Archives July 2018

Automation: Good Signs Ahead for Automation in the Oil & Gas Industry?

 

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AFOPlot1

Hydraulics-Focused Drilling Data

 

This week is a quick post about what may be an interesting trend in the US Land Oil & Gas Sector…Interest in Automation and Optimization technologies to increase efficiencies. I have a theory on why. AND, #Disclaimer, I mention the service offering I work with.

 

Historic Interest in Automation

 

Historically, there are always early adopters for technology, and the oilfield is no different. You have a few entities that want to be on the cutting edge of everything, a few tire kickers, and the majority don’t want to spend any money until something is proven to them. Such is the case with automation and optimization, from the perspective of the offering we have (BaraLogix Equipment & Services).

 

Offshore

 

We initially provided the optimization and event detection service offshore. This was before the equipment was ready to ready to be deployed commercially. Actually, it was still in development. We had a few jobs here and there, but not a lot of buy-in. Even with customers that benefitted from significant value from it, it seemed the response was always something similar to “Maybe you actually did help us achieve our goals, but maybe it was something else…” or “We don’t have the authority to sign off on this case history saying that you brought us value.”

So we did jobs here and there, but  there was never a consistency to the work.

 

Land

 

As far as land work was concerned, due to different economics, the service was always outside the client’s budget. In fact, the only time we did provide the service on land, at least in the US, was when conducting trials of the equipment.

 

Fast-forward to today…

 

We now have customers in the US Land area that are interested in what the service and equipment can provide them. There are three jobs starting up in the next three weeks or so that are a mix of the combined equipment & services or just the standalone service.

 

My thoughts jump to “Why now?”

 

What I suspect is that over the last 3-plus years, operators have been increasing their efficiencies to stay relevant at lower oil prices. And possibly they have plateaued. Now, they want to take that next step and increase efficiencies even more. I think that may play a big part in the sudden interest in our equipment and services.

 

What do YOU think could be driving this?

 

And, as always, let me know what you think in the comments. Ask questions, tell your story.

 

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Personal Improvement – Books That Have Influenced Me Recently

BookList

Books That Influenced Me

 

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Welcome back to another installment of Things I Think About! This week I am going to go over a few books that I have read recently that have had an impact. While some of them cover a mix of topics, to me, they mostly fall into one topic. Because of this, I will break them out by topic and detail the crossover topics, and why I feel that way, for each book I also have them listed separately on my Recommended Books page, HERE.

 

Business

The E Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber

This book speaks to my soul! I “read” the Audible version, (as I do most books due to my 3-hour plus daily commute), recorded by Michael Gerber himself. This book details why a lot of “Entrepreneurs” find themselves overworked, underpaid, and without the ability to grow. It is an interleaved mix of example stories with lessons explaining about each story. The main focus of the book is to explain why developing processes and systems for operating your business will allow you to employ other people to work IN the business so you can work ON the business.

 

The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss

A young Tim Ferriss relates how he figured out how to not be locked into common misconception of the American Dream…go to school, get a good job, work like a slave for 20-30-40 years, then retire at an age where there is a good chance that you will have trouble enjoying life. In the 4-Hour Workweek, he details the concepts of mini-retirements, becoming effective and efficient in whatever you do for work, and ideas for small businesses that require little to no maintenance to support you on an ongoing basis.

Granted, as even pointed out in the book, the goal is not to be able to lay on the beach drinking mai tais, it is to free you up to do the things you want to do, including world travel, learning languages, and/or working with non-profit organizations.

This book also qualifies as a personal Improvement book, because a lot of the recommendations for efficiency and effectiveness while working have helped me to reduce a lot of stress at my main job.

 

Rich Dad’s Cash Flow Quadrant by Robert Kyosaki

This book breaks out the different classifications of people earning money. ESBI stands for Employees, someone who works for someone else to make money, Self-Employed, a person working for themselves to make money, Business Owners, owning a business & employing other people, and Investors, those who employ their capital to buy assets. It promotes the idea to be either a business owner or, ultimately, an investor, as this usually provides the best returns on time & money.

