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Industry News

Cyber Security & Standards

Study Results: Midstream Automation Trends

January 27, 2020
Robert Bergman

Recent data collected in relation to the Future Midstream Automation Conference indicates that midstream companies are upping their spending on digitalization – but needing more help in justifying ROI.



Each year, as part of its run-up to the Future Midstream Automation Summit, conference organizers survey automation leaders to take the pulse of midstream automation. The more than 300 respondents to this year’s survey were from management, operations, engineering, IT and service companies as well as solution providers and consultants working in all aspects of the midstream sector, mostly across North America. The mix of respondents is a little different this year than last, so it is not easy to call out trends in too much detail, but some significant things did stand out.


Aging workforce and assets top list of concerns


Topping the list of concerns this year was the challenge of managing changing requirements of midstream operations with “a limited external talent pool.”  Concern with aging infrastructure and assets was down from 39 to 16 percent, it stands as second only to skilled labor shortages.  This dip could indicate that more are switching from worrying about aging assets to doing something about it.  Supporting this is an increase in respondents who are planning to increase automation budgets to “improve operational efficiency and excellence” and strong increase in the percentage of respondents that are involved in building the business case and demonstrating ROI.



Most people in early stages of digital transformation


While about 20 percent of the respondents reported that they were either at the technology implementation, integration or optimization stages, most were involved in exploring value proposition, design, planning, field testing and other earlier project phases.



Interest in end-to-end automation systems and data analytics is increasing steadily


Although up only slightly from last year, end-to-end automation systems and data analytics platforms and monitoring technology remained the most common targets of automation investment. This indicates a growing interest in enterprise integration and well as the use of cloud-based technology for digital initiatives. Interest in wireless technology was steady from last year, indicating continued interest in remote operations


Cyber security complacency remains


Last year, we expressed concern that only 6 percent of the respondents were planning to invest in cyber security and see that number dipping to 5 percent this year. We expect that many of the respondents who will be at this conference this year will be in the early stages of digitalization, including selecting technology. Albert Rooyakkers, Bedrock Automation CEO & CTO will be keynoting this year’s conference and among other things, stressing how specifying built-in cyber protection at the purchase phase can ensure maximum protection while increasing return on modernization.


What can automation do for midstream operations?


Although the study was not structured to make detailed year to year comparison much of the verbatim content was valuable. Here are some sample responses to three open-ended questions:


How do you see automation and digitalization improving the sector?


  • “Remote locations and assets need to be monitored, and many times it is not possible for a human to get to the locations. Digitization improves our ability to run the business by having an IT/telecom infrastructure that can monitor operations without human intervention”
  • “Labor reductions and safety improvements”
  • “Reducing environmental risks and maintenance cost and better security, safer operation”
  • “Providing the ability to operate more effectively and efficiently”
  • “Gaining deeper insight into the massive amounts of data being created by IoT and other edge devices will create never-before-seen efficiencies and process improvement”

How has automation, technology and digital transformation helped your business through low oil prices?

  • “… helped us better monitor the assets, and take remedial actions when issues are not operating according to expectations. We have NOT decreased the number of people on staff, but we have better utilized their services”
  • “… enabled us to work through and even grow at a time when others struggled, [which was] due to our ability to optimize facility operating and show customers how to lower overall operating cost with the right installment”
  • “… automating most of the processes —including preventative maintenance — helped us overcome most of the duties with less personnel”

As oil prices continue to stabilize how do you see automation improving the sector?

  • “Optimization and reduction of uncertainty. Immediate notification when products are out of spec”
  • “Lowering the total cost of infrastructure operations and providing better visibility across the value chain”
  • “Optimizing data flow and better data integrity”


See the summary graphic here.


Attend Albert’s Keynote at the Future Midstream Automation Conference, Houston Intercontinental Airport; February 18th, 2020.


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