Pipeliners Podcast


The history of technology in pipeline operations is full of revolutionary changes. The latest is the Internet of Things (IoT) and Industrial IoT (IIoT) technology that is essentially SCADA for the enterprise. This week’s guest, Dan Turner, says we’re just in the very beginning stages of seeing this technology integrate with the legacy devices that pipeliners are accustomed to.

Dan says that devices used in the field are going to come straight from the factory with advanced connectivity and need to interact with the legacy devices. It’s going to change the way data flows. It’s going to change the way we access that data. The things that we do today will be how we deal with the legacy stuff a few years from now. That’s just getting data flowing.

This also points to important sidebar issues of ensuring security and integrating AI (artificial intelligence). What does Dan think about these topics, plus other futuristic elements? Be sure to listen and find out.

Show Notes, Links, and Insider Terms


Russel Treat:  Welcome to the “Pipeliners Podcast,” episode two.

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Announcer:  The Pipeliners Podcast where professionals, Bubba geeks, and industry insiders share their knowledge and experience about technology, projects, and pipeline operations. Now your host, Russel Treat.

Russel: First off, I wanted to say thanks for listening to the Pipeliners Podcast. We appreciate you taking the time to listen to this episode. To show our appreciation, we want to let you know that we’re offering listeners the opportunity to win a prize pack.

We’re offering a customized YETI tumbler to one listener each episode. Here’s how you register to win. All you need to do is go to pipelinerspodcast.com/win. That’s pipelinerspodcast.com slash W-I-N to enter yourself in a drawing. This is our way of saying thank you for being part of the show.

We are really fortunate today, and I’m excited, I got to tell you. This is the first real episode of Pipeliners Podcast. We did one, and it was just me talking to you about how I got this crazy idea, and what we want to accomplish.

This week, we start with our first guest ever, Dan Turner, who works for PTC. I got to tell you, Dan and I go back quite a long ways. We can each tell stories on the other that probably…Well, we don’t want to tell them on the podcast anyways. You have to meet us in-person to get those.

I really think the world of Dan. As I mentioned in the first episode, he’s one of those guys that I’ve learned a great deal from. Dan knows a lot about the industry. He’s been around a long time. Dan, if you would, tell us a little bit about yourself and your background, and what you do.

Dan Turner:  Thank you, Russel. I appreciate the opportunity. To be the first guest is a huge honor. My background has always been instrumentation, controls, which morphs from downstream to upstream into SCADA instrumentation controls and measurement. That’s pretty much where I am.

My motto that keeps me on track, or my mission, has always been reducing the cost through technology of moving the world community’s energy, and we find ways to bring in technology to accomplish just that.

Russel:  For the listeners, I got to say, Dan probably knows a whole lot. In fact, Dan’s probably forgotten more about that than most of us will ever know.

Dan, I asked you on, in particular, I want to talk to you about the future of SCADA and a little bit about Internet of Things. A lot of people are asking me, “How’s that new? How’s that different? How’s that any different than things we’ve been doing for 20 years in SCADA?”

Why don’t you tell us a little bit about what you think the current state of the SCADA market is, and SCADA technology, and how, maybe, you expect to see that change in the next 5 to 10 years?

Dan:  After spending the last x number of decades, or a few decades, on the SCADA side of it, we watched a couple of transitions. We watched several transitions.

As technology changes, we find ways to bring new technology to bear the burden of getting information back in and dealing with the data source, finding ways to manipulate the data source, etc.

For the last 10, 20 years, maybe not quite 20, we have found SCADA Host to be the one tool we’ve used, because we found a way to pull data. We found a way to pull it into the operational station, and we found the limits of how it deals with and moves that data forward.

I’ve been paying attention to what this thing is called IoT, or IIoT, Industrial Internet of Things. What’s happening is the rest of the world is coming alive, understanding the real cool thing that’s called connectivity and remote connectivity.