 

Personal Improvement

The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday

Ryan Holiday is a devoted Stoic. He has multiple books and a website dedicated to Stoicism. This book is kind of a manual for achievement. I really enjoy it because it basically lays out my philosophy on life. The short version is “Do what you can to change the things you don’t like in your life…Ignore the things you can’t change.” The Obstacle is the Way takes it a step further in that it guides you to figure out how to change either the situation or your thinking about the “things you can’t change”.

 

Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert Kyosaki

Robert Kyosaki tells the story of how he grew up a poor kid, but due to the tutelage of a friend’s father, learned to become a businessman. The book is a simple read but puts forth important concepts…assets are only assets if they will make you money, don’t spend foolishly, and educate yourself to grow. There is also a good bit of advice on real estate investment as a vehicle to become wealthy.

 

Principles by Ray Dalio

Ray Dalio is one of the richest men in the world and got that way by building one of the top hedge fund management companies, Bridgewater Associates. In Principles, he relates his lis life and how he got to where he is, developing his principles for business and personal life as an operating system along the way. This is another Audible entry where the author reads the book to you. It works.

 

Real Estate Investing

Long Distance Real Estate Investing by David Greene

While I don’t invest in real estate outside of my back yard, (for now), this book is incredibly useful as a guide of how to do things. The methodologies and techniques laid out here will work even in a local market. It’s a mix of strategies, tools, and tips to be successful.

 

The Book on Rental Property Investing by Brandon Turner

This book is a thorough primer for anyone wanting to get into rental properties as an investment. It covers everything from finding properties to rehab tips and beyond.

 

The Book on Managing Rental Properties by Brandon Turner and Heather Turner

Hmmm…the title sounds a bit familiar…YES! This is the follow-up book to The Book on Rental Property Investing. It picks up where the previous book left off and takes a deeper dive into what you need to do to manage properties successfully.

 

Loopholes of Real Estate Investing by Garrett Sutton, Rich Dad Advisor

Another Audible author read, Loopholes covers the benefits of and hazards to watch out for when investing in real estate. I have probably listened to this book at least 6 times…right up there with the 4-Hour Workweek and The E Myth revisited. Lots of great advice.

 

And, as always, let me know what you think in the comments. Ask questions, tell your story.

 

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Holiday Lighting – The Automation Technology Used to Run a Show

CMB-24D-Angled

RGB and AC Controller Boards

Welcome back this week. I would still like to understand what you like about this blog and would appreciate you taking this short survey. You can probably finish it in under two minutes. Just click here to take the survey.

Today, I am going to discuss the automation technology that I use to run our holiday light shows. I am using this as motivation to get moving on building additional props for my Halloween show because I have to get it built, then add sequencing to cover the new element in addition to trying to add a new song or two.

SequencingPumpkins

Sequencing View

There are quite a few options for making lights go “blinky-blinky”, but the one I have settled on to start out with is manufactured by a company called Light-O-Rama.  They have lots of options to choose from, so no matter if you are a beginner or an experienced enthusiast, they have products to get you going.

Controller-AC

16 ch. AC Controller

Controllers

There are various things you can do to make your holiday light decorations blink. The first thing I experienced was the “blinker bulb”. It was a special bulb that, when inserted into a string of Christmas lights, made them blink.

The next option that came along was lights with a special controller built into the string that gave you options blinking and shimmering. Other products were a box pre-programmed with songs and they blinked the lights in time with the music but was in no way synchronized with the music as a show. There are also LED bulb strings that change from white to multicolor to blinking multi-color depending on the number of times you press the button on the wireless remote control.

These are all options we have incorporated into our holiday lighting display along the years, with the exception of the preprogrammed music box prior to getting started with the animated light show synchronized to music.

