Plant operations now a part of the designer’s goals

Marriage of CapEx and OpEx the best way to leverage design data, experts says.


Marriage of CapEx and OpEx the best way to leverage design data, experts says. Courtesy: BentleyThe union of capital projects (CapEx) and operational projects (OpEx) is less of an evolution and more of an arranged marriage that seems to have worked out. It’s not as much about collaboration as is coming to a conclusion that this is the best way to put a manufacturing plant together.

And it’s just getting started.

Attendees at the annual ARC Advisory Group forum in Orlando on Feb. 10-12 heard repeatedly about the imperative to create projects that didn’t just build a plant, but also deliver device-level information about all plant assets to the operations team.

Yet every speaker who talked on the subject suggested that such practices should be the rule, yet concluded that right now, they still are the exception. “Assets begin with engineering. It’s about getting information to right people at the right place at the right time. That's always been the challenge,” said ARC analyst Dick Slansky during one of several presentations on the topics at the annual forum in Orlando. “

Slansky said the design stage needed to “create an asset performance management organization, to create physical assets that are ready to operate. We're getting to the point where owner/operators are in on the planning and design requirements much earlier. They are making their (operational) requirements known at an early stage.”

Software vendors are conscious of creating this bridge between CapEx and OpEx. Bentley Systems CEO Greg Bentley announced at the ARC Forum that his company had acquired C3global, an operational analytics software company based in the U.K. Bentley said the C3global product called Amulet would provide asset performance management data for the existing AssetWise operations package and ProjectWise design and collaboration software.

“Beyond design modeling, we’re talking about asset performance modeling,” Bentley said. “In the operations stage, we need take advantage of the engineering information from design and construction modeling.

“Engineering technology can be shared,” Bentley said. “An operating plant may be able to use the pipe stress models to determine what corrosion may be occurring or what damage may be occurring based on the original pipe models. It’s not just asset performance. You’re using engineering technology to evaluate operational excellence.”

Begin with the project

This concept begins with setting projects goals at the start that reflect not just how the plant will be built, but how the information about the plant assets will be saved and shared throughout all stages of the project.

“We don't want to take business as usual approach, said Erin Delorme, project manager for Apache. “Today we can't afford to have poorly engineered system. It’s not just about information management. It's not about a piece of paper. It's about systems.”

Delorme said every company she works with has business processes, technology and people like pieces of a pie in their organizations. The problem, she noted, is that all pieces of the pie usually aren’t equal and the pie itself usually isn’t perfectly round.

“Everybody has their own idea of how they want to do things,” Delorme said. “When I go into these organizations to achieve better systems, one thing I try to do to create the most perfect circle I can for that organization. You want to create policies, and through that we create awareness.”

Part of the awareness is that each part of the organization isn’t yet part of a natural flow between CapEx and Opex. “Organizations today run in little silos. We haven't figured how to text them to talk yet,” Delorme said. “If you can get on one standardized system, you can create a portal for everyone to go in, you can standardize methodologies. It's vitally important we have all the business units engaged early on in the project.”

Capturing legacy data

For those plants who want to get a handle on existing plant assets, technology exists to capture plant data through the use of 3-D modeling. Bentley said their software can that photographs of plant assets and turn them into a digital representation of the facility down to the device level. Bentley said all it takes is a drone and a GoPro.

“The software takes all of the photography and generates a 3-D model. It’s not a point cloud; it’s a reality mesh,” said Bentley. “If you do this frequently, you’d have existing conditions and interface that model to the asset management system. You can compare the design model to existing conditions and compare existing conditions to prior conditions.”

Whether for a new construction project or a legacy plant, the importance of capturing plant design data and turning that into asset-based management is an exciting and evolving technology, said Dave Lafferty, an industry consultant and former BP manager.

“We’ve seen enormous strides in using plant design tools,” Lafferty said at the ARC event. “Where the huge strides have been made are in the CAD world in terms of the productivity and quality of the product that comes out. We haven’t enjoyed the same strides in the operation world.”

Handoff challenges

Lafferty noted that the standard practice is for the EPC (engineering, procurement and construction) team only to design and build the facility. “We’ve asked the EPC to bring projects in on time and on cost and we didn't ask them to look into aspects of build to run,” Lafferty said. “We tended to not get operations people involved until commissioning phase.”

While software solutions and operational involvement has improved that process, Lafferty said the data itself often is the problem.  “There’s a lot of incomplete and missing data,” he said. “You can't just take a 3D CAD model and hand it over. It isn't just as easy as saying ‘Here's the model’. The project data reflects the design stage, not the build stage. Your plant changes over time.”

Lafferty sees a transition to a true virtual factory—one with shapes and colors, but also with all the depth that a 3-D model implies. “It's not just a pretty picture. It isn't just enough to know there's a pump there. You want to know what's upstream and downstream to that pump,” he said. “It’s very important you're able to maintain the relationships between the plant assets.”

Lafferty cited three benefits of such a system:

1. Reduced labor costs. “You have people doing high value work rather than low value work,” he said. “They can do work virtually.”

2. Reduced worker exposure. “You can have operations teams doing work without having to go out to the field” to evaluate the health of assets.

3. Improved data integrity. “Data is live; it's not copied,” Lafferty said. “You make things worse by copying data into another version of the truth. You want to make sure undying data structure that supports operations. CAD might be a beautiful tool, but it might not support operations. You want to make sure the data reflects the as-is process.”

He said a more systematic approach to plant assets would reveal work in remote locations that could be done all at once rather than just when a given asset fails. “You can plan your inspections—where you inspect, how you inspect and how often you do it,” Lafferty said. “You may have 150,000 points of inspections. You can put together work package and accelerate that process. You can look at work orders in a spatial process.”

- Bob Vavra, content manager, CFE Media, 

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