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Future Downstream unites the industry in harnessing the power of digitalisation

04th December 2018

The first Future Downstream conference brought oil and gas, petrochemicals and technology experts together to explore the potential of digitalisation; looks ahead to bigger exhibition in 2019

Future Downstream opening panel
Future Downstream opening panel: The Downstream Future and The Role of Digital and Innovative Tech

Oil and gas majors, petrochemical companies, refineries and technology providers sent their leading industry experts to Future Downstream in London to determine how to fulfil the potential of the downstream oil and gas industry through digitalisation.

It was also announced that Future Downstream will take place again in 2019 with a greatly increased conference and exhibition space, following popular demand.

On the opening panel Dorothee Arns, Executive Director, Petrochemicals Europe, Cefic explained that the European downstream sector faces stiff competition from the global market and that digitisation was a key tool to increase operational efficiency.

“In Europe we still have some structural challenges to change, despite the lower oil price,” she said.

“We have a competitive disadvantage here in Europe, that's a fact. We are convinced that digitalisation can further enhance our competitiveness.”

John Sullivan, Vice President, IBM Global Business Services UKI continued that theme pointing out that there were three key challenges to address.

“Firstly, integrated planning across operations,” he said.

“Secondly, better supply chain visibility through IoT, cloud technology and blockchain. And thirdly, adopting better analytics: how do you use AI to inform which action you should take?”

From an operator’s perspective Blaine Tookey, Technology Principal – Digital Innovation Organisation, BP said that they see digital as the main area of transformation for their business.

“Cloud enables you to bring data together from various sources – this is a big gamechanger,” he added.

“But to make sense of that data you need AI; process control is ripe for disruption by AI.”

Marco Del Seta, Head of Digitalisation and Deployments, BOC Ltd. said: “We need to leverage technologies to be a service provider - everyone is in the game of not selling commodities but selling services.”

The quality and interoperability of data is seen as crucial to fulfilling the industry’s potential.

The sentiment that data is “the new oil” is common in this data driven age and Rutpesh Pattanayak, Director Industry Solutions - Manufacturing & Resources Sector (UK), Microsoft reinforced this.

“It is going to be the key ingredient in the fourth industrial revolution,” he said.

“The ability to connect billions of things and store it at a fraction of the cost in the cloud, then make all this data interoperable, then running all this in real time, and finally getting devices to show this – all of this together is a very potent combination that will encompass the entire downstream value chain and the workplace.”

If data is going to be a vital business tool, then extracting useful insights from it is crucial. “A big challenge is the industrialisation of data,” Gloria Vendrell, Program Director Data Driven Asset Performance, Total said.

“We have the platforms, but data must be good quality. Good quality in, good quality out.”

For Thierry Adolph, Digital Officer Industry, Total it is not just important but a matter of survival.

“How we see digital in Total is not just a matter of getting ahead of the competition, it's a matter of survival,” he said.

“The biggest challenge is human - how you ensure you have competency and can transfer knowledge. The rate of technology change is huge.”

In a presentation on “Crisis Communications in Oil & Gas”, Greg Baylis, Senior Technical Solutions Manager, BlackBerry said: “Industrial plants are massive intricate facilities where large numbers of people must work in close coordination surrounded by precise machinery – for refining, storing and processing, using huge amounts of volatile substances. With so many variables that need to be factored into oil and gas plants, structured emergency preparedness is essential.”

“Removing manual intervention from the process can improve accuracy, situational awareness and accelerate responses.”

Future Downstream also addressed how digital is disrupting the working environment, how smart infrastructure is opening the door to better operational performance, and how to safeguard the downstream sector from cyberattacks, as well as exploring emerging technologies such as quantum computing, AR and VR and blockchain.

Vijay Kumar, Senior Project Manager IT/OT at Air Products & Chemicals said: “The threat of cyberattack is real, just like climate change. With cybersecurity it all comes down to plan, design, test and deploy.”

Martin MacRae, Technical Director, Return To Scene Ltd. said: “VR ideally removes the need to go to onsite and enables personnel to work remotely. Other technology like AR is where digital really has the potential to help the people at the coalface, giving them the best tools to do the best job as efficiently as possible. The opportunity is dependent on so many things. The technology is there in most cases, but deploying it is a massive jump.”