Optical Data Archiving at the United Nations

You have come into possession of some of the world’s most important documents – 43,000 of them to be exact. Each one of them must be fully protected, their integrity guaranteed, and they must be 100 percent reliable against loss or destruction. Failure to shield even a single crucial document could cause worldwide havoc – even war. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to find a way to safeguard these documents, shield them from unauthorized alterations, yet make each one easily available to anyone requesting them.

Sound like a fantastic movie plot? Or perhaps the making of a great mystery novel? Well, it’s a real-world dilemma faced by the United Nations – custodian of all the world’s treaties. Dating back to 1947 when the organization was known as the League of Nations, the UN has stored more than a half-million pages of agreements between countries, divided into 1,600 volumes. These original papers are stored in its New York City headquarters. The paper documents, with the signing parties signatures affixed, each written in a number of languages, form the framework of accords among nations.

The UN embarked on an ambitious project to convert each page of every document into electronic media – making them available outside of the UN’s walls to Internet users and others who’d like to see them, without posing a risk to the documents.

Ron Van Note, an information systems consultant known for his work in the re-engineering workflow arena, oversees this undertaking at the UN. “After much reflection and many discussions, we decided to go with imaging and optical storage as the best alternatives for this enormous conversion task,” recalls Van Note. “With this combination of technology we can ensure the integrity of each document both during the electronic input process and afterward during the storage stage.”

Imaging vs. OCR

Van Note’s rational for selecting the imaging format over digital Optical Character Recognition was based on both cost and legal ramifications. Van Note explains that OCR, at best, is considered to be only 90- to 95-percent accurate. Because of the multiple languages used throughout the treaties, it would cost the world body millions to ensure the necessary 100-percent accuracy. During the conversion from paper to electronic media, the UN has to protect against adding something that is not there, or leaving anything out during translation.

Optical storage was chosen because of its immense capacities, permanency, and near-online storage capability. “A treaty is not a document that ever changes,” explains Van Note. “It will be stored forever. It can be modified by adding on to it, but the original is never touched. Optical’s permanency and large capacities are ideal for this type of data archiving. In the future, the UN will be putting the documents out over the Internet. It is essential to get the treaties into a form that can’t be damaged. Again, optical’s write-once feature meets our needs.

“The first phase of the UN’s conversion project has already been completed,” says Van Note. “It involved scanning all 1,600 existing volumes of treaties (about 600,000 pages) and storing them on the optical media. A Hewlett-Packard SureStore Optical 20XT jukebox with 16 five-and-a-quarter-inch disk platters were initially used. The jukebox is an magneto-optical device and WORM media was used to protect the documents against erasure or alteration.

New systems cut risk of accidents and bring fingertip control to drill floor

The popular image of a drill floor on rigs and platforms is undergoing a radical change with the introduction of computer technology.

Computer technology has cleared the modern drill floor of people, both on rigs and production platforms. Gone are those traditional scenes of rugged roughnecks, covered in mud and oil, manhandling drill pipes and heavy equipment.

While such scenes may have come to epitomise the nature of the oil industry to cinema and television audiences, the drill floor has come to be regarded as one of the most dangerous offshore worksites.

In Norway, there were nine fatal accidents and 1,725 lost time accidents on the drill floor between 1990 and 2005. In one year alone more than 50 dropped objects were reported from the drilling derrick.

Now everything can be finger-tip controlled by two men, the driller and assistant driller, seated in comfortable chairs in a clear-view multipurpose cabin, which has been described as looking like an advanced aircraft cockpit. This is the control and information centre for all drilling operations.

This brave new world involves updated iron roughnecks fitted with a variety of new functions for pipe handling and positioning, automatic drill tests, automatic tripping, programme logical controller (PLC), drilling machinery controls and anti-collision systems.

Behind this revolutionary change lies the integrated drilling system (IDS). This project, in which $9.5m has so far been invested, was initiated by Esso Norway and the Rogaland Research Centre in 2000, with cost savings and safety the main driving force. Drill systems designer Hitec and drilling contractor Smedvig joined shortly afterwards. A complete test rig has been established at Ullrigg.

The IDS concept is to interconnect all the equipment and services in the drilling operation and to utilise flexible screen-based operator stations for machinery and process control and presentation of information. This overcomes the disadvantages of the traditional systems, as all information will be available to all parties in the drilling operation.

