Petroleum laboratories greatly benefit from automation because tests often involve rapid transient behavior, e.g., in determining unsteady-state relative permeability; and/or long slow processes such as capillary tests. Many smaller laboratories are not fully automated due to the high cost of developing custom-made software or modifying commercial software for their specific use.

This situation is rapidly changing with the emergence of a new generation of object-oriented computer languages. These new languages allow novice programmers to develop sophisticated systems with unprecedented ease and speed. This paper introduces the concepts behind this new generation of languages and their use for petroleum laboratory automation.

A public domain, general-purpose laboratory/pilot plant automation program, "LabWARDEN," developed at the National Institute for Petroleum and Energy Research (NIPER) for the U.S. Department of Energy is presented as a case-example. This menu-driven, user friendly program for data acquisition/control/analysis/presentation is a valuable tool for laboratories where test requirements change frequently. Its features include: run-time system setup reconfiguration; built-in constraints to eliminate operator errors; real-time graphic display of current and previous data with editing and smoothing; data export to other applications for report generation or animation such as automatic 3-D rotation; pictorial display of test status for quick trouble-shooting; error and out-of-range audio/video warnings to designated users on the network; automatic resetting of instrument(s) to rectify minor problems; and automatic shut-down in emergencies when the operator does not respond. Configuration of a high-temperature high-pressure steamflood oil displacement laboratory is described.

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