May 2024
SPECIAL FOCUS- Well completion technology

Embracing automation: Oil and gas operators leverage new operational efficiencies

Wellsite automation can help make oil and gas production smarter, faster, more efficient and safer. The ability to utilize real-time data to make automatic and instantaneous adjustments can produce reductions in the days spent on frac operations and increased wellsite safety.

The age of automation has dawned in the oil and gas industry, and operators can unlock value by harnessing new gains in efficiency that it provides. Driven partly by the boom in advanced connectivity tools, automation represents a new leap forward because of its potential to make processes faster, more efficient and safer—all of which help minimize non-productive time (NPT). There have already been many advancements with automation for the oil field—such as remote monitoring and control capabilities—and new applications will continue to drive innovation. 

To understand this next major evolution in the oil and gas industry, it’s important to grasp how operators are continuously adapting to and adopting new technology. Importantly, automation offers key benefits that enhance workers’ jobs, rather than replace them. 


For decades, the oil and gas industry has relied mostly on manual processes. As one example, workers had to hammer unions for wireline connections at the outset. Those manual processes are slow, prone to human error and expose workers to potential hazards. 

When hydraulic latches were introduced, they represented a revolutionary step forward, compared to manually hammering in latches, and they became especially crucial when stage counts started to increase. Now, automation marks the next major evolution at the well site. It frees up personnel to work on higher-value tasks, and it further enhances efficiency by enabling real-time optimization. Introducing wireless capabilities also eliminates the need for cumbersome cables or hydraulics, which helps reduce points of failure to streamline operations and reduce NPT. 


There are three main areas where automation has a particularly notable impact on wellsite operations: safety and remote operation, efficiency and continuous monitoring, and data collection and predictive maintenance. 

First, the safety benefits are clear, in part because automation enables remote operation, Fig. 1. Automating valve operation and other processes at the wellsite while using remote equipment monitoring reduces the exposure of personnel to high-pressure red zones. Minimizing the need for manual intervention drastically reduces exposure to hazards that could cause injuries or an industrial accident. Remote operation proves even more valuable in difficult or remote environments, where wellsite access may be limited.  

Fig. 1. Automated technologies, such as Oil States' ACTIVELatch positive impact efficiency and site safety.

Second, automation boosts speed and efficiency by reducing manual processes and supercharging data-backed decision-making. Automated tasks, like monitoring and data analysis based on pre-set parameters, can be done more quickly and accurately to optimize production. 

Third, automating wellsite operations also entails digitalization, for enhanced real-time data collection and predictive maintenance. This enables continuous monitoring through sensors and devices that can measure a wide range of data points, including pressure, temperature and flowrate. Data analytics can then extract actionable insights to inform decision-making. That wealth of information helps maximize uptime, and preventative maintenance algorithms can identify signs of fatigue or malfunction to prevent catastrophic failures before they occur. Then operators can proactively schedule maintenance and avoid unplanned downtime. 


According to McKinsey and Company, the oil and gas industry has been slow to adopt automated technologies, even though the upstream sector has access to them. Automation cannot replace the years of experience and deep oilfield knowledge that a seasoned worker possesses. However, it can enhance a worker’s ability to perform his/her job function and even free up that person to focus on activities that add more value to the operation. Leveraging automation could add up to $250 billion in upstream operations for the industry by 2030, according to McKinsey and Company, driven by the optimization and maintenance gains that can be derived. 

Innovations with automation also can help address some pressing workforce challenges for the industry, by opening paths to upskilling and career advancement while making a difficult job much safer. Embracing automation can help companies retain the talent they have while also attracting new talent with diverse skill sets to help build the industry’s workforce for tomorrow. 

Supporting the industry’s workforce is critical today. In recent years, dips in oil prices and factors related to the pandemic prompted reductions in personnel across the oil and gas industry.  Many experienced field technicians have retired, creating opportunities for new entrants into the energy industry. These transitions have made automation in the oil field even more important, to ensure access to a stable supply of the energy that the world relies on. 


One example of how automation technology can be deployed upstream is Oil States’ ACTIVEHub™ communication and control system with ACTIVELatch™ technology, Fig. 2. This automated platform and industry-first, battery-operated, wireless latch enables oilfield companies to remotely make and break wireline connections. 

Fig. 2. ACTIVEHub with ACTIVELatch allows remote operation of valves onsite.

The ability to capture real-time information and control the latching process up to 75 feet away is a meaningful advance for the industry. This remote monitoring and automated control can drive significant efficiency gains, while keeping personnel out of the red zone, Fig. 3 

Fig. 3. Oil States ACTIVELatch allows workers to have a clear line of sight to the status of valves outside of the red zone.

Equipping operators to make and break wireline connections to the well wirelessly helps to boost efficiency, as well. Compared to conventional methods of making wireline connections, ACTIVELatch reduces downtime by saving 20 to 25 min. per swap from frac to wireline. 

Additionally, eliminating conventional tethered hydraulic hoses and fluids reduces downtime. Having automated safety protocols also reduces the risk of latches opening under pressure, which is not only important for personnel safety but also for protecting equipment. Safeguarding equipment can prevent operators from incurring unexpected capital expenses. 

These innovations represent just a few examples of the tremendous potential for automation at the well site. Deploying these types of technologies can help unlock new gains in safety and efficiency that can positively impact the bottom line. 


Automation at the well site can help make oil and gas production smarter, faster, more efficient and safer. The ability to utilize real-time data that enables adjustments to be made automatically and instantly is a game-changer. Those instantaneous changes that occur in just seconds can produce a compelling return on investment, by reducing the number of days to perform frac operations, eliminating hydraulic hoses and increasing wellsite safety. 

We’re witnessing a natural progression in the oil field from manual processes to increasingly advanced methods. The automation of specific wellsite functions supports the industry’s success, and it can ultimately reduce time to first oil—every oil field company’s goal. 

About the Authors
Oil States
PATRICK MCKEEVER is the business development manager for Oil States Energy Services. During his 20-year career with the company, he has focused on optimizing wellsite operations.
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