred and added that it is time for the industry to rethink the drilling ecosystem. “Offshore companies must adapt to industry disruptions by leveraging digital solutions to counteract the current downswing and for readiness to scale during a market upswing,” he said. “Industry-wide collaboration underpins a solid digital future. Together, we are stronger and will get there faster. It is a privilege to partner with Noble, and we are looking forward to delivering the results enabled by the digital age.”

Going Digital

The Digital Rig solution that GE and Noble are pioneering integrates data models from a digital replica of physical assets, known as a digital twin, along with advanced analytics to detect off-standard behavior, providing an early warning to operators to mitigate a problem before it strikes. Thanks to vessel-wide intelligence, personnel on the vessel or onshore, can gain a holistic view of an entire vessel’s health state and the real-time performance of each piece of equipment onboard.

“By being able to look at comparable, accurate and detailed data across the fleet insights that were previously challenging to attain, if not impossible, will now be more readily accessible,” Uppuluri added. “We can also automatically track drilling process to minimise process deviations and non-productive time. This enhances drilling efficiency and predictability.”

On The Job Learning

A digital twin is not a static representation but an evolving mirror of the live asset. Through the learning curve, the digital twin will continue to enhance its predictive capability of machine behaviors and ultimately enable predictive maintenance.

“Digital twin gives early warning on equipment degradation for corrective actions and reduces unplanned downtime,” Uppuluri said. “As the digital twin continues to acquire information, we will be able to learn from analytics results, which will shed new light on maintenance effectiveness as well as help us explore other possibilities to further improve drilling efficiency in marine settings.”

This means the personnel offshore can now focus their resources on maintenance activities that are truly needed and effective. The result is reduced unplanned downtime, improved revenue and significant maintenance cost savings.

“The performance and reliability of equipment are impacted by the geographical region and prevailing operating conditions on a rig,” Uppuluri said. “Machine learning enhances the digital twin to account for specific operational conditions of equipment.

“This visibility can be transformational when it is real-time and enables drill-down insights into any anomalies. The constant pulse on operations helps achieve enhanced operations efficiency and predictability across the entire enterprise with data available from different shifts, crews and rigs.”

Making Drilling A Science

According to Uppuluri, digital technology can transform drilling from an art to a science. “Such systemized processes can reduce operating costs and enable innovative business models for a new competitive dynamic in drilling industry,” he said.

Aside from facing the current downturn and associated lower rates and highly competitive market, going digital can allow the industry to rethink its ecosystem.

“The operations predictability and predictive maintenance can unlock ecosystem efficiencies,” Uppuluri said. “Operations can achieve better alignment with oil companies on drilling. Maintenance can achieve supply-chain logistics optimization that will minimize spare-part inventories and service visits. Insightful data can be fed back to OEMs to further improve product quality and also help to add or change necessary features for product optimization.”