Of course, I want to say 30 some odd years ago, that’s what the SCADA folks were doing. The folks who were doing automation in upstream and midstream had to deal with a lot of these questions and used old radio technologies to pull data and then Bell 202 modems, then the radio connectivity, etc.

We’ve always found a way to adopt technology once it proves to be reliable, and we change with it.

Really, the whole IoT question, I see a stack of individual tools that have learned how to work nicely together to fill in. If you were to look at the IoT model, all of these tools find a way to connect all of these different goals within what the IoT model is.

That’s really what I’m seeing. I’m finding tools coming from other industries. The rest of the business world, now that they’re trying to connect everything, all of a sudden, they’re building tools that also apply to where we are, our traditional market of SCADA.

Russel:  Is IoT a small change? Is it something slightly different than SCADA, or is it a complete rethink of what we classically think of in pipeline operations as SCADA?

Dan:  It’s really SCADA for the enterprise, in a sense, if you think of it that way.

Russel:  You know what, I agree with you, man. That nails it. It’s actually a quantum leap. I’m a guy who likes to think about the history of technology.

Up until Windows started to begin to proliferate and some of these simple HMI tools began to be released on Windows, SCADA was a dark art that existed in a room by itself with specialized engineers and big computers.

They brought all these data up. They put it on screens, and they did their magic, but that data didn’t go anywhere. With the more modern SCADA tools, once you get the data up into the host, at the enterprise level, into the server form, it’s easy to move that data around.

I guess what I’m seeing is that Internet of Things is taking that. Rather than first needing to get the data up to the enterprise and then scatter it around, now what we’re looking at is, no, we’re going to scatter the data all the way from the endpoint. Does that makes sense? Does that line up with what you think?

Dan:  We’re just in the very beginning of it. As always, we’re going to end up with a legacy issue to deal with in how to take today’s technology and patch it into everything connected to the world. What’s running at us very fast is the manufacturers of our devices, things, controllers.

Things in the field are going to come straight from the factory with that connectivity. It’s going to change the way data flows. It’s going to change the way we access that data. The things that we do today will be how we deal with the legacy stuff a few years from now. That’s just getting data flowing.

Now, how do you connect all these other things that you mentioned? That’s why I say, if you look above, let’s step above the SCADA host, and you look at all of these different departments with all the different functions in midstream, or upstream, or downstream.

They had been running very fast to get their individual little block of application solution solved.

In doing so, you don’t have time to meet with everybody else and say, “What shall we call this one thing?” [laughs] Everybody calls the same one thing something different. As part of the contributor too, what I’d call, everybody called silos.

Russel:  One of the things I’m seeing, historically, the issue was about connectivity and the money was spent on connectivity. Connectivity is getting to be less of the technical challenge. The cost of communications is coming down. SCADA systems, in terms of the host, are becoming open.

Now, there’s this issue of data value. If I’m getting data once a minute, is that same data more valuable if I get it once a second or once every hundred milliseconds? Is there greater frequency of the data? Does it have more value?

I know that one of the things that we’ve talked about in our company is having a very high rate data changes how you do leak detection.

If I’m doing leak detection behind the SCADA system at the host level, and I’m dealing with one minute or five minute data, things that are hard to model or hard to see in the data get easy to see if I’m looking at data every hundred milliseconds. To me, that’s a big, big change.

The other thing, and you were talking about this and, that is, if I were to go and build a SCADA system using state of the art tools, I’m going to have to wire an instrument up to a field device, a PLC, a flow meter, an RT, or something. Then, I want to have to name that point in that field device.

Then, I’m going to bring that data up to a SCADA host, and I’m going to have to name that same data element in the SCADA host. Probably, the syntax is different. Then, I’m going to need to get that data out of the SCADA host.

If it’s a meter information, I might need to get it to accounting. If it’s operations information, I might need to send it over to engineering. I may need to send that data into a hydraulic model that’s performing leak detection. In all of those places, that same data point is going to have a different name.

One of the things I see in IoT that’s radically different than what we’re doing at SCADA is I name the element at the field device, at the edge of the network. Then, everybody just goes and grabs that data point versus having to rename it and hook it up.