The system can be retrofitted to existing rigs, or installed on newbuilds or new platforms. It is in modular form built up by well proven standard components and is easy to expand from the simplest form to the most sophisticated.

Smedvig’s most modern rig, West Epsilon, has used a forerunner of the IDS system for two years and has achieved only one lost-time accident during that period. The system is not yet fully integrated.

Ole Melberg, chief executive officer of Smedvig, says: “With limited investments in hardware and by using the newly developed software, the best combination of drilling parameters can automatically be monitored and applied. This results in improved penetration rates, reduced costs per metre and better operational safety.

“An investment in the system is further encouraged by today’s regime of incentive-type drilling contracts whereby the drilling contractor’s compensation and reward are closely linked to continuous improvements in its performance”.

The West Epsilon is now drilling Statoil’s Sleipner West production wells under a four-and-a-half year contract. It was able to reduce the time for setting the 24 conductors from 31 to 23 hours and is now drilling the first well.

After the first two wells, Smedvig hopes to have set parameters and will then see the remaining elements of the fully-integrated system brought into practical operation.

Thor Jensen, senior operation adviser at Smedvig, says the object of the system is not to take over the driller’s role but to enable him to concentrate on the construction of the hole rather than running the machinery. “To date we have achieved remote operations but the ultimate aim is to have fully automatic operations,” he claimed.

This, of course, has necessitated a complete change of attitude among drilling personnel. “Before the rig went on its first contract we ran a four-week training programme with Varco, Procon, ABB and Hitec. This covered rig automation, the automatic pipe handling system, the drilling instrumentation system, mud chemical dosing system and the deck crane system.

“Young people were quick to realise the benefits. But I’ve seen traditional drillers scared stiff when they walked into the control cabin and thought that they had to run the rig from it.

“Old rig hands didn’t believe in computers because they didn’t understand them. We had to teach them that they are a tool that will help them. It is just as much a mental as a physical thing, but within two days they accepted it.”

Traditional job specifications have also changed. The roughneck has now become a drilling technician with a technical background and long experience from traditional roughneck work.

A new member of the crew is the data technician, with knowledge of instruments, automation and computers. “We would be lost without them,” said Mr Jensen.

The new generation drilling control and data acquisition (DCDA) systems have been installed on Shell’s Troll gas platform and the Hibernia development, offshore Newfoundland.

While crew numbers have not been reduced on the partially-automated West Epsilon, on Troll, where drilling is being carried out by Transocean, the drilling module can be operated by five people instead of the usual fifteen.

Computers have been used for some time in some drilling operations with the analog systems. But DCDA provides remote control and monitoring of drilling equipment, blending and delivery of mud and cement and the HVAC systems.

Hitec says that, apart from maximising safety and greatly improving the working environment, the benefits include information from all drilling processes being passed on to all operators.

The Troll packaged drilling rig, developed by Hitec Dreco, is the first installation with a complete new AC drilling system as opposed to the traditional DC electric motors for top drive, draw-works and mud pumps.

But the system to be installed on Phillips’ new 2/4-X platform on the Ekofisk redevelopment is another big step forward, as it will incorporate Cyberbase.

Ole Barman, Hitec’s business development manager in the UK, says: “The Troll cabin was designed around the processes, while Cyberbase is designed around the man.”

The overall design basis for the unit was to get the best working environment for the operators in the control room and to reduce overall cost for it.

The system consists of: a chair with numerical and functional keypads on armrests; joysticks for the drilling machinery and cursor on screen: a PLC to control keypads and joystick; and a UNIX server with two high resolution colour schemes.

All traditional panel instruments have been replaced by two large monitors. The unit has been ergonomically designed to suit long periods of use.

Mr Barman points out: “Drilling often requires the same operation to be carried out many times. When done manually in the traditional manner it will not be done exactly the same each time. By utilising PLCs and sensors and activators you achieve precisely the same operation every time”.

At the beginning of this year an automatic tripping phase two project was started. The object is to achieve a reliable automatic tripping sequence of Drill Pipe, where the trip time needed should not exceed 90 seconds, with 60 seconds as the ultimate goal.

Hitec says it has already developed the machinery control system for floating production, storage and offloading vessels and is bidding on a number of contracts. The next stage in the development of integrated computer-systems is for automatic control of both drilling and production.