January 2020 /// Vol 241 No. 1


Production 4.0 opens customized analytics and autonomous controls to anyone

If only a tiny fraction of the world’s rod-lifted and gas-lifted wells benefitted from autonomous optimization, the industry could save billions in OPEX every year.

Manoj Nimbalkar, Weatherford International

The best way to produce an asset is through an evolution of skills and technology. As the industry scales down on capital-spending projects, stakeholders must make the most of their current resources. By reaching for innovation outside of oil and gas, the industry is on the cusp of new thresholds of production performance.

First by harnessing Industry 4.0 capabilities, and now by incorporating open architecture, virtually anyone can easily create bespoke next-generation capability toolkits of their own. This powerful ability now represents previously unimagined thresholds of efficiency and control. Production 4.0 delivers low-hanging fruit that’s here for the taking.


Before looking forward, it’s helpful to understand what brought us here. The first evolution for production was artificial lift. The industry embraced big machinery to offset the natural pressure declines within reservoirs. So, reciprocating rod lift, gas lift, and ESPs became the norm. However, artificial lift, on its own, is inefficient for productivity and equipment lifespan. The industry then evolved to local wellsite controls via basic automation. Of course, this allowed operators to use their experience to create set-points for their artificial lift systems, which controlled things such as idle time, injection rate and pump speed.

These systems depend wholly on a dedicated and experienced crew for managing their set-points. As assets grew and workforces declined, a means of collecting asset-wide data became necessary. The industry then adopted SCADA software, which pulled data from controllers and other instrumentation in the field to create alarms, trends and reports on asset performance. Now, operators had a wealth of well-level data and reports in their hands. The next evolution was production optimization software, which leverages that ever-expanding dataset to optimize each artificial lift system, based on performance and trends.

Large-scale efficiency gains for the production phase of the well lifecycle largely ceased by the 1990s. Meanwhile, the drilling and completion phases of our industry made tremendous efficiency gains in drilling long horizontal wells, new fracturing designs, and intelligent completions. These advances have all helped to escalate the industry to where it is today. However, the lack of similar development for the production phase also presents a massive, multi-billion-dollar opportunity for improvement. 


Outside the oil field held the answer to production performance. In 2017, Weatherford set a course to adopt Industry 4.0 concepts—proven in many industries, such as manufacturing, logistics and entertainment—and apply them to the production phase.

Industry 4.0 comprises the Internet of Things (IoT), Cloud computing, Edge connectivity, and advanced data analytics. IoT is comprised of digitally connected physical devices that add systematic support and efficiencies through integrated data and remote controls. Cloud computing allows these devices to network through Internet-hosted servers that store and manage data, while reducing infrastructure and complexity. Edge computing then elevates this connectivity with intelligent devices that can make real-time, on-site, autonomous decisions, based on live data and historical models.

The first step in the evolution to Production 4.0 is its backbone, a physics-based production optimization platform. The ForeSite platform integrates sensor data from the well and surface-network models to identify potential production increments and equipment-efficiency opportunities, and eliminate surface network bottlenecks. It then leverages advanced analytics to predict failures before they happen and enable operators to manage by exception.

The next step was to transform the company’s leading SCADA solution to an IoT platform, which enables Cloud connectivity and instant communications between any instrument or hardware in the field. The final evolution—and the ultimate expression of Production 4.0—is optimization at the Edge. This technology builds upon every evolution thus far, and places physics-based modeling and advanced analytics at the wellsite or on the Edge. In a nutshell, ForeSite Edge enables an artificial lift system to run and optimize itself autonomously in real time, and without human intervention.


Among the cornerstones of Production 4.0 is advanced analytics. Weatherford has developed a suite of these, including predictive failure analytics for rod-lift and ESP systems. As with the entire Production 4.0 evolutionary ecosystem, these capabilities are designed to drive value for operators in terms of more uptime, less deferred production and longer equipment life. For example, a modest ESP well with 500-bpd production can face a downtime of about two weeks, due to an unexpected pump failure. This means that in just 14 days, about 7,000 bbl of production are left below the surface. In today’s climate of razor-thin margins, $3.5 million left in the ground is painful.

On a test set of 115 wells, ForeSite predicted well failures with a precision rate of 98.2%. While this is an impressive achievement for any analytics system, the challenge remained that operators must still wait for their service provider to develop advanced analytics in the future. Furthermore, not all operators produce their assets with rod-lift and ESP systems.

