June 2020 /// Vol 241 No. 6


Production 4.0 opens custom analytics and autonomous controls to anyone

Each year, the oil and gas industry could save billions in OPEX if just a tiny fraction of the world’s rod-lift and gas-lift wells had the benefit of autonomous optimization.

Manoj Nimbalkar, Weatherford International

The best way to maintain profitability during an extended period of low oil prices 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 adopting innovations from outside of oil and gas, the industry will reach new thresholds of high-performance production.

Using Industry 4.0 capabilities and incorporating open architecture, virtually anyone can easily create bespoke next-generation capability toolkits of their own. This previously unimagined—yet needed now more than ever—threshold of efficiency and control is here for the taking.  


Large-scale efficiency gains for the production phase of the well lifecycle largely ceased by the 1990s. 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 represents the connectivity of 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 system with intelligent devices that make real-time, on-site, autonomous decisions, based on live data and historical models.

The backbone of Production 4.0 is ForeSite® Enterprise, a physics-based, production-optimization platform that integrates sensor data from the well with surface-network models to identify potential production-increments, equipment-efficiency opportunities, and 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 places physics-based modeling and advanced analytics at the wellsite. ForeSite Edge enables an artificial-lift system to run and optimize itself autonomously in real time, and without human intervention.


Weatherford developed a suite of these, including predictive failure analytics for rod-lift and ESP systems. These capabilities are designed to drive value for operators in terms of more uptime, less deferred production, and longer equipment life. On a test set of 115 wells, ForeSite predicted well failures with a precision rate of 98.2 percent. 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.

ForeSite architecture enables operators to use off-the-shelf resources to build custom analytics. This capability leverages an operator’s data-lake to give virtually limitless perspectives of an asset. Rather than waiting for a technology provider to develop particular tools, open architecture empowers users to create, use, and consume data to fit each unique business model and schedule.


Using Edge automation, an artificial-lift system is transformed into an intelligent 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. This enables an artificial-lift system to operate at a more-optimized level of efficiency than it could with a dedicated, onsite engineer.

These Production 4.0 benefits represent only incremental gains. However, as rod-lift systems ensure continuous pump fillage, gas-lift systems use precise amounts of gas, and ESPs use exact amounts of power—it all adds up. For modest-sized assets of 100 wells or more, these incremental gains translate into millions of dollars.

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 empowers an organization with operations-level decision-making based on their own industrial superpowerbig data. For example, the Phase-1 introduction for a Fortune-500 producer represents $17.7 million in annual savings value through improved efficiency, uptime, and production. 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.

Additional successes include a West-Texas operator who maintains extensive assets across the US and internationally, successfully implemented Production-4.0 platforms to leverage existing field-data streams as a path for improving efficiencies with multiple forms of artificial lift. Its demonstrated improvements included savings in equipment life and personnel gains through management-by-exception techniques.

These next-generation advancements are just the tip of the iceberg. Production 4.0 presents a step-change in productivity and efficiency for any operator. If only a tiny fraction of the world’s rod-lift and gas-lift wells had the benefit of 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.

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