Business Engagement - Schlumberger

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Dr Simon Bittleston, Vice President Research, Schlumberger, talks about working with EPSRC.

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Dr Simon Bittleston, Vice President of Research, Schlumberger (SB)

I'm Simon Bittleston and I'm Vice President of Research at Schlumberger. Schlumberger is an oil field services company. It's the largest oil field services company in the world. All the big oil companies like BP, Shell and the major resource holders, all call on us to go and help them to find and then drill for oil and gas around the world. We have about 100,000 people inside the company.

Currently today we're here at Schlumberger Gould Research which is one of the six research centres at Schlumberger worldwide. The site here has about 120 scientists. Our problems tend to be highly integrated and multifaceted. And so some of those will be regular engineering problems which we can leave for our engineering organisation and other parts are just fundamental things we don't know.

And so we go to the universities and we give them the fundamental problems and we say if we could solve this fundamental problem, it would enable us to do a more complete or better system. What the EPSRC do, is they actually provide a number of different mechanisms, which are extremely valuable, in order to actually build the relationships with universities.

One is the Centres for Doctoral Training. They are partly funded by us, but mostly funded by the EPSRC. These centres have maybe 20 or 30 PhDs running at any one time and a group of professors within one university or multiple universities running the training group.

When they set them up, they insisted that the universities contact businesses and get business input and business collaboration, and by doing that, it meant that business was much more engaged than I've ever seen them before. And so we get to know the students and more importantly we get to know all the professors too and, at the same time, the universities learn about the applications. They get excited about the range of problems that we have and we get a lot of feed in of different possibilities about how to tackle these very integrated and complex problems.

Maria Varges, Research Engineer, Schlumberger

What we have here is what we call the OSC, the room where we run our simulator. So in simple words we are trying to represent what happens, in reality, in a drilling rig. This system would allow us to run completely manless operations on remote locations for example.


Another important set of projects we're involved in which was set up by the EPSRC, was the Autonomous Intelligence Systems Partnership (AISP). Sixteen different universities, with more than nine projects, with a range of different companies, looking at robotic and autonomous systems which covered a very broad range of applications.

The unique thing for us about the AISP, was that we were working with non-competing companies and that turned out to be much more valuable than working within our own industry. With a group of companies that are not in our industry, we could be very open, but also we learnt a hell of a lot about industries we knew nothing about. That meant we went much faster. This particular project turned into something rather bigger inside Schlumberger.

The other industries we worked with actually gained a tremendous amount of insight about the technology that we have and how that technology can help them and so we made a set of collaborations with other industries which persist beyond the project itself. That spins back into the UK and so I fully expect that in the future, we will see some of the fundamental core technologies that were in this collaboration, turning out as independent products and services which will help multiple different industries to accelerate in many different areas.

I think it's a great model, and I think that the EPSRC should continue to pursue this model with many different industries.