Connecting information, engineering and operational technologies

Asset performance management provides the power of combining all systems into one that can deliver actionable intelligence.


Digital engineering models bring together massive amounts of data in a virtual 3-D environment. All images courtesy: Bentley Systems.As operations technology (OT) has become more sophisticated, organizations now have access to an enormous volume of performance data. In order to achieve optimal performance from assets, it is essential for organizations to find ways to best manage and use available data in real time. Realistic 3-D models of assets can help operations and maintenance teams forecast problems, develop better planning strategies and improve performance. It is now possible for companies to converge their information, operational and engineering technologies in order to integrate processes and information flows between them. That means it's possible to support asset performance modeling that is immersive, realistic and able to deliver actionable intelligence.

The digital engineering model

For years, engineers have used advanced modeling and simulation applications that focus on the process of designing and constructing buildings, bridges, highways, factories or other assets-in a way that delivers better project delivery and asset performance. Intensive information modeling enables companies to optimize capital expenditures (CAPEX).

There is an astounding amount of information related to assets today such as precise location information with respect to geography and connectivity, detailed pricing and supply information, predicted lifetimes and recommended maintenance and repair information.

Current engineering technology (ET) brings all of this information together with digital engineering models that make it easy to track, access, and share with others collaborating on the project (see Figure 1). The technology also enables engineers to model or build projects in a virtual setting so that when the project is actually constructed in the real world, the project teams and stakeholders are confident that they can minimize errors and keep the project on track.

Ideally, all of this information flows between applications and project teams for better project delivery, which is the key to better CAPEX. In turn, expanding information mobility through to operations and maintenance systems across the entire asset lifecycle is key to reducing operational expenditures (OPEX). For example, when companies integrate the 3-D models for each discipline involved in a project, the mobility and sharing of information is improved. Disciplines can more effectively communicate critical design details for operations, detect clashes earlier in the design phase and before construction starts, share updates during the engineering and construction phases and hand over accurate and complete information to ensure successful start-up and ongoing operations.

The optimization of OPEX and CAPEX can be collectively referred to as the TOT-EX lifecycle opportunity. Companies can exploit this opportunity by utilizing applications that support integrated projects, information modeling and the delivery of intelligent infrastructure.

The convergence of IT, ET and OT

Asset performance modeling integrates digital engineering models with IT and OT systems used to monitor and improve asset performance. Courtesy: Bentley SystemsThe convergence of physical assets embedded with electronics, instrumentation, sensors and controls (operational technology) with IT software and systems used to support the business enables the seamless collection, communication and exchange of data to improve operational performance.Going a step further and connecting that data to digital engineering models adds one more dimension: a visual representation of the real world to further aid decision-making and improve asset performance.

Many asset-intensive companies are making use of this convergence of technologies. For example, water utility South Australia Water uses predictive and real-time operational analytics to forecast water demand and minimize operational costs. To create a demand forecasting tool, they utilize information from both the operational and IT sides of the utility network in real time. Predictive analytics software is used as the operational intelligence platform for its visualization capabilities, in addition to its ability to connect and capture data from a wide variety of sources in real time, and to perform complex calculations and analysis. Real-time information from embedded sensors is brought in from the many reservoirs, treatment plants, valves, flowmeters and pumps spread across the extensive water network. This operational data is combined with real-time climate, energy, cost and usage data. Bringing these data sources together has created huge savings and operational efficiencies for South Australia Water including improved performance, decision support, real-time analytics, optimized pumping and treatment plant operations and more accurate predictions of short- and long-term demand.

South Australia Water has also integrated a demand optimization tool that optimizes the availability and the movement of water around the network to demand areas quickly and efficiently. Built-in analytics take the output of the demand forecasting tool to develop a live hydraulic model that determines water pressures and flows throughout the network. Using this digital engineering model, South Australia Water optimizes water supply and reliability of service to its customers. Integrating IT, ET and OT also allows the utility to take advantage of lower forward market pricing for electricity. They can use an energy portfolio, management spot-market power price tool to determine the optimal timing for pump operations on five pipelines, as well as when to purchase power in highly volatile markets. The impact on OPEX is significant-a savings of $3 million Australian dollars ($2.3 million U.S.) per year.

