Activities are visualized on Snam Rete Gas’s own multi-layer cartography to support field activity and inform operatives about current and previous operations at network locations. The system can also provide information for training.
“We think our approach represents best practice in Italy and Europe; many companies ask to see how we have implemented this solution,” said Pierluca Ferrari, senior vice president ICT, Snam.
Investing in the future
Snam has earmarked more than EUR200 million between 2017 and 2021 for innovation and new technologies to improve pipeline network efficiency. This includes remote monitoring, real-time detection of possible leakages, and an augmented reality platform to support maintenance and network control.
“We are very focused on effective implementation of these technologies,” says Ferrari. “The goal will be to progress from preventative- to condition-based maintenance, while at the same time exploring and preparing for predictive approaches.”
As part of its digitalization programme, Snam Rete Gas is working with technology firms to develop and implement state-of-the-art field monitoring systems that transmit key parameters over an IP protocol, on GPRS/3G/4G communication technology, and which provide diagnostics services. They are designed to work in extreme environmental conditions without external power supply. Some have been deployed, others remain under development.
In another example, the TSO expects soon to start remote monitoring of data from strain gauges tracking the effect of landslides and ground movement on pipelines. “New ways of analysing this data will enable the continuous monitoring of our assets and a prompt intervention when needed,” said Ferrari.
Snam Rete Gas plans to improve training of field operatives through enhanced use of augmented reality. It is also exploring new capabilities offered by recent machine-learning technologies to see if these tools can offer quantitative support to its operatives.
Looking further ahead, Ferrari predicted greater innovation and flexibility of the entire European gas system. “It is reasonable to expect increased sophistication of digital twins of our physical assets due to the greater flexibility requested by the European Gas system as a whole,” he observed. “More sophistication will create new demands, such as the need for an increase in the volume of data sensed from our physical assets to better describe its digital counterpart.”
He continued: “We are looking at adaptive algorithms that can learn from experience to be able to govern the new rate of evolution of the system to generate answers just when they are needed. We are following these trends and trying to devise simple concepts or pilot projects to test them in an industrial environment.”
Sourcing and piloting innovation
Snam Rete Gas constantly tracks technologies that can enable continuous improvement in service reliability and quality. It closely monitors and works with national and international technical working groups.
The company also pursues projects and experimentation on new products involving all employees, vendors and system integrators.
It is open to collaboration with technology partners as it seeks to achieve its objectives through digitalization. Since 2015, it has met more than 200 start-ups and technology companies, analysing their solutions to verify if they can be used in Snam Rete Gas’s business. In some cases, it has piloted their use.
Each pilot has to be integrated into the operator’s application platform. Promising solutions are further examined to see if they could be viable as enterprise level software.
Speed is a prime characteristic of its innovation projects in the digitalization arena. “Technology is advancing at an exponential rate,” observed Ferrari. “We try to complete pilot or proof-of-concept projects as rapidly as possible. The goal is to rapidly build up a system that lets us interact with more than just one research centre, university or technology partner.”