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Industry voices speak to oil and gas projects future

Multi-discipline efforts converge in 3-D reality models, even for existing facilities. Four steps for successfully using a data platform are highlighted.


Models are emerging as the single best means to accomplish multi-discipline coordination. Courtesy: Bentley SystemsThe hum of a drone can just barely be heard floating above a working oil refinery. A camera is attached to the drone, generating the digital photography needed to build a 3-D reality model, a virtual representation of an existing facility.

Once on the ground, the photos are converted into the reality meshes that culminate in the plant's 3-D model. Other photography and digital inputs will make the model an immersive environment that mirrors the plant's most important means of production.

With fluctuations in oil and gas prices slowing investment in industry capital projects, owner-operators are emphasizing increased efficiency of their existing assets. Making better use of digitization is one way of addressing the inherent challenges. As upstream, midstream, and downstream oil and gas industry companies make more use of 3-D reality modeling, what are they getting into and what is their mind-set?

"Business as usual isn't good enough," said Alec Miljkovic, a Shell project manager working on its capital project-delivery model, ProjectVantage. "We have to stretch ourselves."

Shell's ProjectVantage was just one of several oil-and-gas industry initiatives featured at Bentley Systems' Year in Infrastructure 2016 Conference, held in London in November of last year. Several speakers at the event's oil, gas, and chemicals forum acknowledged a gap in capabilities for brownfield and greenfield projects, as well as a need for increased efficiency in turning digital assets into operational models that can succeed in daily use.

Shell's ProjectVantage simplifies work packaging for engineering, construction and installation while adhering to the Construction Industry Institute's advanced work packaging methodology.

Shell says it selected ProjectWise ConstructSim as the foundation of its construction management solution to support its ability to visually plan and execute work safely, avoid premature mobilization and downtime and remove constraints that can impact safety, logistics, materials, labor availability, permits and documentation. Moreover, the solution supports engineering readiness through advanced work packaging to improve constructability and improve field productivity. 

Criteria for success

"We talk about outcome-based engineering. Efficient execution also is an outcome," Miljkovic said. In other words, the criteria for success must include more than whether an asset is in production."

Miljkovic added, "A project is something you tolerate to get increased capacity, but the project has to be executed efficiently. We must focus on where the value leakage is, and how we address those leaks. With data-centric solutions, we get improved collaboration between contractors and suppliers."

Success calls for collaboration among enterprise functions, production units, and even regions, said Ken Douglas, BP information technology and services (IT&S) director of global projects. "It wasn't that long ago that we ran our capital projects on a business-unit-oriented basis. You could visit the same capital projects in two parts of the world, and they would be very different."

In 2009, BP established its Global Projects Organization to bring standardization to the company's design-and-build projects. When the group started its work, cloud-based computing was just beginning to have an impact. Its proliferation and the advent of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), particularly for better asset management, changed the project standardization equation once again.

In the future, "data considerations will drive decisions we make about standardization," Douglas said. 

Beauty and the industrial beast

Videos of 3-D mesh designs bring out industrial infrastructure's beauty in a much different way than does, for example, black-and-white photography. Moreover, users "fly" through models to observe equipment and peer into processes. It has the facility of a video game—except that's not what's important.

"Even though reality modeling is beautiful, it's not really the key point. This is a vehicle for communicating information," said Phil Christensen, Bentley Systems vice president for analytical modeling. "The interesting thing is the crossover to engineering. Yes, you can get operational data, but to help people make decisions, the real job is analysis and simulation."

David Philp, consultancy manager for AECOM's oil and gas business, said that to take full advantage of digital models, the discussion must extend beyond design and construction. AECOM is a provider of engineering consulting and project management services for infrastructure projects.

Within operations, Philp said, "We're an output-based industry, and we need to focus more on outcomes. We're thinking about how to improve asset performance, and we're learning from real-time data. We can start to evaluate how the plant is going to perform right from the very beginning."

It's important to note, Philp added, that operational expenditures (OpEx) are about 80% of a project's total lifecycle cost, even though capital expenditure (CapEx) projections tend to determine which projects are approved. "We've got to think more about OpEx right at the very beginning of projects," Philp said. "We've got to think about organizational performance. We've got to start by thinking about asset management and maintenance strategy."

Outcome-specific data

Management's desire to make greater use of complex models in day-to-day operations reflects the value of data associated with valuable oil and gas commodities. "Asset management is not about managing assets; it's about creating value," said Ian Bush of Black & Veatch, a global engineering, procurement, and construction (EPC) contractor active in energy markets. "You tend to value those assets in economic terms; it's really about outcome-based engineering. It's about having the right information throughout the life of that asset."

In the future, asset values will be held on balance sheets in ways much different than they are today, Bush said. "If you're not maintaining information about your assets, you're stripping your company. You're actually causing a devaluation in your company."

Interest in the right use of modeling for installations in production has led to the acronym, BIM, for business-information modeling. "BIM is all about creating and maintaining a virtual asset," Bush said. "We're delivering two outcomes. One is a physical asset; the other is a digital asset. We ought to be handing over digital information that is meaningful."

Digital and physical asset convergence is driven by the need to extend assets' useful lives through better resource maintenance and management. Modeling for existing operations has evolved slowly, but mesh technology's growth and development means that drones now efficiently create as-operating models of a brownfield facility. Cloud computing means the computing resources needed are easier to come by.

"Our infrastructure is living well beyond its initial projected life. The only way we can close the deficit between what we need and what we can afford is by getting smarter. We need intelligent infrastructure," said Bhupinder Singh, Bentley Systems chief product officer. 

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