Maybe that’s an oversimplification, but to me, that’s a big, big change if that’s really the case.

Dan:  I don’t think it’s an oversimplification at all because all of a sudden, this data is going to be available to whoever needs it. It’s not going to be chokehold or held by a single silo. Who wants the data from this one device will subscribe to that device, here’s how you subscribe to the device. All of a sudden, it’s going to clean up a lot of all of that planning.

The harder part will be, I would imagine, if you have half a million devices to subscribe to. There will be a lot of work for somebody, but I see it being less work than what we’re doing now by groups of people.

Russel:  That’s right. It also raises another interesting question. Again, I like to talk about history. When I first got into SCADA, everything about SCADA was in a dedicated group. They managed the devices. They managed the communications. They managed the computers, everything.

Now, everything out to the automation device in the field all the way back through the server forms, all of that’s managed by the Information Technology Group. It’s all infrastructure.

What it raises for me in a question is SCADA, is it going to get absorbed and brought into the IT infrastructure group, and does IoT make that easier for organizations to do?

Dan:  It’s going to be a major shift. I believe field communications and things that you plug in… Let’s go past the legacy. Actually, even just go only a short time forward when you can access this data through a subscription model.

It’s going to be a matter of if you’re the operations people with your operations station, which we call a SCADA host, you’re going to subscribe to the data you need. Let’s say, you’re in marketing and you’re trying to do… When I say marketing, I’m talking about midstream, and you’re trying to forecast the ability to deliver on a contract. You’re going to subscribe to whatever those data bits are you need. The shift will be that whole communication, that whole capability of pulling secure data from the field, and delivering it to where it needs to be, is going to be one layer of dataflow.

Then, what you do with that data from there, how you send out subscribable data to your internal customer or your external customer, that will be the information communication, actually.

The other thing we have to wrap our brain around is now that I’m pulling my, let’s say, tubing pressure, or I’m pulling static pressure from a flow station, there’s a lot of metadata that will flow with that as well.

That metadata is the device, what kind of device, the health of the device, maintenance of the device, last time it was calibrated. All of that information will also be subscribable data going to parties of interest around that.

One thing you hit on earlier, you have lots of data flowing, how do you know it’s good data? How do you know it’s reliable data? I see this whole big data thing, there will be data modeling and capturing to give validation to the data.

It won’t be, “This is wonderful. I can collect a jillion bits per whatever and I’ve got all this data,” but is it good data? How are you going to wrap around that?

Russel:  What is the definition of good, right?

Dan:  We can go on a long time on that. [laughs]

Russel:  Good is dependent on the purpose of the data.

Dan:  Relevant.

Russel:  If I need data that’s repeatable because I’m using it to control a process, that’s different than I need data that’s accurate because I’m using it for custody transfer measurement, so there’s all of that, too.

You made a really interesting point, and that’s one of the things that people don’t get, is that part of what’s going on with IoT is this idea of attaching metadata. One of the things I love about our business is we fill it full of buzzwords.

You listen to somebody talk about Internet of Things and Industrial Internet of Things and you hear IoT, IIoT, big data, data analytics, predictive analytics, and that’s just a handful of the terms that’s used.

What I find interesting about this is these are kind of hardcore IT information technology concepts. The idea of metadata, that term is well understood in the software development domain, in the data management domain. There’s the data and the metadata, the metadata being data about the data.

If you think of that as I have a pressure and that’s the data, and then this is the transmitter and all of its information from the manufacturer, and then this is the maintenance information about all of that.

Then, of course, that ties into my CMMS, my maintenance management systems. One of the things that’s implied by Internet of Things is I’m going to tie everything together at the data level, and the data starts where the data’s created versus where the data is modeled in a database someplace else.

Again, I think that’s a pretty radically different way to think about things. Let me change the conversation a little bit, if I might. Where do you think the pipeline business is, the midstream business is, with regards to utilizing this new technology that people are calling Internet of Things?

