While the emirate continues to look for ways to increase the value of its onshore and offshore deposits, Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC) is also reassessing its role in a changing global economy. The idea that some parts of the world are already experiencing a Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), in which artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain and big data will transform and enhance the business environment, inspired ADNOC to develop a new strategy through which to bring the industry in line with the digital era.
The Oil & Gas 4.0 programme was unveiled by Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, group CEO of ADNOC, and recently appointed UAE minister of industry and advanced technology, at the Abu Dhabi International Petroleum Exhibition and Conference (ADIPEC) in 2018. The following year, in his keynote address to ADIPEC 2019, Al Jaber described the changing economic and technological landscape. “This era of disruption is just the beginning and will only gather pace over time. Yet, the oil and gas company of today can be a winner tomorrow, if it operates at a lower level of cost and a higher level of performance; if it brings digital into the core of its operations; if it embeds sustainability into its DNA; and if it rethinks how to leverage its partnerships.” In line with these objectives, ADNOC is forging partnerships with international technology companies to apply 4IR technologies to its operations.
ADNOC has already taken steps to encourage creativity and innovation in its schools, which it first opened in 2008. The company operates four campuses in the emirate, which provide teaching to approximately 6000 students overall. ADNOC opened the emirate’s first vocational training establishment, known as the ADNOC Technical Academy, in 1978. The institute has trained over 5000 technicians and operators since its founding.
The company has also helped to encourage reform in the wider education sector. In October 2019 ADNOC signed an agreement to promote the Yas in Schools programme, which aims to improve the teaching of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) through a series of projects with a motorsports theme. The programme, which was developed by Abu Dhabi Motorsports Management, has been taken up by more than 450 schools across the UAE, for a total of 35,000 students. “The Yas in Schools programme is fully aligned with ADNOC’s commitment to advance the STEM education and training of the UAE’s young generation. We believe that investing in our students today will result in a more competitive workforce for tomorrow,” Omar Suwaina Al Suwaidi, director of the Executive Office Directorate of ADNOC, told Emirates News Agency. ADNOC was also the title sponsor for the Formula 1 in Schools World Final in 2019, an annual competition in which teams of children aged between 12 and 16 from around the world researched, designed, built and raced model Formula 1 cars.
The company has acknowledged that it has faced difficulties in attracting talented STEM graduates to pursue careers in the oil and gas industry. In March 2019 ADNOC released the results of its inaugural Workforce of the Future survey, which was based on interviews with STEM students and graduates between 15 and 35 years of age in 10 countries in North America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East. The survey found that 44% of respondents were interested in working in the oil and gas industry; this was on a par with other sectors such as marketing and advertising (48%), hospitality (47%), transport and logistics (46%), and retail (41%). However, a significantly larger proportion of young people surveyed were attracted by careers in technology (77%), life sciences and pharmaceuticals (58%), and health care (57%). In response to these results, Al Jaber said that it is important for the oil and gas industry to highlight the opportunities that it can offer graduates with strong technology skills.
In the first year of the Oil & Gas 4.0 campaign ADNOC forged a number of partnerships aimed at leveraging new technology. In November 2018 ADNOC hosted its inaugural AI Forum, where leading experts in energy and technology met to discuss how AI can be used to boost efficiency and increase the value of hydrocarbons resources. In December 2018 ADNOC announced a partnership with IBM to develop an automated accounting system using blockchain to optimise the tracking, validation and execution of transactions among its subsidiaries. “[Blockchain] will substantially reduce our operating costs by eliminating time-consuming and labour-intensive processes, strengthen the marketing and trading of our products, and create long-term sustainable value that will ensure that ADNOC delivers on its 2030 smart growth strategy,” Abdul Nasser Al Mughairbi, digital senior vice-president at ADNOC, said in the project’s announcement.
In November 2019 ADNOC announced three new collaborations with technology providers. A joint venture was launched with local AI and cloud computing firm Group 42 (G42) to develop and commercialise AI solutions for the oil and gas industry. Under the agreement, ADNOC will share its archival data with G42 and gain access to the firm’s computing clusters, data scientists and software engineers.
At the same time, ADNOC is working with French energy giant Total to use drones and unmanned vehicles fitted with sensors to collect 3D seismic data in order to search for new oil and gas deposits. The pilot project of Total’s Multiphysics Exploration Technologies Integrated System will see thousands of sensors dropped by a fleet of aerial drones and subsequently retrieved by unmanned vehicles. The aim of the project is to develop a safer and more efficient method for conducting seismic surveys in the emirate. The pilot study will be carried out on a 36-sq-km onshore field in a desert environment, and will be able to produce both 3D and 4D subsurface data.
ADNOC also announced a 10-year partnership with US conglomerate Honeywell to utilise its forge asset monitor and predictive analytics platform at ADNOC’s Panorama Digital Command Centre. The centre collects real-time data from all ADNOC businesses, and uses AI and big data to generate operational insights that enable the company to predict and efficiently react to a range of operational scenarios. The partnership with Honeywell will enable ADNOC to monitor up to 2500 pieces of critical rotating equipment.
The predictive maintenance project, which is one of the largest in the oil and gas industry, will leverage machine learning and digital twin technologies, allowing operating personnel to better identify impending issues with machinery earlier, thereby reducing unplanned maintenance and downtime. The project will help ADNOC maximise asset efficiency and ultimately enable substantial cost savings. By signalling its openness to utilise the new technologies that underpin the 4IR, ADNOC is looking to take advantage of the rise in global energy demand that is expected to accompany economic development.