Collaborative working: sharing risk and reward

Justin Roux

Effective data flow in the various stages of a power plant’s life ” from front end design to operation ” is essential.

Justin Roux of Aveva Solutions explains how the proper choice of integrated design tools returns an immediate benefit to the EPC contractor, and also provides a high-value asset for the plant owner and operator.

It is hard to quantify the value of having the correct information presented in an accessible manner at everyone’s fingertips
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In the last 30 years, CAD has gone from strength to strength, enjoying a diversity that goes beyond producing neat engineering drawings and now powering the whole engineering value chain. Collaborative working and integration form the strength of the links in that chain and dictate where the greatest potential for increased benefit lies.

In the plant lifecycle, a facility owner operator will perform a front end study to justify the profitability and feasibility of a planned plant. This gives rise to a conceptual design followed by engineering, procurement and construction (termed EPC and usually handed over to a subcontractor for execution). The completed plant is then presented to the owner-operator for operation and ensuing maintenance. Each phase employs the data from the last phase in a new manner. It is therefore easy to visualize how vital the effectiveness of data handover is.

The engineering phase is usually considered in two important design sub-phases. The first is process design, which nominates and specifies the equipment, piping, instrumentation and electrical devices required to perform the plant’s intended process. This phase employs huge amounts of design data and calculation as well as two-dimensional diagrams but nonetheless retains something of its drawing board history by being broadly referred to as the 2D phase. The second sub-phase is the physical design, which details the embodiment of those items in the 3D world along with civil and structural disciplines.

Integrated plant engineering

In a project’s timeline, these sub-phases overlap and design revisions are usually to be expected. It is essential that they are handled efficiently. Traditionally these phases were bridged with the handover of paper drawings while changes and discrepancies were logged in paper documents.

Today, leading systems feature 2D to 3D handover and comparison systems that transmit controlled data between the engineering design and the physical design tasks. Data is made available only as and when the responsible engineer is satisfied that it is suitable for inclusion in the physical model. Discrepancies between the systems are checked at controlled intervals and reports are produced that drive the remedial effort. This is engineering by version control. The workflow is an engineering tradition with the release of design versions representing measurable project milestones.

Since the logistics of the automated workflow are essentially unchanged despite their automation, there is no culture shock. However, different solution providers may have differing perceptions of what a general engineering workflow provides or, worse still, may suffer limited flexibility from their choice of system architecture. Solutions need to be carefully evaluated if genuine benefits are to be realised instead of the cumbersome administrative burden of a solution that needs to be shoe-horned into the customer’s business model.

The benefits of enabling this practice effectively through integrated IT can be realized immediately in the project execution as data items are entered into the project once and once only. The risk of inconsistency through incorrect entry decreases in direct relation to the number of eliminated re-entries. There is a time saving throughout the project as well as a significant elimination of expensive rework on site due to incorrect construction deliverables at the end of the design phase. The benefit in execution cost and efficiency is apparent to the EPC contractor and the lower cost is obviously appealing to the owner/operator. However, since the EPC contractor is bound to the delivery of the plant by contract, the risk of his method of execution failing is all his own.

3D CAD has supported the design execution of large projects in the process and power industries for over 15 years
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It is generally accepted that over 60 per cent of an engineer’s time is concerned with handling and seeking information and so the rewards of these systems are easy to quantify in terms of man-hours. More importantly, studies suggest that approximately 75 per cent of engineering errors are due to incorrect data or poorly managed data traffic.

Benefits of integrated design

Physical or 3D design is not a new concept. 3D CAD has supported the design execution of large projects in the process and power industries for over 15 years. Its benefits of tangibility, visualization, and space overlap clash avoidance in layout and space management are enjoyed worldwide. So much so, in fact, that a virtual model of any plant is considered to be a standard deliverable at the handover of a new plant to the owner-operator. It replaces the expensive and non-portable plastic model that preceded it. Since the model is a by-product of the physical design tools, it is generated at no significant extra cost. It also surpasses the plastic model in detail and flexibility, allowing significant design optimization before construction.

Furthermore, executing the physical design in integrated harmony with the engineering design brings huge added value to the virtual model. Today’s immersive reality models offer not only navigation and browsing of the site in the virtual 3D environment, but also the ability to interrogate the individual items in the model at a touch so that their as built data can be obtained on the spot.

The benefits to operations and maintenance engineers on site are fairly obvious. Today’s reality model of the plant represents the entire design effort and therefore has a lasting value to the plant owner who reaps, in the quality of the model, a huge reward from the choice of IT tools and procedures used in the design phase. It is hard to quantify the value of having the correct information presented in an accessible manner at everyone’s fingertips without imagining the cost of the opposite situation.

Integration to purchasing

Many EPC contractors in the process industries have developed or acquired systems to support multi-discipline materials management. Through this they seek to achieve competitive advantage through faster, higher quality and more economic project execution and subsequently offering lower project bids. There is a very high information flow associated with purchasing, physical delivery and site management that lends itself to a high benefit from the use of IT.3D physical modelling and materials management are complementary in the value chain. Since the physical design is the making real of the engineering design, these systems can be integrated to deliver high benefit to engineering projects. Advanced physical design systems route first pass piping designs that an integrated materials management system can take account of for accurate bulk forecasts. Creation of requisitions in conjunction with the presence of items in the 3D model seems a natural integration of project tasks and one that has achieved huge savings and bulk surplus orders of less than one per cent in recent projects.

Global collaboration

Global collaboration between remote offices is eagerly sought by companies who wish to execute work around the clock ” one office picking up the work that the previous one has just closed at the end of its working day. Assuming an eight-hour working day and three strategically placed offices, three times the amount of work may be performed in one 24-hour period while exploiting variations in the price of manpower. However, this usually relies upon a safe and fast interaction between the offices at the moment of handover. A small office left waiting by a network slowdown may well waste in the order of à‚£20 000 ($32 000) in a single day, which is not a figure to be overlooked in a culture of fixed term contracts.

A more intelligent way of addressing this risk is to employ a system that distributes identical and managed images of the project data to each remote site only once and then optimizes the use of networking by transmitting only change data at controlled intervals. These smaller packages of information are more traceable and easily transmitted at any bandwidth. This method of work share empowers what has been described as the virtual office. An office employing such a system that lost communication could continue working on its local copy of the project and allow the central global management system to rectify change data on demand when the network is re-enabled.

Collaboration benefits

It has become clear that the intelligent choice of design tools returns an immediate benefit to the EPC contractor who is able to make low-cost, high value bids in a competitive market. The owner operator takes receipt of not only a working plant, but of a high value data and physical model asset that will serve the operation and maintenance of the plant throughout its life.

In a culture of fixed-price contracts, the failings of a poor or non-integrated engineering and procurement IT solution would be immediately borne by the EPC contractor who is bound to handover specified deliverables. However, the legacy of high-value deliverables from the EPC phase delivers a long-term benefit to the owner operator of the plant. For these reasons, it is increasingly common for the owner operator to dictate the choice of engineering solution provider to be used by the EPC.

This choice directly affects the use of solutions on future projects that use that legacy data. But in an increasingly competitive market which demands collaboration, the rewards of integrated execution need to transcend the scenario of all engineering IT tools and applications coming from a single source supplier and all data being of a single format. The design of engineering IT solutions must consider the past, present and future in creating format neutral applications that maintain beneficial integration, profitable collaboration and a roadmap into the future regardless of how the legacy data asset is presented. This is instrumental in sharing risk and reward, and sharing is the foundation of collaboration.

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