Total has launched Plant 4.0, a corporate incubator programme aimed at fast-tracking and deploying digital innovations in its assets
Even the best innovations occasionally need a helping hand. Indeed, in today’s energy market, even established companies and game-changing breakthroughs can benefit from fresh perspectives and some commercial assistance.
Multinational E&P firm Total is no stranger to developing its own unique technology, or looking out for what may be the next big thing. Its Total Energy Ventures (TEV) and Total Développement Régional (TDR) units already work to support and encourage small firms with big ideas across a variety of sectors. Their success, and a need to foster more digital innovation within the company’s assets, has led to the firm’s newest competition – Plant 4.0.
Launched in December, Plant 4.0 is corporate incubator programme which will develop digital technologies for Total’s industrial activities. Its scope is broad – technologies from sensors and automation to cloud computing and collaboration will be eligible (see table) – if they can aid the performance, safety and reliability of industrial assets. One category also includes dedicated “augmented operator” technology, i.e. digital innovations like mobility tools, wearable tech and augmented reality which can help users improve safety and efficiency.
Shortlisted start-ups will then be incubated by Total and its partner Impulse Labs for six months, allowing them to develop and test their innovations in Total’s operations. The goal is that these pilot and proof-of-concept projects will be ready by the end of this year.
First of its kind
Although these technologies are not new per se, this type of innovation programme is novel. Speaking from Paris by phone, Total’s digital industry officer, Juliette de Maupeou, told InnovOil: “We’ve already been looking at start-ups in the digital ecosystem, but this topic – the “digital plant” – we have never done before. I think we’re the first to propose this type of topic in the digital ecosystem.”
This lag is partly a result of the trend within the digital marketplace, she added. “I think digital has been driven by a B2C approach so far, and many industries which have been accelerating have been for the consumer market. We already implement a lot of digital projects in geoscience and many other data-driven activities, but we really wanted to make this process faster.”
Once proposals are submitted by February 22, successful businesses will present to a Total committee, incorporating TEV staff and operational managers in both France and the US. The latter in particular, she noted, will be vital in deciding which innovations could have the greatest impact in the shortest time. “Because we are looking for pilots that are do-able this year, I think we might be expecting projects around internet of things (IoT), data analytics – those which are mature enough to be adopted by our operations,” she added. “But of course I’d be very happy to see some prospective proposals such as virtual reality, and 3-D.”
Chosen firms will work directly with Impulse and Total to “receive mentorship in business models, funding, pitch, networking etc., and from us they’ll receive an organisational mentor,” she continued. “We will also give them access to technical advisors who will help them examine the project or service they’re proposing to make it fit our plants.”
If the project is successful for both the start-ups and Total, de Maupeou said it could be repeated each year, maintaining a healthy innovation pipeline – and plenty of new opportunities for innovators – to 2020 and beyond.