Take a hub approach to asset management
Data should be available to all users at all times throughout the lifecycle
The world today is awash with information. But being unable to integrate and access the many mutually incompatible forms of information seriously impairs its value. This is especially true in the plant industry, where different applications are used to create different types of information—schematic diagrams, 3D CAD models, tabular data, maintenance manuals, and so on.
This can be enough of a challenge for an engineering, procurement, and construction (EPC) contractor, but it becomes worse for the owner-operator. EPCs can afford to maintain specialist engineering and design applications and the skills to use them because that, after all, is their stock in trade. A plant operator, in contrast, does not need the costly overheads of licensing multiple software systems and training staff in their use just for the occasions when they need a particular piece of information.
Even doing so would not enable the different types of information to be cross-referenced. It is common for owner-operators to mandate digital handover of information from their contractors, but if they then cannot effectively use the information, how do they benefit? How can we overcome this problem?
The solution now exists in the form of powerful information management technology. This is being adopted with great success by many leading operators, most notably in the oil and gas industry where any inefficiency is particularly costly. Importantly, the same technology can also support the project-oriented business processes of the EPC, so a common infrastructure can enable seamless and progressive information handover as a project progresses. Gone are the bad old days of the “here’s the keys; off you go!” style of handover.
At AVEVA, we visualize this common infrastructure as a Digital Information Hub. This is not a single proprietary application but is a concept configured from a number of standard applications and modules to create an open, enterprise-wide information management system.
Building the application
The principal building blocks of such a system are:
- A highly flexible data model built with industry standards such as ISO 15926 in mind, to enable the capture of information in almost any format from any source.
- A centralized and centrally accessible repository of validated and cross-referenced information of all types
- Interfaces (which we call gateways) that enable a wide variety of source applications and business systems to publish information to the repository
- A “gatekeeper” application which validates incoming information against defined standards. These may be industry or company-specific standards, and the gatekeeper will intelligently accept, reject, or quarantine information according to its level of compliance.
- A web-based visualization application which enables a user to navigate intuitively through the entire information asset and configure task-related views and reports.
There are many substantial benefits to be gained from an enterprise-wide information management system throughout the entire asset lifecycle, and the Web-based interface approach also removes the need for heavy investment in user training and IT architecture to house the solution.
Looking first at the project handover process, a typical case would be one in which the owner-operator has deployed this type of information management system but the EPC has not. The handover pack may be a purely digital collection of various types of engineering and design data, which the gateway interfaces can easily handle. The import process is substantially automatic, with the software validating the compliance of each data item and cross-referencing it to all its associated data. User intervention will normally only be required to resolve missing, noncompliant, or inconsistent data.
In many cases, a small proportion of the information may still be in printed format. This also is easily handled by interfaces that “scrape” scanned documents to extract their information.
Even greater benefits are achievable when both EPC and owner-operators use the same system. In this situation, information handover can cease to be a discrete milestone event but instead be a progressive, collaborative process. As validated information is published to the Digital Information Hub during project execution, it can be used by the owner-operator’s operations specialists to prepare their own processes and procedures—such as maintenance and spares management—well in advance of commissioning. Not only does this save valuable time and enable quicker ramp-up to full plant output, it also encourages closer collaboration between designers and operators to make the new plant design as operations-friendly as possible.
This level of integration can almost abolish the concept of handover as we currently understand it. Information no longer has to be passed from here to there; it is available from the outset to support every stage and process in the asset lifecycle, from FEED to final end of life. Of course, it requires a change in the nature of the relationship between owner-operator and EPC from the traditional buyer/seller to a more collaborative one. EPCs may understandably be hesitant about allowing their clients apparently unfettered access to their trade secrets, but there have been very successful precedents that have benefitted both parties.
Annual Salary Survey
After almost a decade of uncertainty, the confidence of plant floor managers is soaring. Even with a number of challenges and while implementing new technologies, there is a renewed sense of optimism among plant managers about their business and their future.
The respondents to the 2014 Plant Engineering Salary Survey come from throughout the U.S. and serve a variety of industries, but they are uniform in their optimism about manufacturing. This year’s survey found 79% consider manufacturing a secure career. That’s up from 75% in 2013 and significantly higher than the 63% figure when Plant Engineering first started asking that question a decade ago.