IoT at sea: oceans of data aboard floating hotels

The world of offshore oil rigs and drilling vessels may not be the first place you’d expect to find the Internet of Things (IoT), but the controls, sensors and machinery found there generate a vast amount of valuable data — a potential boon for businesses that know how to harness and use this rich resource.

Floatel International manages “floating hotels” for workers on offshore oil and drilling rigs and floating production vessels, which are connected via gangway to stationary or floating installations in all parts of the world, from the North Sea to the South Pacific. In addition to providing sleeping quarters and food service for workers who live at sea for weeks or even months at a time, Floatel crew members must manage safe and efficient operations aboard the vessels. Kongsberg Maritime, a provider of dynamic positioning and automation systems, knew that fleet operators such as Floatel needed better solutions to help their onshore teams manage equipment performance and monitor safety for offshore installations. So Kongsberg created an intelligent system that connects existing onboard sensors and systems with data storage and analytics to enable new, real-time insights into operations and long-term planning.

“Valuable insights”

Kongsberg has deployed its new platform on three vessels managed by Floatel, collaborating with Attunity and Microsoft to help provide reliable connectivity across satellite networks and a user-friendly interface that’s easy to manage, even for crew members with little IT experience. Dashboards and customizable views help users find the exact data they need to solve problems and manage performance in real time.

“It’s not always about petabytes of data. It’s about a set of solutions and technologies that could not have been achieved even five years ago,” says Ted Orme, Attunity’s director of business development. “Interoperating with the Microsoft platform, Attunity can replicate and transfer real-time data from a rig that might be in the Gulf of Mexico or Indian Ocean. This data always existed, but now we make it accessible for Kongsberg to analyze and get valuable insights that weren’t possible before.”

In the past, fleet managers had to collect time-sensitive data by sharing it in telephone conferences or sending staff to remote installations. For routine data transmission, oceangoing ships and platforms anchored to the seabed must rely on satellite networks, which are often slow and prone to outages. Kongsberg collaborated with Attunity to implement a data-transfer solution that efficiently relays only the changes to the overall data set. If the satellite connection is interrupted, data transfer automatically resumes when it is restored.

These few key improvements have had a big impact on information access and efficiency. The solution transmits data from the vessels via satellite to Kongsberg’s onshore control center; from there, it’s transmitted via Kongsberg’s private cloud environment to Floatel’s offices. Both onshore and offshore systems use Attunity Replicate software running on their Microsoft-powered servers. The new solution optimizes data transfer between remote environments, enabling onshore and offshore locations to have the same real-time view of data, and making it easier for onshore teams to provide useful support to their offshore colleagues.

Because it used to be so difficult to transmit offshore data to onshore locations, operators have traditionally focused primarily on the most urgent updates. With Kongsberg’s K-IMS communications platform, fleet managers can leverage data not just about maintenance or safety factors but also small operating details they could use to drive big efficiencies and cost savings.

In addition to tracking location, alarms or fuel consumption, the system can capture data such as how often a hot water heater is out of service or how frequently a gangway between the platform and a vessel is disconnected. In addition, the new system allows onshore engineers access to historical offshore data, enabling insights into long-term trends for better preventative maintenance. Fleet managers can get better insight to make more informed decisions, such as rescheduling maintenance to map closer to actual wear cycles.

A competitive advantage

Kongsberg sees its solution as a key competitive advantage in the maritime industry, in which fleet operators want to modernize and improve operational systems without replacing installed equipment and technology systems designed to perform for decades. The solution lets fleet operators leverage their existing infrastructure for better insight and opportunity, and shows how IoT crosses not just technological divides but actual oceans.

“We look forward to gaining insight into the whole fleet,” says Alexander Östberg, project engineer at Floatel International. “If I look at the future and the access to data we’re gaining with the Kongsberg communication platform based on Microsoft technology, the only thing that limits its use is your imagination.”

This is just one of many examples of how Microsoft technology enables key business solutions in the Connected Oil & Gas Field; read more on the Process Manufacturing and Resources page.