Growing up I spent a fair piece of time helping in the parts warehouse of my parents’ small engine repair shop during the ’80s oil boom. It was there that I heard variations of “if I’d only caught it sooner, then we could’ve fixed it before it broke” from customers.

It often was followed by its friend, “Time is money, and downtime is double-money.” Downtime is not just profit lost but also the expense incurred getting the system running again. While preventing all downtime is not currently possible, advances in digital technologies are helping to make it a real possibility in the future.

GE Oil & Gas and BP announced a year ago their partnership to co-create a digital solution to reduce unplanned downtime in offshore operations. Less than a year later, on Nov. 15, 2016, the companies announced the startup of pilot testing of the Plant Operations Advisor (POA) on a BP production platform in the Gulf of Mexico.

“We’ve gone from a concept that was literally a gleam in our eyes when we first visited a little over a year ago to the starting up of the pilot test on our Atlantis platform [Nov. 11],” said Ahmed Hashmi, BP’s head of Upstream Technology.

The POA is designed to improve the efficiency, reliability and safety of BP’s oil and gas production operations. This initial deployment is a pilot test of the system and could—subject to its success—see deployment on other BP facilities around the world.

“Once the system is deployed across all of the planned facilities, we’ll be tracking 20 million digital entities that are streaming live,” said Binu Mathew, global head, Development and Product Management for GE Oil & Gas Digital. “Some of these will refresh quite frequently, every few minutes for example, and some less frequently. It is a very large volume of data.”

The tool, built on GE’s Predix operating system and through its utilization of GE’s Asset Performance Management capabilities, rapidly integrates operational data from producing oil and gas facilities to deliver notifications and analytical reports to engineers so they can identify performance issues before they become significant, according to a press release.

“The control systems are meant to trip whenever something goes outside of its operating limit,” Hashmi said. “We call these excursions. The Plant Operations Advisor will train itself as it witnesses these different excursions over time.”

The POA provides simplified access to a variety of live data feeds and includes visualization capabilities including a real-time facility threat display. It also incorporates an extensive case management capability to support learnings from prior operational issues, the release stated.

“Our process engineers create a history of which component went out of its operating limit [and] what the conditions were that preceded it. The POA, through this training and the history, will give early warnings to the engineers, alerting them that a piece of equipment may be going out of range if X, Y and Z are not done to prevent it,” Hashmi said. “Once we get into that zone, that’s when we’re truly reducing unplanned downtime…improving the reliability of the plant, and that’s our objective here.”

Presley’s Completions & Production column first appeared in the January 2017 issue of E&P magazine.