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Automation in Oil and Gas Industry - Yazgı Nur Akın

Automation can be defined as tasks controlled by humans that are realized by machines or systems. It is generally known as easy and reliable production management in several industries, like the energy industry, which has a long history in automation implementations. Thanks to the computer sciences' technological developments, it is now more possible to operate and control businesses at every step. When a process started to be planned, automation appears as a very important factor for more controlled and quality production with less workforce.

It will be useful to mention SCADA and PLC, which are prominent to understand automation systems. SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition) controls widely distributed facilities from single-center thanks to the computer, mobile phone, tablet, etc. Hence, it is software that helps to monitor the process with devices. It can be used from a single device and control and monitoring with multiple computers and portable devices with network connections. This feature appears as a sine qua non for today's energy world, which deals with many crises. Although SCADA, which is widely used in nuclear, electricity, and natural gas plants, seems to have high initial costs, it is accepted by the authorities that the system pays for itself in a short time. Secondly, PLC (Programmable Logic Controller) comes to the fore in the automation systems. It is known as a "microprocessor" based device that processes the information received from the sensors according to the encoding program and transfers it to the elements.

Automation has four main functions: measuring, comparing, calculating, and correcting. Firstly, it measures to obtain inputs and to turn them into the outputs to actualize the process. Secondly, it compares the values, and then it calculates the current and possible errors. Finally, it provides a correction step for the actions that will be operated. All these functions help the oil and gas companies' projects to operate more appropriately. All international O&G companies prioritize the digitalization of business through full or semi-automation systems. The main reasons for this approach mainly include increasing productivity, quality, and predictability of the business. Besides, embracing automation completely contributes to increasing the value of many jobs in this industry while improving the Health, Safety, and Environment concerns of the companies that face many occupational accidents. Accordingly, it limits the costs for employees that work to control all the processes.

Nevertheless, there are many discussions about industrial controls in O&G and cybersecurity. These mainly include security vulnerabilities that can cause enormous problems in this industry due to the dependency in daily life. This kind of vulnerability is about the possibility of having a digital system with limited intelligence and capability. Although the possibility of "computer error" is less than human error, it may not determine the power plants' real risks and errors. Furthermore, many O&G companies cannot pay the required costs for the research and development activities to reach fully automated processes, especially since the COVID-19 crisis greatly impacts O&G industry incomes. Even though big O&G companies can meet the requirements and costs, sectoral problems may become more non-negligible, and so, many companies may have to face high initial costs while their incomes are decreasing due to the oil and gas prices. Moreover, some economists argue that automation is not so logical now because the unit cost of the products or plant equipment is less than automated. Lastly, unemployment is one of the disadvantages of automation due to the less dependency on the workforce.

We live in a period in which the importance of energy as a fundamental resource increases daily due to our consumption habits that change with the developing technology. For this reason, taking the energy under control, creating efficient operating and consumption conditions, and performing all these efficiently become possible with automation. Nowadays, many examples show us that the O&G industry is in a fast transition period toward automation or digitalization with experienced or newly structured software and mechanics technologies. Nevertheless, it can be seen that the industry still needs human labor to reach the targets of the companies. So, the O&G industry can be a "smart" industry with both "smart systems" and "smart labor" if it desires to reduce the risks and increase productivity and predictability.


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