The automation side of the oil and gas business may seem one of the less glamorous parts of the industry, but without the proper controls in place, energy could not be delivered safely or efficiently anywhere in the world.
ABB is a worldwide leader in the automation business and in recent years its chemical, oil and gas (COG) unit has provided an increasingly important part of its bottom line. Sandy Taylor, a native-born Scotsman whose family immigrated to Canada when he was nine, is business unit manager oil, gas and petrochemical for ABB and discusses how a global energy company works to partner with a wide variety of clients in the oil and gas industry to safely and profitably improve their processes.
P&GJ: What was the career path that has led to your current position with ABB?
Taylor: I joined ABB through Bailey Controls as an applications engineer and was exposed to the energy industry initially through Canadian O&G, then relocated to London and was involved in the North Sea and Middle East energy sectors as area manager. I returned to Canada where I managed our systems and projects organization with a heavy focus on power generation and oil and gas production. After Elsag Bailey became part of ABB, I served as ABB’s process automation global oil and gas manager for much of the past decade.
P&GJ: What is ABB’s strategy in the energy industry in regards to your business unit, and what role in particular does your unit play with oil and gas utilities?
Taylor: Our strategy in the chemical, oil and gas industries is to provide comprehensive and complete integrated electrical, automation, telecommunication and collaborative production management solutions that enable our customers to better operate their facilities from a reliability, safety and performance perspective.
The broad product, system and service portfolio of ABB, combined with our strong engineering and project management capabilities, and our global reach through local organizations in most COG centers throughout the world, gives us a unique ability to help our customers achieve superior process and business performance.
P&GJ: Will this be a core business center for ABB, and how much of your business is in North America vs. the rest of the world?
Taylor: The COG market is recognized as both large and growing, and is already a target market for ABB products, systems and services, and will continue to remain so in the future. North America has been and will remain a significant part of our overall COG market.
P&GJ: Where are some of the best places to do business today?
Taylor: Oil and gas activities are very robust in many parts of the world from the North Sea, the Middle East, Canada and Australia.
P&GJ: What are some of the challenges in growing business opportunities for this particular group, especially in the oil and gas sector?
Taylor: The fact that we have such a broad portfolio and the project management, engineering and local support capabilities to integrate across multiple disciplines and specifically automation and electrical, creates a unique offering to the market with significant engineering and operational benefits to our customers. However, our complete offering crosses well-established organizational boundaries and traditional procurement practices, so the benefits need to be further quantified and understood to change the way the industry does business. This is steadily happening as our customers gain experience and appreciation for the significant benefits they can obtain.
P&GJ: Since 9/11 how has the security aspect of automation changed among energy companies?
Taylor: Cyber-security has become a great concern, ensuring that our systems are secure from intruders, while remaining open to those in the industry who need access.
P&GJ: How have you seen the energy business change since you first became involved?
Taylor: The scale and complexity of projects has significantly increased and while EPCs play a very significant role in the business, there are increasing responsibilities both in the capital project phase and operating phase of process plants for major equipment suppliers to play a much more significant role in engineering and support of customers.
P&GJ: Who does your customer base consist of and when you talk to them, what do they say are their greatest concerns and needs?
Taylor: Our customers are oil and gas exploration and production; midstream oil and gas; refineries, petrochemical, specialty chemical producers. Key issues are performance and reliability of technology, support for their installations, consistency in quality of delivery, safety and commitment to an agreed schedule.
P&GJ: Regarding oil and gas utilities, have they been able to keep on top of today’s constantly changing technologies?
Taylor: Without a doubt, most energy companies have a very balanced approach to the trade-off of utilization of latest technologies with ensuring the technologies are well-tested and proven for their applications.
P&GJ: Are companies such as yours being asked to take a greater role in partnering with operating companies?
Taylor: Certainly, particularly in situations where there is development of leading-edge technologies and there is higher risk, there needs to be close collaboration to leverage our wealth of knowledge with chemical, oil and gas companies’ process-specific know-how.
P&GJ: Do you think the industry invests enough in R&D for automation technologies?
Taylor: I would say there is a good balance as we continuously are evolving our automation technologies to incorporate new technologies and applications
P&GJ: What are some of the challenges energy companies face today in doing business in various parts of the world, and what recommendations would you offer them?
Taylor: If you look at the oil and gas business, oil production is getting more challenging as we develop fields in deeper waters and in harsher climates and have heavier oil to process, with more demanding local requirements. Combine this with larger projects, plus demographics that remove experience and know-how from the business, and it makes for significant challenges to delivering world-class projects on schedule and budget.
I think there is an opportunity to leverage the knowledge of the supplier industry and also to share some of the risks and successes of the business with the supplier community, in a structure that motivates all to strive for delivery of superior performance.
P&GJ: What opportunities does a career in the energy sector offer a young person today, perhaps in comparison to other businesses?
Taylor: The COG industry knows no geographic boundaries when it comes to execution and support of projects. In addition, aging demographics continuously challenge the industry to ensure that knowledge is passed from one generation to the next.
Young people in ABB have a chance to be involved in all aspects of development, implementation and support of leading technologies, and to get to see and experience many different parts of the world. Working in different countries is great training for the next generation of managers who need to have global experience to be prepared to manage business and to meet customers’ needs.
P&GJ: In your travels around the world, are there any particular people or experiences that stand out?
Taylor: When it comes to people, the diversity is more the thing that stands out, and yet – while we all have our different backgrounds and cultures – I find there is a common bond within our organization to succeed, both as individuals and, as we do so often, in team environments where we put together teams from multiple countries to execute projects.
P&GJ: What would you like people to know about the energy industry?
Taylor: Many people only see the faults of the oil and gas industry, particularly environmental concerns, while the industry employs a significant number of people that have the exact same concern for the environment. As cheap and easy-to-access oil becomes scarcer, we need to continue to drive technology to make production and use of oil and gas safer and more efficient while continuously reducing the environmental footprint. Of course, the best way to do this is to conserve energy, as a unit of energy saved is one that can be saved for future generations.