Dan:  Midstream is the same place downstream, the same place upstream is right now. I say that because if we started talking to people a year and a half, two years ago, we’d had heard this term. We were concerned about security, etc. because we were looking at security and our current understanding of the issue of security.

There was a real slow delay in all of oil and gas, everybody equal. The beginning of this year, I can tell you that it went from a black magic, strange thing that’ll never happen    you could even hear a little frustration in people’s voices when you discussed it in regular discussion [laughs] in the middle of 2016 to now.

There’s an overall interest because people are sniffing, “This may be a technological change that can deliver some of the things that SCADA promised two, four, five years ago.”

We just didn’t have the connectivity. We didn’t have the ability, the flow, the kind of data that was required. We were fighting issues of just pulling a field in an hour of very low level kind of stuff, like pressures, temperatures, flow rates, etc.

We’re still a little confused as a group — all of us, all of us together, every segment of oil and gas — of how we’re going to improve that communication because communication is our weak spot. I see those changes coming at us quite quickly.

To answer your question, I think midstream is the exact same place the rest of oil and gas is as opposed to, let’s say, cities who are putting in WiFi 802.11 everywhere, no big deal. You can hook your cell phone up all over the place.

As you and I know, take a little drive off to many different places we could name. [laughs] You haven’t seen cell connection in the last two hours. How do we pull 802.11 kind of connectivity to the well site? As soon as that becomes not a problem, then, there’s the rest of this promise can be delivered.

In the meantime, don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. There’s a lot of the promise that can be handled on site through edge computers, etc. That’s probably how it’s going to start for all of us. We’ll have local hubs and spots that are doing good until we totally solve the communication side of it. My summary is oil and gas is in the same boat.

Russel:  I guess I have a different view of it a little bit. I don’t think that we’re ever going to completely solve the communications problem. The reason I say that is there’s just going to continue to be more, and more, and more demand for data.

When you’re operating a pipeline and you’re at an interconnect, and that interconnect is down in a canyon and 30 miles from the nearest cell tower, you’re going to have communication issues. It’s just a given. Probably ought to talk a little bit about what an edge device is.

Simply stated, an edge device is a computer you can think of it like your cell phone    that runs a Windows, or iOS, or a Linux operating system and sits at the very edge of the network, right next to the instrumentation. If I were connecting up to a legacy system, it would be sitting right next to the PLC.

It’s grabbing that very high rate data and doing things with it at the edge of the network. What I think’s going to happen is that people are going to start focusing on edge device development. Those edge devices will have applications on them. They’ll start doing some kind of intelligent stuff with the data, meaning I’m going to use lots of data to do analysis.

I’m going to process that data into something meaningful that I send to the host, which is going to offload some of the communications requirement on the communications infrastructure. That’s one guy’s theory.

Dan:  And be a fundamental change in security.

Russel:  We haven’t even talked about that. That is a huge subject with Internet of Things because the cost of having the data more highly integrated is I open myself up to more potential security risk.

Dan:  What helps us become more secure is all of a sudden, that edge device becomes a quasi firewall, if you will, because the old-time, machine-learning language never leaves the field. It’s also going to broaden the dataflow through a pipeline, if you will.

Rather than sending all of that data back every second somewhere else to be computed, and then sent back to the field, it’ll all be crunched in the field. Now that you have that capability of crunching the data in the field, you change to a different type of interface.

That interface is written around all the current standards around using the same security apps that your online banking uses, so you’ve just made everything safe. Instead of Modbus, who is a wonderful protocol… Not everybody agrees with me on that, but I can teach anybody Modbus pretty quickly.

It was written in a time that we didn’t even lock our houses when we’d leave town for a month on vacation. What did we know about security? The only way you can get there is through encryption and all this other junk.

Rather than doing all that, keep Modbus where it belongs, in the field, and move to a higher level interface that it now is delivering relevant information, as opposed to a gigabyte of data so you can figure it out somewhere else. There’s some changes that’ll come along due to that, from both bandwidth requirement as well as high security.

