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Oilfield automation isn’t a thing of the future—it’s now. Students who once dreamed of working on an oil rig or as a petroleum engineer are now choosing computer programming or robotics. They want to work in the oil industry, but they see technology as the way forward.

Oilfield automation already is happening. After the industry cut 350,000 jobs worldwide over the last few years, computers are filling in the gaps where people used to be. And not only are they filling in the gaps, soon they’ll be cutting costs. IDC Energy Insights predicts high-performing computing devices will reduce maintenance and training costs for major oil and gas companies, Rigzone reports.

The industry can’t depend on oil prices to be high, or even stable. If companies want to remain relevant in the age of alternative energy, they’ve got to make changes. So the industry is trending toward automation and innovation. Moving toward oilfield automation will reduce the number of dangerous jobs while increasing jobs in other fields. Ultimately it will make the industry more resilient.

Reduce dangerous jobs

The innovation happening with automation in the oil and gas industry means fewer dangerous jobs. In fact, fatal injuries in the private oil and gas extraction industries are going down. In 2015, there were 38 percent fewer fatalities in the industry than in 2014. Using computers instead of people is making the industry safer.

Oilfield automation at work examples

  • iRig: Nabors Industries is developing a machine called the iRig, which will take pipes, put them together and push them into already-drilled holes, according to the Houston Chronicle.
  • More efficient rigs: Another machine, developed by Schlumberger, will drill more holes and deeper wells from one location.

These machines mean more efficient operations, fewer people, and ultimately lower injury rates.

Increase jobs in other fields

Though automation means fewer backbreaking, dangerous jobs, it will put more computer programmers and operators to work. Companies will need people working in offices to remotely monitor equipment and data. ABB and Microsoft are building a cloud-based platform for the oil and gas industry, and other industrial customers. The platform will allow customers to analyze large amounts of data to improve operations and efficiency. It also creates jobs for developers and skilled workers.

Make industry more resilient

With increased competition from alternative energy and low oil prices, the industry must change. Automation in the oil and gas industry means more efficient operations. It also means fewer dangerous jobs and more room for technical workers. Embracing innovation makes the industry more resilient and better able to handle oil price changes.

One of the trends taking hold in oil and gas automation is digital twins, according to GE. Programmers create a digital twin of industrial equipment. The virtual equipment gives crews detailed status updates, without having to be on-site. This innovation streamlines processes and ultimately cuts personnel costs.

Now that oil and gas automation is taking hold, other related industries will soon follow suit. Automation is in the near future for companies like ATS, providing chemical services and applications.

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