AI-Focused Firm Attracted To Alberta Drives Efficiencies, ESG Scores In Canadian Oilpatch

Image credit: mCloud.

Among the many offerings within its AssetCare platform, mCloud Technologies Corp. uses a combination of 3D laser scanners and rendering technology to essentially recreate an oil and gas plant digitally — meaning crews can do walkthroughs and facility inspections without necessarily travelling to the location.

“That whole experience of going into a facility, taking a look at the same spot virtually that you would see on the ground, is something you will be able to get with our solution,” Barry Po, mCloud president of connected solutions and chief marketing officer, told the Bulletin. “You’ll be able to do things such as take measurements. If you want to know how thick a pipe is or know the distance between one point and another, you can do that through the technology.”

He added: “You might need teams of three or four people just to come out on-site from all these different locations and converge on that site just to conduct planning or co-ordination before doing something to maybe improve, modify or upgrade the site over the course of its lifetime. We can now do all of that virtually through our 3D solution.”

In February, mCloud signed a memorandum of understanding with Invest Alberta Corporation. This includes the firm’s global corporate headquarters relocating to Calgary. The deal aims to leverage technologies that can help Canadian and global energy firms reduce emissions and take environmental, social and governance (ESG) action.

“We’ve been in discussions with the provincial government for quite some time about the ways in which we’d be able to help oil and gas companies across Alberta and Western Canada to become more sustainable through the use of AI [artificial intelligence] and analytics,” Po said, adding the province wants to be a leader in technology that improves ESG outcomes, which is why partnering with mCloud made sense. The company already has teams set up in Calgary and Edmonton.

“One of the things that we’re also going to be able to do is leverage their connections and network to grow the tech ecosystem within Alberta. We’re very excited about that.”

The company expects to expand hiring in Calgary with the MOU, while continuing major investments in people and the Internet of Things, AI and cloud technology to drive the decarbonization of global industry, and connect with local institutions interested in developing new technological innovations. Invest Alberta will collaborate to facilitate the relocation.

“Probably around half of our employees are based in Alberta today,” Po said. “And so, we have about 100 people based out of Calgary, we have a number of other people based out of our Edmonton office, and we have an office in Grande Prairie as well.”

Key to mCloud’s technology is targeting “underserved energy-intensive assets,” suggested Po. “[While] oil and gas facilities already have a lot of technologies connecting to their most expensive parts, the vast majority of assets at an oil and gas facility remain unconnected. We have the ability to engage and take direct actions on those assets that normally get ignored by these businesses.”

He added: “We’re very focused on real AI applications that serve a purpose. They’re really driven by key applications within the energy-intensive asset space where we can apply AI to drive efficiencies.

ESG matters

Utilizing its trademarked AssetCare platform, mCloud fields a portfolio of AI-powered solutions to improve sustainability of energy-intensive assets, such as process control systems, heat exchangers, compressors and wellheads found at oil and gas facilities, taking actions that directly reduce their carbon footprint. Unique to mCloud might be its calculations and recordings to help energy companies directly measure their ESG outcomes, Po added.

For many businesses, he noted, framing exactly what they have done and what their impacts have been is a struggle when trying to produce sustainability reports. With mCloud’s capabilities, those companies have a real-time solution.

“Everything we do is trackable, auditable and it helps these businesses attribute their actions to the impact they’re having from an ESG viewpoint. That ability to be asset measurable, auditable and transparent is an important part of what we bring to the table for these businesses.”

Asset-based solutions

For its customers in the oil and gas industry, and other sectors, mCloud offers asset-based solutions and worker-based solutions that drive efficiencies across businesses in terms of minimizing travel, reducing the carbon footprint and reducing pollution and waste.

In terms of asset-based solutions, Po highlighted opportunities for control systems, looking at aspects such as heat exchangers to reduce carbon emissions and energy intensity onsite. “If you look at an oil and gas facility, then there are literally dozens if not hundreds of heat exchangers, depending on the size of the facility, and every heat exchanger consumes a lot of energy in the process of moving heat from one source to another.”

Efficiency of heat exchangers degrades over time as a result of how much they are used. By connecting to these heat exchangers, mCloud can essentially schedule units for maintenance based on the duty cycle and load, rather than based on a set schedule.

Po said: “If you look at most of these underserved assets inside these facilities, a lot of them actually don’t use data to drive their [maintenance]. They’re just done on a regular pre-set schedule, because that’s just the easiest thing to do. And, of course, there are some heat exchangers that get maintained more than they should.

“There are other heat exchangers that are allowed to run for longer, and as a result can use a lot more energy to do the same task because they are not getting the attention they deserve. Through our AI, we’re able to go in and take a look at what heat exchangers are the ones that need the most attention, providing the attention when it is needed to make sure we’re not wasting energy in the process of being able to manage heat at these facilities.

“And so, we’re able to do that a lot more intelligently for businesses dealing with these heat exchangers. There are solutions such as that.”

Worker-based solutions

Regarding worker-based solutions, mCloud is looking at bringing smart glasses and industrial mobile devices to oil and gas sites to possibly connect frontline operators to subject-matter experts remotely, Po told the DOB.

“Sometimes the subject-matter experts for these facilities are literally hundreds or thousands of kilometres away from the actual site. Traditionally, we would send subject-matter experts out … to a site to go and address specific maintenance or operations problems because they’re the only ones who actually know how to solve these problems.

“Through the mobile solution we have, though, we can provide the capability of being able to do essentially an industrial-sized enterprise version of the conferencing, where someone is wearing one of our headsets and can show someone virtually and remotely what they’re seeing. They can work on a maintenance or operations problem in real time together as though that person was actually there, even though they might be thousands of kilometres away.”

In terms of eliminating emissions through leak detection at a facility, mCloud plans to provide everybody on-site with an IoT wearable option — a cloud-connected leak-detection device that clips onto mobile phones or is worn on personal protective equipment. Po said this technology enables energy companies to monitor possible leaks constantly via detectors worn by all workers on location — a huge opportunity for firms to decarbonize.

“As they’re going around the facility, they may not realize it, but they may be passing through an area where there may actually be a leak and nobody knows about it. Through this solution, we are essentially able to reduce the amount of time it takes to detect from about two months to less than 24 hours.”

He added: “Imagine being able to reduce that from two months to one day. Across all the facilities at any oil and gas company, that’ll move their ESG score for sure.”

The same solutions that help decarbonize businesses also improve productivity, noted Po, which means mCloud’s solutions make both ecologic and economic sense. “It is entirely possible and very practical to leverage technologies like AI to improve business performance and be more sustainable and more responsible as a result. That’s one of the key things I hope we’re able to push forward as a bit of a message as we go out to a lot of these companies.”


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