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Revolutionizing oil and gas through the 5G-connected worker

Connected Worker use cases over private 5G networks accelerate digitalization and capture new value.

Vice President of Industry and Partnership – Energy, Ericsson

Senior Director of Product Management Strategy, RealWear

Offshore - worker waiting for vessel

Vice President of Industry and Partnership – Energy, Ericsson

Senior Director of Product Management Strategy, RealWear

Vice President of Industry and Partnership – Energy, Ericsson

Contributor (+1)

Senior Director of Product Management Strategy, RealWear

For oil and gas companies, worker safety is at the heart of their business. Oil rigs, refineries and processing plants are complicated environments, and having real-time visibility to keep workers’ hands free of things like manuals and walkie-talkies can be an enabler of safer and more efficient operations.

As oil and gas companies continue to modernize operations, enabled by powerful connectivity through private 5G , the concept of a digital or “Connected Worker” has gone from an edge test case to a must have. Undoubtedly, 5G connectivity is key to the urgency in digitizing oil and gas operations, and wearables are a critical component to keeping front-line workers safe and productive because they can connect to outside expertise, alert workers to unsafe conditions and help keep hands free to focus on maintenance.

Connected Workers with ATEX & Class 1 / Div 2 devices – like smart phones, tablets, headsets provided by Ericsson’s partners RealWear and Pepperl + Fuchs – have the potential to drive value, increase productivity and efficiency, and keep workers safe.

The Connected Worker exemplifies the future of oil and gas.

In the oil and gas industry, connected workers are on-site technicians, maintenance, and operations staff who use Internet-connected devices to access information. Through headsets, phones, and tablets, these workers can access real time data, allowing the access of complex technical information on the spot, or having a video call with experts sitting remotely. When combined with networks of sensors and other connected devices in the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), connected worker applications enable mobile digital tools such as field service management, AR, and digital twins’ applications.

The Connected Worker is also a critical step on the Industry 4.0 journey for oil and gas companies. Operational efficiencies through an increasingly intelligent, connected infrastructure produces outcomes such as more predictive maintenance, autonomous operations, and overall enhanced productivity. 

New advances and major innovations in smart devices and wearables, combined with 5G connectivity, are unlocking the true potential of Connected Workers

Private cellular networks provide high speed, secure solutions, unlocking the potential of automation, control and exponential growth.

Ericsson’s enterprise ecosystem brings together cross industry expertise, products and solutions by working with numerous companies to accelerate digital transformation in industrial environments. This Industry 4.0 ecosystem delivers cellular devices and integration, industry specific software and applications and business advisory.

One of our partners, RealWear is the world’s leading provider of assisted reality wearable solutions for the modern frontline industrial worker. They have developed a mixed-reality headset that includes a 16x9 display floating just below a worker’s eyeline. This allows a worker to access visual information and important documents eliminating the need to carry paper manuals. It is also voice controlled with an advanced speech-to-text engine that enables workers to keep hands free to focus on their task.

An essential part of the success of the headset is to have connectivity coverage through the operations indoor and outdoor: this is where the need for private 5G network becomes very important because it keeps your frontline teams safe, protected and productive.

Currently, one of the major use cases for RealWear’s headsets is connecting on-site workers with a supervisor or expert in another location. Workers can troubleshoot repairs with a subject matter expert in real time via an integrated eyepiece and camera. This can increase the effectiveness of onsite maintenance, reduce downtime, and reduce costs and environmental impacts from travel.

According to RealWear, connected helmets have been shown to provide 33% faster maintenance, 89% faster audits, and a 70% increase in safety compliance.

But it is just the tip of the Connected Worker iceberg. As software solutions for these devices evolve, they will continue to make maintenance and other operational tasks possible with less manpower, as well as more efficient and safer. The integration of AI capabilities for video, combined with data captured by the IoT devices, will enable more predictive maintenance, which can reduce the wear and tear on expensive equipment and further boost efficiency.

Oil and gas companies are also looking to Connected Worker technologies to increase safety in hazardous environments. Beyond improving the effectiveness of inspections, RealWear’s headset includes features like an accelerometer that can detect man down, ensuring an injured worker gets help quickly based on their position in the 5G network, as well as offering geofencing capabilities that can alert a person who has entered a dangerous area.

It is a pivotal moment for wearables because of two converging trends – enhanced connectivity in challenging environments through Ericsson Private 5G, and smaller and more powerful chips that can imbue smaller devices like a headset with the computing power necessary to make Connected Worker technologies a reality.

Private 5G is the enabler for Connected Worker platforms

All connected Worker applications and devices require one commonality -- they must have reliable, secure, and high-capacity connectivity. In the past, walkie-talkie has been the communications platform for oil and gas facilities because they tend to be sprawling open, areas and required wide coverage, but these platforms have limited bandwidth and capabilities. Wi-Fi can provide reasonable coverage outdoors but limited indoor coverage due to the extensive use of metals at these facilities. Additional Wi-Fi backhauling through cabling is expensive and intrusive in operation sites.

Private 5G solves many of these challenges, and is bringing super-fast, secure coverage to rugged industrial environments. On remote environments like an offshore oil rig, a single radio can cover a wide area replacing dozens of Wi-Fi access points. A private 5G network not only provides powerful, low-latency connectivity but reduces the complexity of deployment and simplifies maintenance.  

This powerful connectivity is essential for wearables, smart phones, tablets, and other devices because they demand constant, reliable connectivity, something that is difficult to achieve with Wi-Fi and other legacy communications infrastructure. The Connected Worker is dependent on being able to share and download substantial amounts of data, and the no-latency, high downlink speeds of 5G make it the perfect platform.

The potential of mobile devices comes at a critical time for the industry.

While the oil and gas industry has depended on rudimentary communications technology in much of their operations – such as push-to-talk, and even pen and paper – companies are now at an inflection point. Consequently, 5G technology is available in more rugged environments like oil rigs, ensuring not only faster communication but a safer workforce. It is an exciting time for the industry.

Agile technology deployments like Connected Worker technologies bring value in the form of efficient operations – but especially for protecting workers. Safety is the number one concern in these environments, and wearables can keep workers safe by alerting them to hazardous conditions, sending critical information back to a supervisor in real time and doing it all while keeping both hands free for more effective maintenance.

Private 5G networks enable the deployment of these technologies at an enterprise scale, and the convergence of these cutting-edge technologies becoming available alongside improving connectivity in rugged environments means oil and gas firms have a unique opportunity. Safety shouldn’t be an afterthought in the digitalization journey. A Connected Worker platform, inclusive of wearables and driven by 5G, can lead to better safety outcomes in addition to more efficient operations.

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