Unmanned robots, aerial drones and 3-D printing technologies could more efficiently secure global oil and gas supplies, a survey of energy professionals by Lloyd’s Register (LR) has found.

At last week’s Offshore Technology Conference 2016 in Houston, a survey conducted over two days of about 300 people found more than 43% consider adopting new technologies such as additive manufacturing such as 3-D printing to be a top issue.

Also important was the ability to convert technologies from other industries (17%); collaboration within the industry (16%); data rationalization and interpretation techniques (13%); and education initiatives for graduates and new industry entrants (11%).

“It is widely accepted that excellence through innovation is key to safe and profitable growth across industry — and that collaboration can accelerate the development of innovative new technologies to help support better and cheaper ways of extracting and supplying energy,” said LR Energy Senior Vice President Teril Smith. Finding the best way forward “lies in a sharper focus on driving excellence by collaborating and increasing the interconnected global network of knowledge across the energy and marine industries.”

According to LR Energy’s annual 2015-2016 Oil & Gas Technology Radar survey of global oil and gas executives, the top driver of innovation investment is “operational efficiency.” Also rated more highly than a year ago’s survey were “improving access to potential reserves” and “increasing the lifespan of assets,” which suggests that, as well as “nudging down the bottom line, companies are looking to push up the top line by extracting maximum value from resources.”

Research and development (R&D) have through history been the energy industry’s lifeblood. Oilfield service companies large and small maintain and expand market share by updating their portfolios with ever-better technology to improve improve efficiency and increase production.

Earlier this month, Baker Hughes Inc. CEO Martin Craighead said an “innovation culture” was in the company’s DNA, and he was most interested in building a portfolio of technology-driven businesses (see Shale Daily, May 4). High-tech offerings in artificial lift, production chemicals and directional drilling are “absolutely unlimited.”

Although 3-D printing is not yet widespread, many companies with deep pockets are working on ways to more precisely machine drilling parts. Halliburton Co. began testing the process more than two years ago (see Shale Daily, Jan. 27, 2014). General Electric’s oil and gas division in 2014 invested in 3-D printed metal fuel nozzles for natural gas turbines.

Unmanned drones also are gaining acceptance, with Royal Dutch Shell plc and ConocoPhillips, among others, using them to conduct flyovers of structures in the Gulf of Mexico and offshore Alaska structures (see Daily GPI, Dec. 22, 2014).

“In this environment, staying afloat requires a new type of inventiveness and open mindedness; an eager and proactive search for novel technologies, approaches and ways of working,” Smith said.

Fully automated drilling operations, autonomous pipeline inspections and the expanded use of natural gas to fuel trucks and railways are likely to be at the forefront by 2025 as technology makes gains in the upstream industry, industry consultant DNV GL said last month (see Daily GPI, April 6). By 2025, the energy industry will become increasingly “automated, digital and smarter,” according to DNV’s Technology Outlook 2025.

One of the most anticipated technologies, automated drilling in the offshore and onshore, could reduce drilling times and costs by up to one-third versus conventional drilling rigs, ensuring more wells are economically feasible, able to hit smaller targets and generating more infill production, said researchers.