Information Management: Building Information Systems are Revolutionizing How Industry Manages Equipment Data

Companies Now Shifting Approach, Supported by Capabilities Convergence

By Paul Studebaker

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From conception through operation to decommissioning, the capital equipment lifecycle has been fragmented, with different people in charge of sequential stages. As the project and then the plant is handed off from one group to another, its information has been compartmentalized, kept in separate silos, and not in a single database or model.

Now we're seeing a shift in how companies want to deal with equipment information. This shift is supported by a convergence of capabilities in information technology and driven by an explosion in capital projects, for example, to produce and use hydrocarbon feedstocks from shale. In a market where, for many years, large projects were in the $50-100 million range, we're now seeing many $2-billion to $10-billion projects and some reaching $20-billion.

These projects are taxing the available resources of engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) companies, as well as owners, who are looking for better ways than Excel spreadsheets to control projects and bring them online faster and more economically. "We're limited in our ability to analyze data and make improvements when data is tied up in documents,” says Jennifer Garfield, engineering data project manager at ExxonMobil. "We waste effort turning data into documents.”

The opportunity extends into existing plants. "Brownfield information is incorrect, so we have to find, gather and validate it in the field—boots on the ground,” Garfield adds. "Incorrect data results in wasted capital, poor performance on start-up, schedule delays and safety issues. Higher efficiency is needed to handle increases in project volume.”

Just as automation professionals look to standards such as OPC and fieldbus, project managers and owners are urging development of standardized ways to pass data between design, engineering and construction applications, including electrical plans and P&IDs, and on to enterprise maintenance- and asset-management systems. Efforts such as Fiatech's ( ISO 15926 are extending standardization to allow one repository of information to represent a project from engineering and construction through operation, maintenance, migration and decommission — the entire asset lifecycle.

When you do your P&IDs, all of that information now can go into the engineering database, which can be rendered as two-dimensional views or drawings and incorporated in a three-dimensional model. This master data model can be used to feed asset dashboards, representing the as-built and as-is plant or facility throughout its life.

Having a master data model, one version of the truth, allows the formerly separate and sequential build, commission, turnover, operate and maintain steps to interact, and even be done simultaneously, eliminating surprises and improving results. It's also important to process safety management, where using incorrect data has detrimental effects, and causes plants to show up in the evening news.

Simulations using the 3D models also are especially useful for training operators and maintenance personnel. "The brain is good at relationships, not details,” says Dave Wheeldon, chief technical officer and head of engineering and design systems at Aveva ( "It works best in 3D because that—not Excel spreadsheets—is how we avoided saber-toothed tigers.”

Call It BIM 1, 2, 3
Originally standing for building information management, the acronym BIM is now used to broadly refer to systems for managing data associated with complex assets. Bentley Systems ( identifies three levels of sophistication in BIM (Figure 1). Level 1 uses 3D CAD models for design and engineering, and is well established within the EPC community. After design, the virtual model is typically converted to conventional 2D drawings, lists and schedules for construction.

BIM Level 2 expands the level of "optioneering” — the ability to explore alternatives — across multiple disciplines (including operations and maintenance) through simulation and analytical software. It extends the live data model into construction to accommodate changes as problems arise and designs are revised. Level 2 implementations are now expanding, driven in part by a mandate by the British government to use it in all public projects.

Bentley envisions BIM Level 3 as extending the lifecycle of the model by making as-built and as-maintained models available to operations and maintenance, while "big data” from sensors and operating metrics contribute to a "rich, immersive” information model to improve performance, safety and sustainability.

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