Call to join the effort: Digitalisation in the gas industry

Thorbjörn Fors's picture
Thorbjörn Fors, CEO Distributed Generation and O&G Services, Siemens Industrial Turbomachinery AB
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Thorbjörn Fors is Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Distributed Generation and Oil & Gas Services Siemens-Business Unit. Here he writes about the importance of being a thought-leader to see through transformational changes in one’s industry – in this case, digitalisation in the oil & gas industry.

Some six years ago, after in-depth conversations with my colleagues in the innovation department, we identified the field of Additive Manufacturing as a disruptive technology with promising features and potential impacts on our customers and Siemens. The team rapidly developed the key processes to apply Additive Manufacturing in repairing parts for gas turbines, and even more, produce them commercially by this advanced manufacturing technique. One key aspect that enabled us to undertake this project was digitalisation – specifically, the digital twin from Siemens’ PLM-software-portfolio which, among other things, allowed us to design and simulate a complex part which used to be made up of 13 individual parts and 18 welds. In 2017, we installed these 3D-printed burners in a commercial gas turbine run by our business partners E.ON in Germany. Last summer, after extended operations and testing they passed their major inspection with flying colours.

The result confirmed what I had believed since we started on this journey: As a company, Siemens needed to think forward, not only to improve existing and new technologies but to take calculated risks and find answers to larger challenges we face even beyond our industry. What we do does not arise in a vacuum, but a result of an innovative environment populated with excellent and motivated talents  

Energy production today happens against the backdrop of megatrends enveloping the globe:

  • Urbanisation – In 2050, nearly 70 percent of the global population will be living in cities
  • Demographic change – By 2050, the global population will have grown from the current level of 7.3 billion to 9.7 billion
  • Climate change – According to scientists, the Earth’s atmosphere had the highest CO2 concentration in 800,000 years in 2017.

For a senior executive promoting answers to these challenges, backed up not just by knowledge but by passion and years of experience, is what I call ‘thought-leadership’.

A key element addressing these global concerns is digitalisation. At the moment, we cannot refer to the energy industry, especially the oil & gas industry, as completely digital due to tech conservativism, aversion to data sharing, and cybersecurity concerns. However, the times are changing. Today, the industry in general and Siemens specifically drive the impact of digitalisation in all areas, be it from the ‘Internet of Things’ and cyber-security to plant optimisation. More than that, in a constant dialogue with the people implementing these changes, we are changing ‘how’ this transformation happens, not by some lonely decisions by a few individuals but rather through a common effort. This also helps our workforce, including senior management, to understand much better ‘why’ as company, we do what we do.

If we understand the ‘Why’ better – preparing for tomorrow’s business environment while simultaneously addressing global challenges – it becomes clearer how a disruptive technology such as digitalisation does and will continue to make a difference. For example, the connectedness of devices and the ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT) can lead to better productivity, increased automation, and a reduced carbon footprint. Augmented reality can also improve productivity, health and safety. Consider an onshore digital twin of an offshore control room. It can perform condition monitoring enabling real-time analysis to guide the offshore maintenance response or take prescriptive maintenance. Advances in digitalisation and monitoring, coupled with our Siemens experience, has enabled us to create the FlexLTP (Flexible Long-Term Program) with a tailored maintenance plan for rotating equipment.

To implement these disruptive changes, it takes leadership. But even more, as no one acts alone, and all stakeholders need to be on the same page, it takes thought-leaders to convince everybody to join the effort. For those developing these technologies, it also demands a certain affinity for risk. When we started with Additive Manufacturing at our competence centre in Finspång, Sweden, it was not a given where this effort would lead, however it paid off. Today, we print burners 90 percent faster than with conventional methods. We also know that AM is more sustainable, as it uses up to two-thirds less material. Combined with an improved design this doesn’t just lead to better performance, a longer lifespan, and numerous customer benefits – it also addresses, however small, the global challenges we face.

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