As a world energy leader, Aramco is committed to promoting industry excellence. The company took a unique approach to exemplify this commitment by hosting a forum that brought together technology leaders from multiple industries. The event encouraged them to look beyond their normal circles to see what others might be doing to solve similar challenges and then seek opportunities for technology collaboration. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) provided major assistance in the development of the technical program. Both the aerospace and energy sectors operate, at times, in harsh, remote, and often unexplored environments. As such, they are constantly looking for new ways to ensure safety and reliability. Inside the capsule More than 500 climbed aboard, joining Aramco, NASA and others representing industry majors such as ExxonMobil, Shell, BP, Halliburton, Schlumberger, Cameron, Anadarko, Baker Hughes, DuPont, Dell, Fluor, GE Oil & Gas, Lockheed Martin, and many more. Other industries, such as medical and shipping, were represented as well. Additionally, faculty, researchers, and students from Rice University, MIT, The University of Texas at Austin, Texas A&M University, the University of Houston, Georgia Tech, Baylor College of Medicine, and other institutions participated. “There are overarching challenges faced by a broad range of sectors — energy, aerospace, medical, chemicals and more,” said Al-Shafei. “This forum is designed to explore crossover technologies and look at winning strategies and innovative corporate cultures that are making a difference.” The two-day event featured an impressive list of speakers during three general sessions and five concurrent technical tracks, or Deep Dives, that addressed innovation and emerging technologies within the areas of risk management and reliability, robotics and automation, advanced materials, synergy between industries, cybersecurity, and Big Data analysis.
Shaybah: Our own piece of Mars! Serving as a keynote speaker was Ahmad O. Al Khowaiter, chief technology officer at Saudi Aramco, who noted that the oil and gas, aerospace and medical fields are “industries taking science and engineering to the limit.” Al Khowaiter illustrated his point by telling attendees about the development of the Shaybah Field in Saudi Arabia. “Shaybah was our own piece of Mars!” he said, explaining that it was roughly 600 kilometers away from any city, set in extreme temperatures, and had no infrastructure. Yet, despite those conditions, he said the company was able to “reliably deliver oil out of the highest sand desert in the world within two years.” Eric van Oort, professor of petroleum engineering at the University of Texas at Austin, further talked about innovation, saying the current downturn in the oil and gas industry is creating unique opportunities to improve efficiencies in the construction of both onshore and offshore oil and gas wells. He said Saudi Aramco was setting a good example as being one of the only companies currently expanding its technology in well construction. “I applaud them for doing it,” he said. Inspiring excellence The conference also marked the inaugural “Student Award of Excellence” program to inspire university teams to develop a poster presentation based on one of the forum’s focus areas. A group from Texas A&M University received the award for its presentation on enhancing the performance of remotely operated vehicles in subsea and deep space environments using augmented and virtual reality toolsets. A number of participants commented on their experience, including keynote speaker John Olson, vice president of Space Systems at the Sierra Nevada Corporation, and former senior executive at NASA Headquarters, as well as the Office of Science and Technology Policy at The White House. “In my 26-plus years of speaking on panels at various conferences,” he said, “I’ve had broad exposure to a wide range of event processes and products. From this perspective, I’d like to offer my feedback on this particular event: It was extraordinarily well done.