Can Artificial Intelligence Bring Automation to the Oil and Gas Industry?

oil and gas industry
IBM’s artificial intelligence supercomputer, Watson, turns its sights on bringing its data processing abilities to the oil and gas industry. What are other tools petrochemical companies can use to bring automation to their firms?
Image source: Flickr CC user Atomic Taco

The general public first met Watson, IBM’s artificial intelligence supercomputer, through its winning performance on Jeopardy. While mostly viewed as a publicity stunt, the company used the gameshow performance as a way to introduce people to what they consider the technology of the future. In the end, Watson is a computer that can understand and respond to humans. It’s a big step in demonstrating that not only is artificial intelligence possible, it is viable.

Still viewed as something of a novelty, IBM has spent the years since refining and advancing the Watson technology. Currently, the group is working hard to convince companies that the artificial intelligence’s capabilities can benefit them. Areas like oncology and military medicine are already learning the supercomputer’s uses, and more fields are sure to follow.

Among them appears to be the oil and gas industry. IBM recently announced a partnership with Woodside, Australia’s largest independent petrochemical company. The deal would allow Woodside employees to access the unstructured data contained in project reports within seconds. The hope is that Watson will aid the company in decreasing costs while boosting efficiency by managing its turnaround times and helping design and construct new facilities.

Efficient Technology for the Oil and Gas Industry

While Watson’s abilities sound great, oil and gas companies don’t need to rely on advanced supercomputers to bring automation to their firms. Simple digital tools like an electronic lab notebook (ELN) or a chemical management system can do the same thing.

  • Boosted efficiency via an electronic lab notebook

Because laboratory instruments can be interfaced with an ELN, data can be recorded directly into the software. Results don’t need to be downloaded from the instrument and then converted to a computer-compatible format in order to be analyzed. There’s less opportunity for data loss due to file corruption or human error. Instead, the ELN can be programmed to collect and analyze the results. Even better, experiments can be set up to run overnight and during other nonproductive hours. This type of automation frees up lab technicians and allows them to focus their time on other tasks.

  • Better chemical management via inventory tracking software

It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the sheer number of chemicals used within petrochemical companies. Considering new federal guidelines regulating oil well drilling, a simple spreadsheet system is not going to cut it. What would happen if the file is corrupted? Many likely shudder at the thought of how much work would be necessary to reconstruct the information. A chemical management system, however, would allow laboratories to track a variety of details including: date of receipt, location, expiration date and when the chemical has reached the end of its shelf life.

  • Improved experimental design

Not only do electronic lab notebooks and chemical management systems improve laboratory automation individually, they also work well in conjunction with each other. Experimental protocols and templates can be stored in ELNs. Chemical volumes and aliquots can be noted in chemical management software. Why not link the two? This comes in handy when designing experiments. Instead of spending time tracking down chemicals and reagents before setting up an experiment, access the management software from within the ELN. From there, you can determine whether you have enough of a chemical to proceed with an experiment. If you don’t, you can place an order for the items you need and then focus your attention on another experiment or task. It’s efficient and saves time.

While the idea of a supercomputer managing our turnaround times sounds like a nice idea, it might not be a feasible option for many years. But rather than waiting for that time to come, why not introduce automation into your laboratory through existing digital tools? Sure, they may not be able to win Jeopardy, but they can certainly help maximize productivity, and isn’t that the ultimate goal for any company?

Is your petrochemical firm looking for ways to boost efficiency through automation via electronic lab notebooks and chemical management software? Contact us today to learn more about the BIOVIA Notebook and BIOVIA CISPro.

6 thoughts on “Can Artificial Intelligence Bring Automation to the Oil and Gas Industry?

  1. Using AI, or rather, simply efficient tools in the Oil and Gas Industry is definitely beneficial in many ways and should surely be researched extensively.

  2. I remember watching Watson play on Jeopardy. For these type of supercomputers to be fully trusted (And protected from attacks) with large databases such as chemical materials we will need to further develop and examine how well these AIs can first handle smaller batches of data. This is similar to clinical trials of the general population for new drugs.

  3. I do not believe that cheap oil is here to stay, so hopefully efficiency gains in refining can help offset the inevitable rise in prices.

  4. Thanks for the comment, Steve. I agree. There are lots of advantages with using digital tools.

  5. Stan, that’s true. Personally, I’m curious about how the Watson technology makes backups. That’s a crucial feature for any digital tool.

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