March 2022

Executive Viewpoint: 3D digital twin tech delivers visual context to O&G Sector, is “game changer’ for inspections

The oil and gas industry is unique in many ways, and one of them is the harshness of the environments in which many oil and gas facilities operate.
Simon Bae / Cupix

The oil and gas industry is unique in many ways, and one of them is the harshness of the environments in which many oil and gas facilities operate. Whether upstream exploration sites, midstream storage, or downstream refining, oil and gas facilities often exist in highly corrosive environments and face deterioration from wind, water, sunlight, sand and more. 

Bottom line: In environments like the ones in which oil and gas facilities operate, things just get worn out faster than they do in other, less challenging, locations. 

Addressing that deterioration, and avoiding the facilities failures that might follow, is a critical element to success for operators, and it requires the ability to identify the source of the deterioration. And having that knowledge is most valuable if you have it before something bad happens, like a system failure, pipeline leak, or chemical emission. 

3D digital twin technology in the oil/gas sector. That’s why 3D digital twin technology is starting to play an important role in the oil and gas sector. Already, a go-to technology commonly used in the architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) sectors, oil and gas companies are increasingly turning to 3D digital twin technology to assess and monitor on-site conditions, especially around pipelines and pipe infrastructure maintenance. 

Having timely access to virtual models, mirroring physical facilities, captured easily by walking through the facility with a consumer-grade 360 camera, is a game changer—especially when it comes to inspections. Think about it—the rigorous inspections that are necessary to maintain oil and gas facilities already involve inherent challenges: 

  • The availability of inspectors (and the logistical realties they face in conducting inspections – e.g., getting there, understanding the maintenance history of the site) and
  • Once having completed the inspection, turning over a report that has real utility and results in the course of action that the inspector is recommending. 

3D digital twin technology can assist with both. Let’s look at an initial challenge first—the logistics related to conducting inspections. 

The power of reality capture. In addition to the logistical hurdles involved in getting to facilities, particularly upstream exploration sites, there’s another challenge: qualified inspectors are a specialized breed, and it’s a job field that is growing older with not a lot of young, new inspectors joining its ranks. As a result, due to inspectors’ time and availability being stretched thin, they have to make the most of their time on-site. They need to have full context—full visual context —of a site’s previous inspections in order to assess current conditions and make informed judgments about what maintenance may be required. 

Secondly, there’s the inspection reports themselves. A lot of work goes into an inspection report. They can easily run to 100 pages in length and include a similar number of photographs, usually taken with an iPhone and included as attachments. Even when attempts are made to provide relevant information with the photo attachments (e.g., what’s being shown, recommended maintenance, etc.), recipients of inspection reports usually have very limited visual context and little ability to make historical comparisons (i.e., with previous weeks or months.) 

As a result, once they are sent, many inspection reports end up sitting on various hard drives, but not providing much actionable data, and—worst of all—not contributing to the reliability and safety of the oil and gas company’s assets. A solution to this dilemma or, at the very least, a step in the right direction, lies in 3D digital twin technology’s powers of reality capture. 

Using just an off-the-shelf 360o camera, a single inspector can quickly and easily generate a 3D digital twin of an entire facility. Then, going forward, they and their entire team can make use of easily accessible, time- and date-stamped historical information going back weeks, months, even years. It’s all readily available for making comparisons, assessing deterioration rates, and planning maintenance. 

A recent example of how 3D is being used in the oil and gas sector is the experience of Asset Integrity Survey Services (AISSOZ), which provides leak detection and risk management. AISSOZ is using 3D digital twin technology for reality capture in order to virtually “walk” through a facility and, from a remote location, view its assets and site conditions while collaborating with multiple parties on audit response actions. Via 3D digital twin, AISSOZ has been able to anticipate and address leaks, reduce risks, save money, keep people safe, and increase overall site safety. 

Adapting: Oil and gas jumps from 2D to 3D. The oil and gas industry has always proved itself adaptable—both to new challenges and new opportunities—mostly because it has seized on new assets and capabilities as they become available. 

Until now, especially when it comes to inspections, the oil and gas industry has relied primarily on old-school 2D drawings—with all the limitations that this implies. However, a dynamic evolution to 3D is underway, bringing with it exponential leaps forward in productivity, efficiency and safety. 

Those oil and gas sector leaders making that transition stand to gain a first-mover advantage in the form of more efficient inspections, safer and more reliable facilities, increased uptime, and a foundation for future innovation. After all, we’re just beginning to scratch the surface of what 3D digital twins can do.  

About the Authors
Simon Bae
Simon Bae is CEO and founder of Cupix. Since its launch in 2015, San Jose, California-based Cupix has become recognized as a dynamic leader in the 3D digital twin technology sector. Prior to Cupix, Mr. Bae founded and served as chief executive of INUS Technology and VisPower, both later acquired by 3D Systems.
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