IIoT Data Delivery in Oil and Gas Production: How to Cut Through the Noise and Cut Down the Costs

When it comes to IIoT data transmission, “talk” isn’t cheap. Here’s how to reduce data transmission costs and make sense of endless, ever-increasing chatter across IIoT devices.

In the oil and gas (O&G) industry, where remote and harsh production sites abound, reliance on the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is growing by the day. Sensors in the field transmit real-time data on equipment performance, environmental conditions, and safety parameters — often to a SCADA system that’s been in service long before IIoT devices became ubiquitous.

Some data points mean the difference between success and failure — or even life and death. By reporting elevated pressures in pipelines, for example, IIoT sensor data helps avert disaster. By measuring the volume of oil that flows from a wellbore into pipelines, companies can collect every penny owed to them for what they extract. Because safety, profitability, and other business imperatives rely so heavily on vital measurements, this data is sometimes hailed as priceless — provided companies alchemize it into insights.

Nevertheless, companies don’t want to overspend on leveraging data regardless of its potential ROI. At the same time, however, they keep adding more and more IIoT devices out in the field, raising costs as well as other concerns associated with data transmissions.

What’s That Noise?

One concern is the unintelligible noise created by devices using all sorts of different messaging protocols that the SCADA system can’t understand. Imagine for a moment that the United Nations has erupted into bedlam. Representatives from different nations are shouting in different languages. The poor secretary charged with taking minutes only speaks English and can’t make sense of the rapid-fire information coming at her in French, Italian, Mandarin Chinese, and a whole host of other languages.

The scene is chaos.

Something similar happens on a production site where IIoT devices use different protocols, or “languages,” to transmit and receive data. Existing SCADA systems can be scaled to “comprehend” more than one language, but implementing this capability for various and sundry protocols can be cost-prohibitive.

Adding to the confusion, some sensors have a voltage output as opposed to a protocol output. Some communicate via an Ethernet port while others use a data or digital link. Some devices use obsolete or proprietary protocols that aren’t readily understood by SCADA systems.

By and large, companies that use SCADA networks experience this as a massive problem, as though a Tower of Babel is impeding dataflow and, therefore, operational efficiency. But the solution to the problem is rather simple and comes in the form of an actual tower — a radio tower, to be exact.

Translating IIoT Data for SCADA Networks

Atop of this tower is a radio that serves as a communications hub, or gateway, collecting data from all the IIoT devices within its range and sending it to FreeWave Insights® Data Platform for instantaneous cloud-based translation into language the SCADA system understands. It’s a plug-and-play solution that works with any SCADA system, with limited — if any — upgrades or installations required.

For example, FreeWave’s Fusion Bridge radio gateway offers these and other benefits, as well, including cost savings on cellular data. Where cellular is used for connectivity, it’s sometimes the case that each and every IIoT sensor connects to its own cellular device, which transmits the data. This is a spendy setup because each of those cellular devices, which could number in the hundreds or thousands, costs between $8 and $20 per month to keep in service whether data transmits or not.

Cell phone users of a certain age can recall being billed for every outgoing text message. Later, your provider only charged you for text sent to users of a different provider. Next, you could buy data plans and send texts to whomever, so long as you didn’t exceed your plan limits — in which case you’d be charged a pretty penny for the overage. Today, consumers can buy unlimited data plans for cellular phone usage. As of yet, however, there’s no such thing as an unlimited data plan for IIoT data transmission.

Data plans are available for purchase, and providers — knowing that data stream disruptions can upend business operations — have mastered the art of the upsell:  persuading companies to pay for more data than they’re likely to use as a “just in case” insurance measure. The alternative is exceeding the data limit and getting stuck with a hefty surcharge. 

By connecting directly to the IIoT sensors and sending the combined data in fewer packets, FreeWave’s radio gateways reduce the number of cellular data transmissions, thereby reducing costs.

The Business Case for Satellite Remote Monitoring for SCADA Systems

So far, we’ve focused on data transmission via cellular, but many O&G operations are located in remote places where cellular service is spotty or even nonexistent. That’s where satellite connectivity comes into play, but satellite’s playing field is about to expand.

In a bid to reduce telemetry costs, O&G companies have started to deploy satellite networks even in situations where cellular is a viable option. That’s because the cost of data transmission via satellite has decreased so much that it’s practically neck-and-neck with cellular. Cellular still outpaces satellite in terms of latency, but the distance is narrowing.

As a Global Authorized Reseller of ORBCOMM© and a Connectivity Wholesale Partner in Viasat’s ELEVATE program, FreeWave believes that satellite is a future-proof connectivity solution for remote operations. But why not have the best of both worlds? ORBCOMM’s dual-mode terminals switch from LTE to backup satellite transmission when needed for cost-effective, fail-safe routing.      

You Have More Control Over Transmission Costs Than You Think

When it comes to IIoT data transmission, “talk” isn’t cheap. Whether hitched to cellular or satellite, overly “chatty” sensors are another driver of data transmission costs and bandwidth consumption. You know how you can set up bank alerts to tell you when transactions occur and your balance changes? Imagine if your bank app pinged you constantly to let you know where your balance stands regardless of whether it changes. If your balance stands at $10,000, perhaps the constant reminders would be thrilling, but in all likelihood, you would find them distracting, annoying, and costly.

Some IIoT devices, such as pressure and temperature sensors, keep sending the same, unchanged metric over and over again, incurring a data transmission charge for each message sent. That’s why FreeWave equips remote operators with exception-report telemetry, using edge technology to monitor readings and a radio gateway to collect them. If there’s nothing new or aberrant to report, no message is sent, thereby dampening the data “noise” of constant, repetitive data streams.

If everything is performing optimally over a period of time, the SCADA system might eventually “wonder” whether the quiet sensor is still operational and online. In that case, the SCADA system can perform what’s known as a “sanity check” — kind of like a virtual nudge or wellness check to make sure the sensor is responsive and functional. 

Data Minus Unnecessary Noise and Costs

FreeWave’s deep experience with O&G customers reveals they don’t care about having the latest technology per se. What they do care about is whether anything dangerous or inefficient is imminent or already happening in the field — something that could cause worker or environmental harm or might result in downtime. On top of that, they want to get paid, fully and fairly, for their production. That’s where FreeWave’s services and solutions come into play, delivering data minus the meaningless noise and unnecessary costs that stand in the way of optimal safety, efficiency, and profitability.

Read “SCADA + Satellite Equals Industry’s Latest Power Couple to improve operational performance and create more business value from your operations. 

Picture of William H. Conley, III
William H. Conley, III

William “Bill” Conley III is the Director of Technical and Customer Support for FreeWave, provider of industrial wireless and IIoT solutions for people passionate about the beauty of a data-informed world. He is considered a global expert on technologies relating to U.S. export controls and cellular-based solutions.

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Designed, manufactured and tested in the USA.

© 2023 FreeWave Technologies, Inc. All rights reserved.