Remote Monitoring: Bridging the Oil and Gas Industry Skills Gap
May 23, 2014
Andy McKeran
1 comment

It was so refreshing to see the excitement for our industry shown by the many young people in attendance at this year’s Offshore Technology Conference. That said, given the nature of the concerns of the aging skilled workforce in the oil and gas sector, their presence reminds us of the urgent need to nurture and develop new talent to bridge a growing talent gap in the industry. This is made even more pressing by the industry’s anticipated 7 per cent compound annual growth rate.

The majority of professionals in the oil and gas sector are between the ages of 40 and 50 years old. In the US alone, many large employers risk losing 50 to 80 per cent of their retirement-eligible population in the next five years. Bridging this gap presents an immense challenge for our industry; however, increasing the effectiveness of leadership, providing career advancement opportunities, improving reward and recognition schemes, increasing training and development and increasing publicity around the great career opportunities in offshore oil and gas will inevitably help to bridge the gap in the long term.

The various initiatives in play here can’t be relied on to match pace with the immediate growth demands, however, and a number of factors in the industry need to change.

First among these is finding a way to simplify and streamline the operations of offshore assets today. The tasks carried out to maintain and manage operations onboard (including drillships and semis-submersibles) and production units (including FPSOs) require a great deal of skill to deliver acceptable levels of performance, reliability and safety.

However, there are a number of more occasional, routine and non-routine maintenance tasks that would benefit from either greater automation or remote support, such as automatic system health checks for power generation, propulsion equipment (including drives and motors), drilling equipment (including riser and BOPs) and distribution equipment within these otherwise potentially complex systems.

Imagine a propulsion drive train system that every time it starts, automatically checks against the previous start parameters of not only its own system, but also another 10, 50 or 100 systems of a similar configuration. It also provides an automatic comparison to say that it is healthy, allowing for repeatability and standards not seen today – increasing the availability and reliability of the system.

Furthermore, enabling onshore resources to remotely troubleshoot and support issues across an entire offshore asset base can save considerable manpower and time over having dedicated specialists on each vessel. A key enabler to deliver this is an onboard system capable of capturing and diagnosing the issue, and then rapid connection with the shore based support team, either through remote monitoring technology or data packages automatically emailed to the beach. This would allow onshore specialists a potential real-time view of the ongoing performance of key onboard assets, helping to ensure that problems are resolved either before they occur, increasing availability and productivity, or rapidly after they occur, reducing downtime. If a fault is found, onshore experts can remotely diagnose and advise on necessary measures, or travel out to a site to support and correct it if necessary. This ‘lean manning’ approach could have a dramatic impact on the number of engineers needed offshore, addressing the skills shortage currently presenting itself today.

Ultimately, offshore lean manning will help us face up to the skills shortage challenge we’re facing and drive asset availability, efficiency and cost-savings in offshore operations without sacrificing safety or operational performance. Obviously, in the long term, we will still focus on training and recruiting more young workers into the industry. However, onboard diagnostics and system health checks, combined with remote monitoring capability is a clear way to ensure the industry can run more efficiently irrespective of that challenge. 

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Andy McKeran

Andy McKeran is the Marine Executive, GE's Marine Solutions. Andy started with Alstom Power in their power conversions sector and followed with a series of sales and director roles in rotating machines for Converteam. He then joined GE's Power Conversion and led leadership roles in offshore business and later in the marine segment. He is also leading the Digital initiative in GE, helping customers deploy a digitalized marine strategy.