The answer is open-source analytics. ForeSite architecture now enables the user to not only benefit from off-the-shelf resources, but also gives the power to create one’s own custom-built analytics. This capability leverages each operator’s data-lake and data-analysis results to give virtually limitless analytics capabilities. Rather than waiting for a technology provider to develop analytics, open architecture empowers users to create, use and consume data to fit each unique business model and schedule.


Another cornerstone of Production 4.0 is its autonomous controls. Using Edge automation technology, these features transform an artificial-lift system into an intelligent lift-ecosystem that operates and optimizes without the need for human intervention. These systems autonomously control settings like idle time for rod lift, gas-injection rate, and pump speed for ESPs—all on a second-by-second basis. Essentially, this enables an artificial-lift system to operate at a more optimized level of efficiency than if it had a dedicated onsite engineer watching it 24/7.

On a short-term scale, these Production 4.0 benefits provide incremental gains. However, as the rod-lift system ensures a continuously full pump, the gas-lift systems use only the precise gas it needs, and the ESPs use only the energy it needs, operators get an extra barrel here and another barrel there every day. For modest-sized assets of 100 wells or more, these incremental gains translate into millions of dollars.

Like advanced analytics, however, these capabilities came at the technology-provider’s pace rather than a specific operator’s need. Weatherford has adopted the same strategy for Edge technology as with analytics—giving the power to create autonomous controls to the user. With this capability, if an artificial-lift system has a set-point, it can be developed into an autonomous control. Production 4.0 intelligence is the future of production performance, enabling operators to narrow their focus.


In keeping with today’s on-the-go workdays, many operators now check their assets from the office, home, or even the airport. However, those data visualizations are static by default, as they’re based on pre-determined reporting values. In response, Production 4.0 now delivers HTML5 Web-based data visualizations that are viewable, usable and customizable from any smart phone or device.

By embedding data visualizations into a browser with full-write capabilities, users can eliminate the need to build and upkeep screens, which saves both time and process. This also makes individual systems more responsive and can reduce IT spending. Early results indicate that a major operator in South Texas will increase production by 5% to 8% based on Web-based data integration.


Production 4.0 empowers an organization with operations-level decision based on their own industrial superpower—their own big data. Intelligent ecosystems armed with analytics can now glean meaningful, actionable insights from their own pristine sources. Personnel are now free to engage in higher-level management, no longer burdened with mundane transactions. Analytics is here to help to identify trends and anomalies, which provides opportunities for enhanced efficiency and higher performance.

Rollout of Production 4.0 technologies are delivering substantial value for operators. The Phase-1 introduction for a Fortune-500 producer is delivering $17.7 million in annual savings value through improved efficiency, uptime and production. A West Texas operator, who maintains extensive assets across the U.S. and internationally, successfully implemented the Production 4.0 platforms to leverage existing field-data streams as a path for improving efficiencies with multiple forms of artificial lift. Demonstrated improvements included savings in equipment life and personnel gains through management-by-exception techniques.

Following the first-year pilot, the operator expects an annualized savings of $17.7 million for the Phase-1 rollout, alone. These projections include a savings of $5.8 million in personnel efficiency, $6.5 million in increased equipment run-life, and an additional $5.4 million in revenue garnered from wells transitioned more quickly from natural-flow lift to artificial lift.

These next-generation advancements are just the tip of the iceberg. For any operator, Production 4.0 presents a step-change in productivity and efficiency. If only a tiny fraction of the world’s rod-lifted and gas-lifted wells benefitted from autonomous optimization, the industry could save billions in OPEX every year.

The Authors ///

Manoj Nimbalkar is V.P., production automation and software, at Weatherford. He is responsible for developing strategy for the company’s production software platforms and integrated solutions. Prior to joining Weatherford in 2013, he was the strategy and marketing manager for upstream software services at Schlumberger. Mr. Nimbalkar has additional experience in software development with Microsoft, Adobe Systems, Infosys, Tata Consultancy and Diamond Management Consultants (now PwC). He holds a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from the University of Mumbai in India, as well as an MBA in marketing and strategy from the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University.

Related Articles ///


Comments ///


{{ error }}
{{ comment.comment.Name }} • {{ comment.timeAgo }}
{{ comment.comment.Text }}