Five minutes with: Ron Beck, director of marketing strategy, Aspen Technology

Avoiding a compressor failure at a well site, gas pipeline, or oil refinery, through early detection and diagnosis, for example, can avoid downtime losses running into millions of dollars

Ron Beck, director of marketing strategy, Aspen Technology.
Ron Beck, director of marketing strategy, Aspen Technology.

The Middle East is famous for mega downstream projects with massive investments and state-of-the-art technologies. But the region is facing a serious talent shortage in the sector. How can digital technologies help bridge this gap and drive business growth?

A significant number of workers in the process industries are retiring, taking years of knowledge with them and leaving less experienced operators and engineers to ensure plants run reliably, safely and profitably.

Companies need every edge they can get and using data science is key, automating work can help reduce the risk of human error, and it gives time back to engineers to focus on more difficult/strategic analyses in their work.

Combined with this, the pressure is on for Middle East organisations to drive business value through true digital transformation. Energy organisations are also facing direct competition from other industries to lure data science savvy digital talent into these heavy industries.

This perfect storm means this skills gap is fast becoming a major concern in the oil and gas industry specifically, with EMEA expected to lose $1.9tn of unrealised output across the region by 2030 due to highly skilled labour deficits.

Now more than ever, there is a need for technology that is easy to use, includes built-in training and cognitive guidance and leverages AI.

The oil and gas sector is poised to realise the value of solutions that follow hybrid models, which bring efficiencies through a combination of first principles and artificial intelligence (AI), especially important as companies in the region accelerate the development of the downstream and chemical industries and employ more local talent.

Firms are increasingly using automation to try and capture existing knowledge in the industry before it leaves the sector.  That is why technologies like low-touch machine learning have such enormous implications for workforce development – it shores up the shrinking talent pool and solves the data scientist problem.

How is AspenTech empowering the Middle East refining and petrochemical industry to create smart enterprises to achieve operational excellence that is sustainable even in volatile market conditions?

Volatility and economic advantage play to the hands of organisations with strong leadership, a flexible organisation that can rapidly change, and a digitally enabled organisation that can quickly make decisions to result in significant profit.

Certainly, some of the large Middle East players are candidates to be among the short-term, and maybe long-term winners.

Using predictive analytics to drive automation also helps companies react to unforeseen events quickly and improve safety and productivity.

Advanced refinery planning software can rapidly find the optimum operating strategy in the face of changing demand and price elasticity. Advanced tools, such as the widely used planning system (used across the Middle East) that AspenTech provides to entities such as Saudi Aramco, enable a planner, or trader to rapidly run through thousands of pricing, product, and supply scenarios, to come up with contract offers, operating strategies, and execution plans that will give the best economic result.

New and advanced dynamic optimisation software can fully digitally tie the plant operations to the aforementioned plans. When tied together digitally, human inefficiency and conservative daily behaviour is taken out of the equation. The refinery’s advanced control and execution systems are tied directly to the plan and informed constantly by the plant’s data streams.  Dynamically, the operations adjust to achieve the maximum benefit.

Rigorous engineering models, which are used daily to monitor the effectiveness of crude units and refining reactors, can be used as powerful optioneering tools; they help the refiner to understand their opportunity to make quick and low capital cost changes, which can impact their ability to favourably meet these market opportunities in volatile times.

In short, Middle East energy companies have the opportunity to react to volatility and make winning moves. It will take decisive leadership and committed flexible organisations to achieve the results. It will require a concerted effort to be creative and flexible in volatile economic periods. It will provide the opportunity for profit and long-lasting strategic advantage.

Can you please explain the benefits of integrating operational technologies with digital solutions in the downstream industry?

With rapid advances in industrial value available by use of AI, machine learning and multivariate analytics, further enabled by advances in computing speed and mobility, process companies can begin to address previously unsolvable issues, without turning themselves into technology experts.

They can start to generate deeper insights from data to drive digital transformation projects, to extend asset life, maximise return on capital employed, and drive additional profit. The ability to detect patterns and opportunities across a business can save vast sums and create competitive advantage. Avoiding a compressor failure at a well site, gas pipeline, or oil refinery, through early detection and diagnosis, for example, can avoid downtime losses running into millions of dollars.

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