Ahead of our upcoming webinar series “Making Midstream Future-Ready Through Digital Transformation”, we caught up with our Growth Manager Americas Yorinde Lokin to get her insightful perspective on digitalisation in Midstream and how digital twin technology can help midstream operators address their challenges in a smarter, safer and more sustainable way.
Thanks for that question. Let me start by saying that midstream plays a key role in the energy value chain as the true integrator between upstream and downstream. Midstream is the crucial link to get petrochemical products into the world’s economy at the rate the world needs it and at the prices the world can afford.
Managing midstream operations is not an easy job. Pipelines have to be built to exact specifications and across every type of terrain earth offers. Meanwhile, compressor stations have to be maintained constantly at regular intervals along the pipeline for safety and efficiency and terminals need to know when product is coming in our going out. For other types of transport, oil and gas have to be compressed every time to ensure safety on railroads.
To add even more complexity, midstream operators coordinate with all operators working at their assets, including pipeline developers, railroad providers, terminals, trucking companies, and barge and tanker owners, just to name a few. One mistake anywhere in this logistics puzzle can have an enormous impact on safety and cost.
Over time, midstream companies have been generating large amounts of operational data from SCADA Systems, pipeline applications, ERP systems and often in Excel. That data is frequently incomplete or of poor quality, sitting in different systems because of mergers and acquisitions activities, underinvestment in IT or lack of a good future-proof data strategy. This makes it hard for midstream operators to maximize value from data. Today’s world asks for more data, better data and faster access to data. Midstream operators that want to stay ahead of the curve to remain competitive as a company experience the need to have real-time data available to forecast, plan and execute operations in the best possible way.
Simply said, a digital twin can contextualize data from existing systems and overlay that data with models, generative AI and simulation capabilities to maximize value from that data. They provide users with the ability to complete processes in more efficient ways (i.e. plan and schedule work, create a consistent work package) to put the right real-time data in front of the right end user to enable faster, better decision making.
One of the challenges that midstream operators are trying to solve is their capability to get remote access to real-time operational data. There is a lot of value to be gained from having an accurate view of what is happening at your assets and during transportation. Our digital twin can provide users with a role-based situational awareness cockpit – a control tower view of what is happening around or in your pipelines, terminals, facilities, vessels and other assets.
Another big challenge that we see this sector anxiously trying to solve is the high cost of maintenance, specifically for older pipelines and facilities. Midstream operators are dealing with pipelines that are over their original lifespans, and these older energy assets need to be either refurbished or replaced – whilst staying compliant with environmental and operational regulations.
There is high value to be gained by moving from a typical reactive maintenance to a predictive maintenance scenario. A digital twin with proactive monitoring and leak and corrosion detection capabilities can have a significant impact on maintenance planning and cost, engineering capacity and procurement costs.
Lastly, getting access to all asset data in real-time for all assets in a digital twin unlocks the possibility to anticipate supply and demand better, helping midstream operators to deal with challenges like forecasting throughput, optimizing logistics planning and following the exact location of their trains, vessels, and trucks in a single work surface.
We always recommend our clients to think big and to start small. Start with one asset or, in some cases, an area of a bigger asset (i.e. one LNG train) and let us help you solve a small number of high-value use cases with technology. Additional use cases will follow (guaranteed) as you start working and scale up across assets.
The key is to select a few high-value use cases that the majority of your assets can benefit from when solved. This is an important ingredient to help you scale fast and successfully, and of course, this is an area where we can provide advice on what those use cases might be for your organisation.
It’s also important to select an asset champion, someone with the right mindset who is invested in and willing to test new approaches to common problems – an ‘influencer’ at the asset level who will drive success and is willing to provide continuous feedback. Our technology has proven to scale fast and easily across assets and all asset types, and we’re eager to help more midstream operators start their digital twin journey.
I’d love to. The first learning is around data readiness. When I first engage with companies, they often have concerns about their data quality and readiness. What I share with those companies is that they don’t have to worry about dispersed systems, incomplete datasets, or poor data quality. Don’t let data be an argument to postpone your investment decision. The truth is that the data of the biggest companies in the world isn’t perfect, and it probably never will be. We can work with your data, regardless of the quality and the system it is in, and we will help you improve it.
To give you an example, we work with clients who are trying to move away from large amounts of historical Excel files that contain key asset data. We don’t just deploy a digital twin; we work in close partnership with our clients and provide them with data quality dashboards that make gaps visible so they can be fixed at the source. In fact, this is often one of the early high value wins that clients experience when we deploy our technology to their assets.
Secondly, we have a cross-industry and cross-segment view and encourage midstream operators to do the same. Although value drivers may differ, there is a lot we can learn from the use cases of assets in other segments – and vice versa. Reliability, safety, operational excellence, and predictive maintenance are typical examples of common themes that you will find across industries and asset types. Companies that are willing to discuss their challenges with us and bring a true learner mindset have a lot to gain from working with a vendor that can share use cases from the biggest industrial companies in the world.
The last learning concerns business transformation. Technology and process should always go hand in hand with any new technology implementation. The real value of implementing a digital twin doesn’t come from giving frontline staff a new tool to continue working in the same way they always have. The real value comes from changing processes and adapting ways of working.
My advice to companies is to think about business transformation right from the start of your digital twin implementation - and we can support you with that.
Schedule a demo to see the benefits for yourself