Before COVID-19’s arrival, critical infrastructure operators and their supporting contractors were well aware of the need to effectively recruit new employees as more and more skilled field employees approached retirement, while concurrently working to upskill the existing workforce and begin leveraging new technologies to fill the resulting gap. Now, the need (and desire) to work remotely, reduction of staff and adjusted shifts, and an increased risk of coronavirus complications to older employees are all putting a spotlight on the need to accelerate these initiatives.
This skills shortage can be viewed as a medium/long-term problem that requires near-term action. While a subset of experienced field employees may be looking to postpone leaving the workforce, as their retirement portfolios have taken a hit during this economic downturn, industry also reports an uptick in unexpected retirement notices from senior positions following the pandemic simply due to mindset changes for individuals regarding their career timeline. A recent DEP report found that nearly two-thirds of operators within a range of critical infrastructure sectors are approaching retirement age. According to the EPA, roughly one-third of the water sector technical workforce will become eligible to retire before 2030. If the trends continue following COVID-19, operators managing the integrity and safety of critical infrastructure could find themselves dangerously understaffed and scrambling for solutions.
Forward-looking organizations are focused on how they can cultivate and retain the technical capabilities required to address the talent expected to soon leave the workforce. Companies have several opportunities to explore. Efficiencies introduced by Internet of Things sensors, automation, and other technologies have effectively reduced the need for operations to scale up and down with temporary personnel. This efficiency has evolved the field workforce into a core group of full-time employees with very specialized skill sets. In particular, this future-proof team can execute with the knowledge and experience to leverage existing technologies, they can effectively envision greater automation, and will be adept at adopting new opportunities for further optimization.
As an example, at the onset of the COVID pandemic the demand for oil and gas declined sharply – which meant many companies temporarily trimmed workforces to match production slowdowns and declining revenue. Despite those leaner workforces within most operational areas, pipeline assets still required regular monitoring and maintenance to ensure integrity and corrosion protection systems were operating properly, regulatory performance measurements were being collected and operational concerns were being addressed. With responsibility for hundreds or thousands of miles of pipeline, it’s not hard to imagine the incredible challenges that team managers and field technicians had to endure during the height of the pandemic. Already stressed employees were being asked to do significantly more with less resources. Operations with robust remote monitoring systems already in place were able to quickly adapt but found they had significant gaps in their coverage and recognized new opportunities for automation.
The results of KPMG’s recent CEO Outlook survey showed that talent was overwhelmingly identified as the number one risk by energy leaders. And even as economies recover and petroleum demand increases, companies are experiencing significant challenges in meeting the need for qualified field workers within all operational areas. This same intense pressure is being felt by all critical infrastructure sectors including municipal utilities, water & wastewater, and power generation.
Increased Focus on Automation
The digital transformation remains top-of-mind for critical infrastructure executives and for many, plans have been accelerated. Sixty-three per cent said they are investing in automation to drive efficiencies, followed by investment in AI. There is a clear shift in applying digital technologies from transactional to analytical workflows and taking a more proactive and preventative approach with the data.
And while many workers initially thought the digital transformation would result in further job losses in the industry, it has actually resulted in a shift in skills. Operations need data experts skilled at understanding data sources, cleaning, extracting and manipulating data to gain insights, and then working together with technical subject matter experts to understand the data and putting it to practical use in the field.
Strategic CP Automation Solution for Labor Challenges
These new applications for skilled personnel has opened a unique opportunity for organizations to optimize how corrosion engineers are utilized and incorporate new technology that can fully automate repetitive tasks such as collecting CP measurement data.
More advanced and specialized remote monitoring units (RMUs) now available provide an efficient and affordable way to monitor critical pipeline corrosion protection systems and begin leveraging powerful Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) capabilities. These devices can dramatically improve CP monitoring data, lower operating costs, improve worker safety and even help companies with GHG reduction programs by eliminating the need to physically inspect potentially thousands of miles of assets.
Over one hundred and fifty thousand miles of pipelines are already equipped with MOBILTEX RMUs in a wide range of applications and functions. These compact devices can be configured to collect CP readings several times per day and send the information via satellite or cellular network to CorView, our powerful cloud-based data platform.
That means CP technicians no longer need to visit test stations and rectifiers at regular intervals to take readings. Instead, they respond only when the remotely transmitted data indicates an operational issue that requires attention and can then focus their time and energy on higher-value optimization initiatives. And at the same time, rich data sets captured all year long and new powerful AI functions will dramatically improve monitoring and the protection of critical assets and deliver new opportunities for automation and cost-savings.
Rapid Return-on-Investment is just the Beginning
Our clients have worked with us directly to quantify that the automation of CP data collection significantly reduces operating costs, and in most cases, enables them to completely recover the capital cost of the RMU devices in less than two budget cycles. This has prompted new projects looking to expand remote monitoring into areas and applications that were more specialized or considered previously “non-critical”, due to the proven OpEx reductions. Operations also predict inflationary price pressure will significantly increase the costs associated with travel, accommodations, and equipment for CP technicians in the years to come, which contributes to an even more favourable ROI for Strategic CP Automation through RMUs.
The ongoing cost of data monitoring and analysis are relatively low, so once the devices have achieved their ROI, pipeline operators continue to benefit year after year from a significant reduction in asset management costs along with a complete CP monitoring data set, dramatically increased worker safety and GHG reduction credits.
The MOBILTEX ROI Calculator can quickly provide estimates on the savings that remote data monitoring could yield for your company and can help you envision expanded CP automation across your operations [MOBILTEX.com/ROI] by leveraging our industry-leading portfolio of solutions within a wide range of CP applications.
