A full day of press conferences and other events at the recent ARC Advisory Group Forum held in Orlando gave credence to the idea that major automation vendors see increasing opportunities in the upstream petroleum sector. Besides providing equipment used in subsea and other major capital projects, recent advances in wireless, remote, and IP-based communications make instrumenting of even legacy, low-producing assets an investment that potentially lowers costs or increases production. In fact, analyst firm Gartner recently noted that the information-technology focus in a range of industrial sectors is shifting from the provision of WANs, LANs, and finance systems to so-called “automation IT,” i.e., the embedding of information technology in process control and other industrial systems. At ARC, companies including Yokogawa Corporation of America, ILS Technologies, Emerson Process Management, and Cypress Envirosystems discussed solutions that fit the bill. Yokogawa highlighted its low-power-consumption intelligent remote terminal units (RTU) that can deliver asset intelligence from remote locations such as oil & gas well heads. The RTU modules are for use with field control node (FCN) autonomous controllers, a core element of Yokogawa’s “Stardom” network-based control system. More generally, Yokogawa has applications for the upstream petroleum industry that include — beside remote monitoring — well-head control, field sensors and devices, and metering. Saturo Koruso, senior vice president, head of industrial automation business headquarters, Yokogawa Electric Corp., said, “Our Company offers a complete solution to oil and gas, and can do big and small projects. On the one hand this includes one of the largest systems in the world, with more than 100,000 tags, to monitor and control multiple well heads from one central location. On the other hand, we can provide low-cost solutions for monitoring of isolated, remote production.” The RTUs include a CPU module with embedded I/O and communication ports; a power supply module; and a base module that is half the size of its predecessor. The modules make it possible to use FCN controllers in gas and oil fields and other locations subject to harsh environmental conditions or that are lacking in power and communications infrastructure. Systems installed in such environments must be highly durable and consume little power. Moreover, with autonomous capabilities that combine the features of control, monitoring, and data logging and transmission, FCN controllers are suitable for use in geographically distributed SCADA (supervisory control and data acquisition) applications, and for the control and monitoring functionality of PLCs. Both real-time and on-site data recorded on the controllers can be transmitted via a mobile phone network or other technology used to transmit field data. A much smaller technology provider, ILS Technology, while not yet well known in the upstream oil and gas industry, has capabilities that are already proving valuable in a range of industrial environments. Its deviceWISE software framework enables secure, direct connectivity from production devices to enterprise applications. It can also perform analyses on numerous devices to improve decision making, functionality, and usability. The platform decreases installation and maintenance costs by eliminating use of intermediate PC technology. This results in enhanced security and reduced system integration cycles. Compatible with virtually any database, message queuing, or application server system, deviceWISE breaks through complicated data transfer layers and the resulting connectivity maximizes the capabilities of next-generation intelligent devices. For example, by installing a Web server directly on a PC, a SCADA type interface can be placed directly on a range of remote devices. Vector graphics allow the interface to appear natively in almost any type interface display, including handheld devices, with a degree of clarity not possible when this is accomplished through the porting of typical SCADA interfaces. As recently reported by E&P, automation vendor Emerson received orders in October 2008 from PDVSA, the Venezuelan state-owned oil company, for the first two phases of a program to install Emerson Smart Wireless technology in the Morichal District oil fields. The reported multi-million-dollar orders include monitoring of more than 180 wells by nearly 700 Emerson devices arranged in a self-organizing wireless “mesh” network. These type networks route data via radio-signal pathways that are able to overcome obstructions or interference because each wireless device can act as a router for other nearby devices, thereby passing the messages along until they reach their destination, meaning the signal can “go around” an obstruction. For the upstream oil and gas industry, the benefits of wireless communications can be especially enticing, as communication of well-head data from wired instruments often proves unreliable due to grounding problems and harmonics generated by electronic-drive equipment at the well pads. In many cases, the problem of false readings can be solved only by burying heavily armored cables in trenches, which is both time consuming and expensive. Wireless instrumentation at the wellhead can be a real-time indicator that gross oil flow—dependent upon the ratio amongst oil, gas, and water produced—has changed. For example, at BP’s Wytch Farm oilfield, Western Europe’s largest onshore oilfield, Emerson Smart Wireless Transmitters are used to continuously monitor annular and tubing wellhead pressure. Pressures previously were measured by gauges that were manually read once or twice a day. Also late last year, Emerson entered into a long-term support and service agreement with Qatargas Operating Co. for its expanding liquefied natural gas (LNG) operations. Under the five-year agreement, Emerson will provide asset management services, advanced skills training, and a comprehensive parts management program. Emerson also has established a dedicated team of experienced engineers resident in Qatar to work at the Qatargas facility in Ras Laffan. Emerson already has a long-term alliance in place with Qatargas for supply of Emerson's digital automation solutions, including PlantWeb digital plant architecture and smart instrumentation. When completed and operating, Qatargas' four new LNG liquefaction and mega trains, at Ras Laffan, are expected to create the world's largest capacity for LNG, each delivering at an annual rate of 7.8 million tons. Qatargas pioneered the fast-growing LNG business in Qatar, and now owns and operates a world-class onshore LNG plant utilizing natural gas from the North Field in the Arabian Gulf, and today markets and exports LNG and associated condensate worldwide. Finally, a relatively new company, Cypress Envirosystems, discussed its line of non-invasive and wireless technologies that can be fitted to an installed base of manual and other type devices in minutes. For example, its wireless gauge reader clips-on to the front face of an existing dial gauge to capture and transmit its readings. Achieving automated transmission therefore doesn’t require removing any old gauges, breaking pressure seals, performing leak checks, running wires, or interrupting the underlying process. It has ingeniously applied similar methods to fit other type legacy equipment, including transducers, steam traps, batteries, and pneumatic thermostats.