Our first controller was a sixteen channel AC controller. This allowed us to have 16 different light show elements or sets of elements turning on and off, synchronized with music. It is able to handle incandescent and/or LED light strings.

We next added a second AC controller and a twenty-four channel RGB controller. RGB stands for Red, Green, Blue, the three primary color components of a RGB light. By varying the intensity of each component, it changes the color that the RGB element puts out. This is also known as a “Dumb RGB” controller. Since each channel controls a single color in an RGB element, twenty-four channels can control eight RGB elements.

We then added a third sixteen channel AC controller to our setup, giving us a total of forty-eight AC channels and a grand total of seventy-two channels with the RGB controller.

This year, in the off season, we added a second twenty-four channel RGB controller. The plan is to use it to control a  dancing skeleton, my above-mentioned prop I need to build.

Lights

We use a mix of incandescent, LED, and RGB lights (flood lights and RGB strips) in our show. LEDs work out great due to the low power consumption.

We go shopping on the day after Christmas each year to pick up new and backup lights for the show at a 70%-90% discount off of retail pricing. It helps to keep the cost of putting on the show down.

Cables

We initially used extension cords to hook everything up, but it started getting expensive as we added more channels, not to mention that they are bulky and heavy.

SPT1WirePlugs

We now mainly use SPT-1 wire (16-gauge speaker wire) along with vampire plugs to run power to each string of lights.

Automating the Show

Our goal, once we started using the light controllers, was that the show would be totally automated…meaning we would not need to turn it on and off every day. We also wanted to be able to have visitors be able to hear the music, but not have the music bother my neighbors.

So we added a standalone “miniDirector” to run the show and a FM transmitter.

The miniDirector has the sequences and songs saved on a SD card. When the power is turned on by the timer, the miniDirector starts running the show in a loop. It outputs the audio to the FM transmitter so viewers can hear the music right in their cars and it outputs the sequencing signals to the controller via serial connection using cat-5 cable. All the controllers are linked together in this way.

Now the show runs at the programmed time with no need to keep a separate computer running to drive it.

Well that about wraps it up for what we use to automate our holiday light show. Below are videos of some of the sequences:

Videos

This is Halloween – Full

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6tpE76pop3o]

Carol of the Bells – Full

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zzFTO-pTNug]

Dragula – Full

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H9ig8tNIxUc]

This is Halloween – Clip

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l06qcycc648?start=166]

And, as always, let me know what you think in the comments. Ask questions, tell your story.

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Business – We Don’t Need No Stinking Processes!…or Do We?

CreatingBusinessProcesses

Example of documenting a Business Process.

 

This week we are back to business basics. I am going to go over Business Processes, specifically, and why they are important to people running small businesses, better known as entrepreneurs.

 

Growing up, I yearned to run my own business. I was exposed to lots of people running their own businesses and it was seductive…do your own thing, be your own boss, make as much money as you wanted to (I was a poor kid and idolized the idea). But as I grew older, I would observe these various entrepreneurs’ businesses fail and disappear. Some of it was from bad financial practices, (as covered in this story: My History with Money, Pt. I), some of it was from just bad business ideas, but as I have come to realize, all of them were due to not having documented processes & systems in place to operate their business.

 

BusProcDef

 

What is a Business Process?

 

A Business Process is a map of the steps needed to be taken to achieve a goal or result. This can be the process for generating a price quotation or making a Big Mac. It is the set of step-by-step instructions to complete that task.

 

It can be as simple as the process detailed below:

 

PB&J

 

  1. Lay out 2 slices of bread
  2. Spread PB on one slice
  3. Spread Jelly of the other
  4. Put the 2 slices together to complete the PB&J Sandwich

 

Or it can be extremely detailed, for quality control and efficiency:

 

Peanut Butter and Jelly Royale

 

  1. Lay out 2 slices of bread that conform to the QC shape on the QC chart on the wall next to your station
  2. Evenly spread 1 oz. of premium natural peanut butter on the right slice of bread
  3. Evenly spread 1 oz of locally-sourced hand-made strawberry jelly on the left slice of bread
  4. Align the peanut buttered slice of bread over the jelly spread on the other slice of bread and lower it to complete the sandwich

 

But What About Systems?

