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Welcome to the future of industry

Aramco’s commitment to 4IR technologies.

Nabil Al-Nuaim - Aramco Chief Digital Officer
Elements magazine|Nabil A. Al-Nuaim, Vice President of Digital Transformation|

  • Three of Aramco’s facilities have been accredited as part of the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Global Lighthouse Network
  • The Abqaiq, Khurais, and Uthmaniyah, demonstrate the future that 4IR technology brings to the industry

Leading manufacturers are using 4IR technologies to transform their business models and value chains, bringing compelling financial, operational and environmental benefits. Aramco’s Chief Digital Officer Nabil Al-Nuaim explains how the World Economic Forum’s Global Lighthouse Network is marking out the way ahead.

It’s hard to express the change that Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) technologies are bringing to industry. They are literally transforming the way we work. They are also making new, previously unimagined things possible. In the energy industry, digital innovations such as machine learning, big data and analytics, and unmanned aerial vehicles are helping us to achieve significant advances in efficiency, safety, and reducing CO2 emissions, as well as realizing value.

Employee working in a simulation machine

The Global Lighthouse Network is a group of industrial sites that the World Economic Forum (WEF) has identified to set the pace in implementing Industry 4.0 at scale. The network highlights the way ahead, inspiring others to follow.

Leading the way

At Aramco, we are proud that three of our facilities have now been accredited as part of this network. The latest addition, Abqaiq, is our largest oil processing facility and the largest crude stabilization plant in the world. It joins Khurais, the world’s largest intelligent oil field, and our Uthmaniyah gas plant. And we are still the only major international energy firm represented. This is testament to Aramco’s commitment to 4IR technologies and to the scale of our ongoing digital transformation

The Abqaiq facility is the beating heart of Aramco, playing a pivotal role in the company’s day-to-day operations.

 It is the place where 50 percent of Saudi Arabia’s daily production of oil is stabilized, as different grades of crude from oil fields across the Kingdom are processed and prepared for transport, export, and downstream processing. The size and age of Abqaiq, which has been in operation for more than 70 years, presented unique challenges during the facility’s digital transformation. But by harnessing the power of data, analytics and automation, Abqaiq’s manufacturing processes have been transformed, enabling it to innovate and thrive in an increasingly digital world. 

“By harnessing the power of data, analytics and automation, Abqaiq’s manufacturing processes have been transformed.”

Impressive impact

Aramco is already reaping the benefits: energy use per barrel of oil processed has been cut by 14.5 percent, greenhouse gas emissions have been reduced by 3.8 percent and we have seen a 20 percent reduction in unplanned maintenance.

“We have seen a 20 percent reduction in unplanned maintenance and a 3.8 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.”

 How were these results achieved? The digital transformation has affected almost every aspect of Abqaiq’s operations, but three changes stand out.

First, the use of robots and smart drones equipped with cameras, thermal imagers, and gas detectors has reduced reliance on manual field checks. This has improved efficiency, safety, and decision-making by our operations team. (In fact, robots and drones now perform 30 percent of our routine operations checklist.)

Second, the introduction of machine learning and AI-powered algorithms has enabled a continuous and proactive digital adjustment of the oil stabilization process. This in turn has optimized performance and improved product consistency, leading to a 4.5 percent increase in power generation performance since 2019, which was eventually distributed to the local grid, and a reduction in CO2 emissions.

Third, the use of data, analytics, and predictive modeling has enabled our engineers to anticipate problems and potential system failures more effectively, again boosting performance and efficiency. To give one example, this data-led approach has achieved a 3.6 percent reduction in flared gas at the plant since 2019.

Man working in the OSPAS center

Unleashing talent

Some people might wrongly assume that the adoption of 4IR technologies poses a threat to jobs. At Aramco, we see it as an enormous opportunity, freeing our employees from mundane or dangerous tasks, and allowing them to extend their knowledge and build on their existing skills. For instance, our safety inspectors can now retrain as drone pilots and programmers, so they can program new routes, pilot drones when required, and leverage their years of experience to spot potential faults from the data that has been collected in a safer and more efficient way.

“Our safety inspectors can now retrain as drone pilots and programmers [and] leverage their years of experience to spot potential faults.”
To successfully implement a digital transformation of this scale requires wide-ranging commitment to education and training. Aramco has achieved this through a number of initiatives, including in-house training to give staff the knowledge and skills to fully exploit 4IR technologies, and skills development through external courses at world-class institutions (including sponsoring Master’s degrees with a specific focus on 4IR).

Aramco has also formed research partnerships and other programs with local universities. Additionally, we have a 4IR Center that supports the entire company, but we have also developed a dedicated 4IR Center at the Abqaiq facility itself to further share knowledge between disciplines and internal departments — and make the most of opportunities presented by 4IR. In this way, the company is focused on ensuring that employees are equipped with the skills they need, while also recognizing that these skills need to be developed over time.

Lab technician working

The selection of Abqaiq to become Aramco’s third facility within the Global Lighthouse Network speaks to the company’s hard work and corporate strategy to embrace 4IR technologies. We have been excited at the results these new technologies have brought to the company, as well as the way they have unleashed a spirit of innovation and creativity. We know that we must continue to improve and evolve so we can achieve more with less in a sustainable way.

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