As decreased regulation leads to more competition, energy and utility companies are continuously looking for an edge. Gas, oil and utility companies work in a constantly changing landscape characterized by fluctuating prices, uncertainty about future resources and increased risk of cyberattacks. In order to thrive, companies need to leverage every possible tool.
The world’s leading energy companies have long known the benefits of uniting their field technology with their communications and information technology in the form of robust, ruggedized networks. But as networks evolve to incorporate new interconnected technology, companies are finding new and increasing benefits:
Automation: As network-connected equipment in the field collects and transmits more data, energy companies can drastically reduce the amount of physical monitoring that must be conducted by workers. For example, many utility companies now rely on connected energy meters to report energy usage at homes and businesses, eliminating the need for regular meter-reading visits. Automation can be achieved in any situation where data could be collected by sensors, such as recording pressure and temperature readings by gas or oil companies.
Cost savings: Along with automation comes the opportunity for immediate cost savings. Companies can save on both travel costs and staff time if connected sensors can collect the same data that was previously collected by traveling employees. The additional data collected by networked equipment can also help managers to better monitor equipment performance, predict demand and prevent failures, which reduces maintenance and repair costs and minimizes downtime. Allowing automation to help with maintenance planning also allows IT staff to spend more time on long-term strategic planning, finding additional efficiencies and cost savings for the enterprise.
Better decision-making: The implementation of a ruggedized network leads to the generation of more precise real-time data, which, in turn, leads to better data analytics. These analytics, often driven by high-performance computing, give managers the tools they need to make better decisions to optimize business operations. For instance, the data collected and transmitted by networked equipment can help energy companies better predict spikes in usage and demand, giving them the opportunity to prepare for these events, invest in additional equipment and increase their output.
Improved productivity: When industrial equipment is not connected via a ruggedized network, enterprises can lack vital information when something goes wrong. Repair crews might spend hours onsite trying to diagnose a problem, then run the risk of further delays if they need to order a part or travel to retrieve a particular tool. A network can help to eliminate these inefficiencies. The data generated and transmitted by connected equipment may allow companies to identify problems before a repair team is dispatched. This efficiency ensures that crews have the information and tools they need to get to work as soon as they are onsite.
Reduced environmental impacts: Energy companies are able to use data collected by ruggedized networking tools to reduce the environmental impact of their operations in a variety of ways. In addition to reducing the amount of travel required by staff to monitor equipment, the data helps companies to optimize the performance of equipment, potentially allowing it to perform the same tasks while consuming less energy. Networks also help companies to detect and prevent leaks or other potentially hazardous situations.
Better customer service: Customers can also benefit from networked equipment. Data from ruggedized networks allows energy companies to prevent disruptions in service and respond more quickly when incidents do happen. In some cases, companies can even make adjustments remotely, quickly resolving a customer’s issue. Networks also contribute to better day-to-day customer service, such as more accurate billing and remote control of equipment, for example, to limit the power supplied to a home while the owner is out of the country for an extended period.
Improved safety: With the help of high-performance computing, the data collected by ruggedized networking tools can help companies to better predict and prevent equipment failure and other events that could potentially cause disasters that threaten worker safety. Another safety-related use of ruggedized networking involves warning employees of potential hazards: If data is made available to their mobile devices, they can receive automatic alerts when they enter a dangerous area.
For more information on ruggedized networks, read the white paper “Delivering the Power of the Network.”