 

Some mistakenly refer to the processes and systems interchangeably. In reality, processes are part of a system. A collection of similar processes make up the system. Let’s you are running a fast food restaurant and you want to ensure that the food presented to the customer is the same, every time. You would document a set of processes for each item on the menu, similar to the PB & J examples above. This collection of processes would be your Food Prep System. You would have a separate system for taking orders and another for inventory, and so on.

 

Another point about systems is that a system does not have to involve technology. There have been lots of technology systems designed to ease and automate manual systems. An easy one to bring to mind is for accounting. You have many options available for electronic accounting systems, but it is still something that could be done by hand. Not that I am advocating to accomplish your accounting by hand. In most cases, using an electronic accounting system is much more cost-effective than doing your accounting by hand. In our real estate rental business, the accounting is handled using a Google Docs spreadsheet, because the complexity of what we are doing and the time it takes to do it does not yet justify actually paying for an electronic system.

 

Why do I Need Business Processes?

 

You may ask yourself “Why do I need business processes?” Well, if you are a sole proprietor, who plans to never expand, hire personnel, step back from working in the business, or sell the business, then you probably don’t need to worry about business processes. Even though you are most likely following business processes already, if the above description fits you, you can probably get away with not documenting your business processes.

 

If you don’t fit the description above, these are the main reason to document your processes:

 

Precision and Consistency – You want to ensure that things are being done the same way every time. Borrowing from the Peanut Butter and Jelly Royale example above, if you don’t specify how much of each material to use, then you are left with each order resulting in varying quality AND cost to you as the business owner or operator. While using more peanut butter on a sandwich sometimes seems like a small thing that can be overlooked, it affects your Cost Of Goods Sold (COGS) for that sandwich, and throws off your inventory, which could result in your running out of peanut butter before your next order. This could affect your sales of the Peanut Butter and Jelly Royale until you get more product in.

 

Even if you are able to go out and source a spot supply of peanut butter, it will most likely further impact your cost.

**For the purposes of this example, the peanut butter sandwich and it’s ingredients are a metaphor for whatever you happen to sell in your business**

 

Redundancy – It is a good idea to document business processes as a kind of back-up. The reasoning behind this relies on the “Hit By A Bus” theory…If the business process is not documented, how would someone else be able to accomplish the task if the person(s) who know how to do it should get hit by a bus?

 

Efficiency – By having the detailed steps laid out in a business process, there is less chance of deviation of how to accomplish the task, allowing it to be completed faster. The caveat to this is that the process must already be efficient. One way to ensure efficiency is to review processes periodically to make sure they are the optimal way to achieve the task.

 

Scalability – Another reason you need to have documented Business Processes is to achieve scalability. Let’s say your company builds a widget and you have an opportunity to lock down a sales contract to deliver 25 widgets a month. Your business historically has only delivered a maximum of 10 widgets a month. How do you scale up your business to be able to produce 150% more product? By bringing in more employees. How do you train the new employees to be able to accomplish those tasks? By having detailed Business Processes for you Widget Production System so that employees can get up to speed faster on how to do their job and allow you to produce that increase in widgets almost immediately.

 

I hope I have been able to make a compelling case for why you need to have documented Business Processes and helped you to understand how it can help your business.

 

Here is some recommended reading on Business Processes:

 

4 Simple Steps to Developing Business Systems

https://www.growthink.com/content/4-simple-steps-developing-business-systems

 

The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It

https://smile.amazon.com/dp/B000RO9VJK/ref=cm_sw_r_tw_dp_U_x_15roBbX10PDC6

 

And, as always, let me know what you think in the comments. Ask questions, tell your story.

 

If you like my posts, please share them with others and subscribe to this blog.

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