Seeing the field in all its dimension

At El Tordillo in Comodoro Rivadavia, Argentina, the team is out testing augmented reality to identify pipes in the field.

It all started with a specific need according to Sebastián Bigliardo, Plants & Integrity Manager at El Tordillo who is in charge of the project to update the Geographic Information System (GIS). “The system superimposed the pipeline database on a satellite image of the site,” he begins, explaining how the issue arose.

“Updating these pipes involves adding the new sections to the database as well as updating the precision of the locations, which is now submetric, meaning that it has a precision that can be measured in centimeters. However, the problem is that the GIS is a computer database, and you are sitting at your desk while another game entirely is being played on the field.” Sebastian wondered how to translate that centimeter precision into the physical world in a more dynamic way. “I thought we ought to have this GIS base available for use in the field but in some innovative format.”

On the field and on the screen.-

When he started investigating options on the market, he quickly saw that there was no solution currently being applied in the country. However, a company called Trimble had developed a technology called SiteVision that at first glance seemed to be a candidate for a potential solution.

So Sebastian called the IT sector and talked to Pablo Fichera, IT Digital Innovation Manager, and Ignacio Laurito, Jr. Analyst in IT Digital Innovation. “We checked out other options and compared the pros and cons of each one. It looked like SiteVision offered a competitive advantage over the others, mainly for reasons of size and ease of use,” says Pablo as he describes the system that superimposes the pipes on the ground onto the image on the cell phone screen: “When you’re out there, you can see where the pipeline course lies at all times.”

What’s it all about? “You need an antenna and the right software to complement the GIS database so you can actually see what’s happening in the field using augmented reality. This enabled us to spot where the pipeline courses pass, just by aiming the antenna at the ground and looking at a cell phone.” Once they’d overcome the first challenge, which was to manage the import of the system, they tackled the next one, which was how to make it work.

Ignacio takes over: “I traveled to El Tordillo to set up the system. You have to connect a cell phone to the antenna, so we uploaded the GIS data to the platform and then calibrated and analyzed the optimal functions to be able to view the information using the phone's camera. There were some challenges due to satellite availability, but in the end, the tests went very well.”

Still in pilot mode but all moving forward, smiles Sebastian. The operator holds the antenna device in their hand to connect to the system running the GIS, so it can download the information from the database to the phone. “To keep it simple, augmented reality shows us the pipes running underground with submetric precision and we can clearly see these on screen. The idea is that this will help make field operations more efficient.”

Steady progress. Ignacio explains that, “The system produces an overlay effect in 2D and 3D. Until such time as the 3D function has been perfectly set up, we are using it in 2D, because the degree of precision is already very high. We’re currently in the pilot testing phase which is very exciting as it’s when we start using it to define operational practices. We’ve completed the first round of tests and now we’re trying it out in the field to fine tune details.”

Because the idea, like everything at Tecpetrol, is to expand the application of this new system: “Something that’s common to all innovation projects is how you work toward achieving a minimally viable product. If it works, as in this case, it can be used in other areas or operations,” Pablo enthuses. There has already been a positive response from other sectors and with a little luck and a lot of work, augmented reality will soon be another tool contributing to various aspects of operations.”

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