2015 marked 30 years of COEX innovation so we took the opportunity to reflect on the importance of this milestone with Darren Alder, the current Divisional Director for Oil and Gas.
"The focus is still the same though; to bring together information from an increasing amount of specialist systems and equipment, and display this in a way that is easy-to-use and fully integrated with an operator’s environment."Darren Alder, Divisional Director for Oil and Gas, Synectics
How have oil and gas surveillance solutions developed over the last 30 years?
They are clearly different today, and technology has obviously moved on, but even in the midst of change I see continuity.
There has been a long-standing requirement for CCTV in the oil and gas market, particularly for safety purposes and monitoring operations. In the 80s and 90s solutions were focused mainly on critical process applications, so there were far fewer cameras. As people have been forced to take security very seriously, and the desire to protect people and sites has become even more important, there’s been an increase in this requirement.
What’s also become more obvious is the continued drive for integration. Back then, you could interface with a handful of other systems and this would be achieved through electrical contacts. Delivering these was interesting from a pure engineering point of view, but as more and more systems have become IP-based, and command and control software has evolved, we’ve become less reliant on this to achieve integration.
The focus is still the same though; to bring together information from an increasing amount of specialist systems and equipment, and display this in a way that is easy-to-use and fully integrated with an operator’s environment.
“FATs have become more detailed and integrated so customers can test as closely as possible how a system will work when it is installed. They need to show compatibility and work across a shared network, before anything is shipped.”
How has some of the underlying technology changed?
There have been a considerable number of developments as the demands of the market have changed. Camera stations, for instance, are an essential component of oil & gas surveillance systems, but compared to 30 years ago, they are smaller, lighter, and capable of much higher performance like being able to operate in extreme temperature ranges, in conditions as low as -55°C, and as high as +70°C.
Changes in technological capabilities have also driven change, and moved people’s expectations. So, as another example, we produce PTZ units with repeatability accuracy of 0.05 degrees. In the early days, this would be 1 degree. Now, with higher powered zoom ranges, and across distances of 400-500m, the consistent ability to return to a predefined position with such precision is the difference between hitting the desired field of view or missing it entirely.
What else have you seen evolve over the three decades?
Avoiding failure, and reducing the risk of costly mishaps, is why solution providers have focused more and more on design, engineering, and Factory Acceptance Testing (FAT) capabilities.
FATs have become more detailed and integrated so customers can test as closely as possible how a system will work when it is installed. The need to show compatibility with process control, access control, perimeter intruder detection and other systems, and work across a shared network, before anything is shipped is really important.
From a maintenance perspective, our products are deployed in some of the world’s most hostile and inaccessible environments. If something breaks, you can’t necessarily just send someone to fix it, especially when a resolution is needed quickly. That’s one of the reasons there’s been continued investment in the production of documentation, drawings, and services like remote technical support.
What innovations do you expect to see in the future?
One key thing will be finding better ways to pull more information into a unified system so all that data can be usable and help operators make the right decisions when it matters. It’s not possible to review hundreds of cameras and data streams at once - operators need help from things like analytics and alarm notifications. The continued identification, implementation, and refinement of integration opportunities and interfaces will therefore be essential.
On top of this, I think we’ll see the continual improvement of field equipment. Greater image resolution, increased clarity, thermal radiometric data, and enhanced product capabilities are just some examples. Alongside increases in IP and HD deployments, we’ll also see the continued evolution of products to withstand further extremes of temperature and condition.