Big Data Delivers Big Insights and Optimization
Another significant benefit to Strategic CP Automation is how it empowers CP technicians to focus their full attention on proactive maintenance and optimization of the pipeline network and prioritize work based on a much richer data set that is received in near-real time.
Each RMU can collect thousands of CP readings per year from the system it’s monitoring—regardless of whether it’s a subgrade unit located in the middle of busy urban roadways or along transit lines or a completely autonomous unit operating for years at the farthest, most difficult-to-reach point of your pipeline network. That’s a stark contrast to manually obtained measurements that only provide a handful of readings annually from each test station or rectifier.
With the rich data set that RMUs provide, technicians can gain new insights into short-lived events like AC interference, lightning strikes, or Telluric currents that may affect CP performance and expose pipelines to prolonged adverse conditions.
MOBILTEX is also expanding CorView’s capabilities with enhanced data analytics, AI and machine learning capabilities that will analyze long-term data sets from the entire network to optimize and automate configurations for a fleet of RMUs through seasonal variations and changes in soil conditions, improving cathodic protection systems and further reducing the likelihood of nuisance alarms.
Resilient Supply Chain and Dedicated Support is Critical for CP RMU Success
It’s clear that there are many compelling reasons to begin installing or to continue expanding your network of remote CP monitoring devices. But operators must also pick their platform wisely, factoring in the ability for their partner to effectively Service, Support, and of course Deliver on their entire portfolio of solutions.
MOBILTEX has engineered our entire portfolio with complete supply chain resiliency with zero sole-sourced components and an adaptive and agile Supply Chain model. All of our products are manufactured in North America at our new state-of-the-art facility in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
There are many advantages working with a technology partner like MOBILTEX that focuses on this Supply Chain model including:
- Zero Disruptions to Production — and Industry-leading Standard Delivery times
- The ability to efficiently ramp up production in order to meet challenging demands
- Lower costs which allow our customers to quickly realize ROI on their IIoT investment
- Rapid new product releases and innovations that operations can quickly leverage
And our international field support team is comprised of multi-disciplined, NACE certified engineers who deliver on our commitment to our customers — with efficient and cost-effective support. We’ve worked hard to earn our reputation as the best service team in the industry.
Through COVID Adversity Comes Opportunity
Automation and AI can help corrosion prevention and pipeline integrity operations come of out of COVID-19 with a newfound momentum. The recent World Economic Forum Report on the Digital Transformation Initiative in the Oil & Gas Industry estimated that the implementation of automation combined with advanced analytics and modeling can reduce incidents by nearly 10%, and the number of pipeline spills by nearly 100,000 barrels by the year 2025. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers’ 2017 Infrastructure Report Card, many of our current issues are due to aging infrastructure with an annual $82 billion gap in U.S. water and wastewater system infrastructure investment alone.
How will the leading critical infrastructure integrity teams realize returns on investments and future-proof their operations in the near-term?
- Developing a comprehensive data-driven CP monitoring program: Advanced field hardware combined with cloud-based platforms leveraging AI can pinpoint critical points of data and use them to build predictive analytics which improves performance and lowers maintenance costs.
- Empowering decision-making for remote workforces: Distill readings and insights from your remote monitoring into actionable points of data. Robust and reliable RMUs allow your remote pipeline management teams to spend less time and resources manually collecting intermittent readings and more time on initiatives that protect critical assets.
- Reduce demand on field resources and personnel while increasing safety: When paired with effective and robust remote monitoring devices, cloud-based platforms and AI can provide the backbone of a complete solution that delivers true automation for CP and pipeline integrity monitoring.
- Carefully selecting technology partners: evaluating established leaders in their space; look for continuous innovation and manufacturers who are expanding their solutions for further optimization opportunities with their customer’s operations; and have built resiliency into their manufacturing and supply chain in order to effectively support critical infrastructure operations no matter the challenge or the market conditions.
For more than 30 years, MOBILTEX has led the evolution of remote CP monitoring devices for automated data collection at rectifiers and test stations. Each MOBILTEX device is built to withstand the toughest environmental conditions and deliver long life resulting from intelligent engineering, low power, durable components, and easily upgradable communication hardware.
MOBILTEX devices, such as the CorTalk RMU3, provide highly reliable monitoring and GPS-synchronized interruption of rectifiers. Similar capabilities are also possible for CP test stations with the MOBILTEX CorTalk RMU1+INT1, a compact, powerful tool with long-life autonomous power for remote monitoring of CP single or double coupons and structure bond applications that also provides permanent interruption functionality.
Measurement data from all MOBILTEX RMU devices is transmitted to the CorView Cloud Platform, a highly secure data storage, communication and reporting tool.
Refer to the list below for a quick reference of features available in the CorTalk RMU solutions and Contact a MOBILTEX representative today to find out how our products can improve safety, lower operating costs and future-proof your operations, all while optimizing the performance of your cathodic protection systems.
|CorTalk RMU3||Rectifier interruption, voltage output readings, current output readings, potential readings||Rectifiers|
|CorTalk RMU2||Voltage output readings, current output readings, potential readings||Test posts, rectifiers|
|CorTalk RMU1||Potential readings, coupon readings, bond readings||Test posts|
|CorTalk RMU1-LITE||Potential readings (including instant-‘off’)||Test posts|
|CorTalk RMU1-SUB||Potential readings||Subgrade test posts installed on farmland, in urban areas, or on roadways|
|CorTalk RMU1-ER||ER probe metal loss readings||Pipes and casings|