Asset performance management

It is now possible to enable real-time asset performance modeling, which ensures that assets are reliable, performing optimally and safe over their operating life. Asset Performance Management (APM) software enables companies to develop both operational and asset strategies for improving asset reliability, predicting and optimizing asset performance, minimizing unplanned downtime and preventing asset failures. Companies can collect, store and analyze data and turn it into actionable intelligence. The software also helps ensure regulatory compliance and is aligned with asset management standards including PAS 55 and ISO 55001.

Across all disciplines, digital engineering models are integrated with the IT and OT systems (see Figure 2). As the operating baseline for infrastructure assets, the digital engineering models bring together schematics, engineering analyses, network models, 3-D models, functional components, catalogs and specifications, as shown in Figure 1.

Digital engineering information is like the digital DNA for infrastructure assets, providing information down to every nut, bolt and screw. Just as doctors can analyze human DNA to anticipate health issues and personalize healthcare for better health outcomes, companies can harness the digital DNA of their assets to personalize asset maintenance, prevent asset failures and maximize uptime.

Companies can manage the performance of their assets more effectively when they have digital engineering models that intelligently bring together all infrastructure data. When IT and OT systems connect with this ET data, teams can view the asset performance history, see all failure alerts, geo-coordinate to the exact positioning within the infrastructure asset and drill down into the digital engineering model to determine the cause of the alarm. Then they can refer to the manufacturer's degradation data, access maintenance and repair data information and take corrective action-all in seconds.

The power of continuous surveying

Having an accurate frame of reference-for example, though capturing precisely located photographs and videos and comparing these over time-allows companies to bring together IT, ET and OT to support asset performance modeling. New, continuous surveying methods allow systems to keep these frames of reference up-to-date. Software is being used to turn digital photography from aerial views and close-up ground shots into accurate, "as-is" 3-D models of infrastructure assets.

UAVs or drones carrying simple cameras, together with smartphones on the ground, can capture ordinary digital photographs or videos of a plant, bridge, building or other asset and provide the digital point of reference aligning all IT, ET and OT data with the real world. Users can navigate their assets through the 3-D mesh images, virtually explore the 3-D environment represented in their digital engineering models, geo-coordinate the schematics to the exact locations of specific assemblies and parts and then drill down to related maintenance and repair manuals (see Figure 3). The entire experience is immersive and highly accurate.

Engineering in context

Users can utilize 3-D meshes to geo-coordinate the schematics to the exact locations of specific assemblies and parts. Courtesy: Bentley SystemsThese same technologies also allow designers to engineer-and reengineer-in context. For example, when making the decision to repair, replace or remove, rather than starting from scratch or using an existing design model, the engineer or designer can use the continuously surveyed model of the plant or asset as the accurate, 3-D representation to aid in the decision. They can use the model to explore the options for adding or replacing new equipment right in the context of the 3-D reality mesh. Once the engineering is approved and construction or replacement begins, the same continuous surveying techniques can generate a new 3-D reality mesh to track progress and finally create the new point of reference for IT, OT and ET. Everyone involved can instantly see conditions change as construction progresses-and once work is complete, owner-operators can continuously monitor and model assets to assess conditions, drill down into alerts and issues, take informed action, and optimize asset performance.

Future integration of processes and information

We are at an incredibly exciting time in the world of asset management. The ability to work in a comprehensive modeling environment, leverage 3-D reality mesh technologies and connect with the Industrial Internet of Things through asset management and predictive analytics software-and converge information technology, operational technology and engineering technology-provides a wealth of actionable information, analyses and proactive performance management opportunities.

The next generation of engineers-the digital natives-will no doubt find ways to exploit this convergence and take it to an even higher level. Yet, as we continue to advance this technology, we will continue to realize greater benefits every year by using technologies that allow us to make more informed decisions regarding when to repair, retire or replace assets so that they are safer, more reliable and perform at optimal efficiency throughout their operating life.

Anne-Marie Walters is industry marketing director, Bentley Systems.

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