Russel:  If somebody was trying to learn about Internet of Things and Industrial Internet of Things…

Dan:  Oh, man.

Russel:  Try to just get up to speed on what it is and how it works, and so forth. Where would you direct them to go?

Dan:  That’s a good question. There are so many places you can go. Really, right now, you can even Google and learn it from a lot of places. Since we’re talking to folks from our industry, you want to look for the Industrial Internet of Things. Most of the companies are coming out with tutorials.

Russel:  You’re making my point, Dan, and that is, that PTC is the biggest automation company you’ve never heard about, at least, for people in the pipelining space.

When you first introduced me to these guys after you purchased Kepware, I was really amazed at the size and scale of the company and the number of things they’re doing. They’re historically more in the manufacturing space, not so much in the oil and gas space. I guess that’s your job, is to help PTC move into the oil and gas, and in particular, the midstream space.

Dan:  That’s exactly it. Let’s go back to the beginning of our conversation. My real interest piques when I see things in technologies that I know play. The interesting thing is that for the last couple of decades that we’ve known each other, as well as a lot of other people that we know, we’ve been working on SCADA Host.

We know where the problems are with SCADA Host. We know the issue of the dead end of data and information.

I started finding within this IoT framework the ability to patch together and solve that loss of connectivity, that problem of data exchange, finding a way to pull the data together into something relevant. Applying analytics for either doing simulation or predictive maintenance, I think you mentioned earlier, and finding ways to use this data in unique methods.

The other thing that they had was a way to deal with the connected worker. That could be simply SCADA looking host screens on PCs, or delivering the information back to the SCADA Host for your operations people, or to any of your other systems, or even to the point of this augmented reality.

There’s a new paper being released right now between Jim Heppelmann and the folks at Harvard, that’s talking about the enterprise being prepared to embrace and look at augmented reality where it’s going to fit into the future.

Again, that may be a far stretch for a lot of us to think about, some type of augmented reality device out in the field so that we can find better ways to do our jobs as a solution. We can see things that we couldn’t see before.

Anyway, all of this technology, I thought, holy smokes. I see the connectivity in oil and gas. I see where it will help our companies quite a bit. After January 1st of this year, I recognized a lot of our thought leaders are seeing the exact same thing. I’m seeing a major shift in our industry.

We will learn how to use this to our best advantage as far as automation people, SCADA people, but more than that, more connected within the other departments within the company, for midstream production, whatever.

Russel:  This is a subject that we can talk about a lot more. Dan, one of the things you and I share, both you and I would qualify as a Bubba geek, meaning, we have both a laptop and a hunting rifle in our pickup truck.

This is the kind of thing that, while it’s kind of new and people are beginning to look at it, what we know is that the stuff that thought leaders start thinking is cool or interesting probably is going to have a material impact in our business over the next 10 years. I certainly see IoT that way.

With that, Dan, thank you very much for joining us and offering your thoughts. We look forward to having you back.

Dan:  I appreciate it very much. I look forward to coming back after I have a little time in the field, and we get some of this technology deployed, talking about use cases and what it’s done for people, where the rubber meets the road. I look forward to that podcast.

Russel:  That’d be awesome. We will definitely get that on the calendar at some point down the road when that makes sense. That’s awesome. Again, thank you. To all the listeners, thank you for listening to the Pipeliners Podcast.

Dan:  Thank you, Russel.

Russel:  Thank you for listening to this week’s episode of the Pipeliners Podcast. I hope you enjoyed the conversation with our guest, Dan Turner, and you found it valuable.

Just a reminder, you should go register to win at pipelinerspodcast.com where you can win a nice, stainless YETI tumbler with a cool Pipeliners Podcast logo right on the side.

All you need to do is visit pipelinerspodcast.com/win. That’s pipelinerspodcast.com slash W-I-N to enter yourself in the drawing. Again, thanks for listening, and we hope to hear from you next week.

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