Aramco Services Company

2015 Aramco Deep Space, Deep Ocean Forum

This photo was projected during the opening general session to show how crossover technologies can advance industry excellence. NASA’s Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory is used to train astronauts, and is also available for use by the O&G industry to train personnel involved in underwater operations. (Source: NASA)

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, called “Deep Space, Deep Ocean,” that brought together technology leaders from the energy, aerospace, and other industries to explore crossover technologies for safety and reliability. It was held April 7-8, 2015 near Houston, Texas.
The event encouraged participants to look beyond their normal industry 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 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.
More than 500 participated, joining Aramco, NASA and others representing such industry majors 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. 
The group convened early Tuesday morning for the opening session, with welcoming remarks provided by both Khalil Al-Shafei, manager of Engineering & Technology at Aramco Services Co. (ASC), and Dr. Ellen Ochoa, director of the NASA Johnson Space Center and former astronaut.   
“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.”

Among those speaking at the forum were, from left, Khalil Al-Shafei, manager of Engineering & Technology at Aramco Services Co.; Dr. Ellen Ochoa, director of the NASA Johnson Space Center and former astronaut; Dr. Omar Hatamleh, associate chief scientist at the NASA Ames Research Center; Ahmad Al Khowaiter, chief technology officer at Saudi Aramco; Dr. Bill Kline, manager of Upstream Research at ExxonMobil, and Dr. Doug Terrier, chief technologist at NASA Johnson Space Center.

After thanking Aramco for hosting the forum, Dr. Ochoa emphasized the importance of sharing and learning from one another, adding that NASA was “excited about closer collaboration with other industries.”
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, and cybersecurity and Big Data analysis. 
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 with no infrastructure.   Yet, given those conditions, he said the company was able to “reliably deliver oil out of the highest sand desert in the world within two years.” 
Dr. Doug Terrier, chief technologist at the NASA Johnson Space Center, spoke about NASA’s current technology pursuits to advance its space exploration program – including planned human spaceflights to Mars.  He also addressed the agency’s initiatives to join with industry to advance operational excellence on Earth.
Dr. 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 added.
In all, 14 general session speakers and more than 100 technical track speakers participated in panel presentations.  Throughout the conference, networking opportunities abounded with discussions continuing at an evening reception, lunch breaks, a vendor expo, and in small groups.

The forum drew more than 500 technology leaders from oil and gas, aerospace and other industries who were interested in learning about crossover technologies to help solve similar operational challenges related to safety and reliability.

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 their presentation on enhancing the performance of remotely operated vehicles in subsea and deep space environments using augmented and virtual reality toolsets.


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