Plantman Go: The future of asset lifecycle modeling

Capture asset information in a unified, integrated lifecycle model—from design to decommissioning.

By Bob Sperber

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The process industries have traditionally faced chronic losses when designing plants and trying to maintain and manage asset-lifecycle data, especially during handovers from capital projects to operational plant-life phases. New solutions are available, including 3D computer-aided designs (CAD) and simulations, more operations-focused building information management (BIM) software, and virtual/augmented reality technologies for design, training and longer-term use in operations and maintenance. Aided by the holistic information technology (IT) platforms and the emerging Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), these new project- and data-management technologies may help users recoup billions of dollars per year in losses.

However, are owner-operators ready for them? While some might be deemed bleeding edge, it may be time for process industry people to upgrade to a fuller realization of today’s lifecycle solutions.

Waking up from history

Because process facilities have been burdened for many decades with persistent problems reducing efficiency, safety and profitability across their lifecycles, it's often assumed that these difficulties are the unavoidable price of doing business. Project timelines and budgets are still routinely blown due to the inability of partners on capital projects to handle late-stage changes between design and engineering teams, training methods that can’t keep up with generational shift as older, experienced professionals leave the workforce, a lack of IT integration, and other sources of waste and inefficiency.

However, despite the process industries’ fabled resistance to technological change, such issues are reaching a tipping point because ever-larger projects can't be executed without more and better collaboration between partners, including in-house staff, outside engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) contractors and automation providers. Jim Nyquist, president, systems and solutions, for Emerson Process Management, reported at last fall's Emerson Global Users Exchange that, “Today, 65% of projects worth more than $1 billion and 35% of projects under $500 million fail, where failure is defined as at least 25% over budget and/or late by 50%.”

Another major issue is that 61% of owner-operators “lack complete confidence in their ability to find information needed to support response to an emergency,” and more than half spend 20-80% of their time just finding and validating plant information, including conducting walk-downs, according to a survey of 185 process industry professionals performed by TechValidate for Intergraph.

The shame of these findings is that even with slightly older, 2012 technology, data can still be made much more accessible. Royal Dutch Shell and Qatar Petroleum, for example, have standardized handover of instrumentation data using Intergraph’s SmartPlant Instrumentation software for their $18-19-billion Pearl Gas to Liquids (GTL) facility in Ras Laffan, Qatar (Figure 1). At full capacity, it converts 1.6 billion cubic feet per day of natural gas into 140,000 barrels per day of GTL products such as gasoil, kerosene, base oils, naphtha and normal paraffins, as well as 120,000 barrels per day of natural gas liquids and ethane.

Pearl GTL's engineering instrumentation database holds 150,000 loops, 350,000 instruments and 90,000 data sheets from roughly 25 contractors. During design and construction, about 200 users collaborated via this software environment's secure, online Citrix channel and the Internet to access its database 24/7.

This is a step in the right direction, especially when it comes to the critical handover of data custody from the EPC, working in the capital expenditure phase of a project, to the process plant's owner-operator who must use that data for the operating expenditure (OpEx) phase—meaning the life of the plant from startup to eventual decommissioning. The next steps toward a solution include greater integration between automation and design/engineering/CAD platforms.

Automation’s upfront role

 To help users adopt more comprehensive asset lifecycle models and methods, many automation suppliers have become more vertically integrated as they add consulting services to, in effect, become EPCs at the automation level. For instance, Honeywell Process Solutions offers its Lean Execution of Automation Projects (LEAP) service and technology. It encompasses software-configured universal I/O and cloud-based access to virtualized control system engineering data—and a mix of management methodologies—to produce estimated savings up to 30% in capital expenditures (CapEx) with a 25% savings in time and scheduling. Honeywell reports an upstream oil and gas platform’s “typical benefits” with LEAP can be $30-60 million through reduced production losses and unplanned downtime, and increased safety and regulatory compliance.

“We do all our projects in the cloud now. We call it a virtual engineering environment," says Jack Gregg, director of product marketing for Honeywell's Experion automation platform. "And it's no longer just for projects, but for operations as well, where a large part of your control system is running in the cloud.” Engineers use it just as they would if it were mounted on a hard drive, giving the vendor the ability to be the long-term administrator for updates and patches.

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Similarly, Emerson’s Project Certainty, which in part resulted from Emerson’s 2014 acquisition of Management Resources Group, led to a merger of consulting and technology that targets project inefficiencies with a mix of services, methods and technologies. These capabilities include unified project documentation and information (including tag databases and instrument indices) from multiple sources. Project Certainty also uses Emerson’s Characterization Modules (CHARMS) and Smart Commissioning technologies for electronic marshaling with smart junction boxes, which reduces commissioning time for HART and Foundation fieldbus devices by up to 80%. It also employs reusable, virtualized configuration templates and built-in validation reports through reusable, virtualized configuration templates and built-in validation reports.

“The big end users are saying to us, ‘Guys, you’ve got to work with our EPCs and figure out how to bring costs down and make our projects more efficient,’” says Jason Sarnataro, an Emerson operations manager with Project Certainty. He adds its innovations are “more efficient, more streamlined and cheaper” than traditional methods. End users are asking Emerson and the EPCs to eliminate "long, labor-intensive steps that lead to projects being behind schedule and over budget. Now, we’re able to decouple our final end devices from software configuration, so we can give EPCs the information they need to complete their 3D models, and the system will automatically sense the end devices in a more parallel activity rather than in a linear series of activities like in the old days.”

Michael Kane, vice president of technical services at Sasol North America, adds that, “Project Certainty will enable Sasol to reduce rework, improve spare parts inventory and working capital, and reduce training costs.” The company’s $8.9-billion ethane cracker and multi-plant complex in Louisiana, slated for completion in 2018, will more than triple its U.S. chemical production capacity.

The EPC for Sasol's project consists of a joint venture by Fluor Corp. and Technip S.A., which are designing it using Intergraph's Smart Plant software. To incorporate flow, valve and other inline instrumentation into the EPC's 3D models, Sarnataro says his team is providing dimensional data and building templates to feed SmartPlant Interface (SPI) data from Emerson's DeltaV DCS, Fisher Rosemount valves and other instrumentation. All parties can then “use those templates to get data out of the SPI, and also to get data back. And the EPCs will use that information to build their model of what the plant will look like.” The same routines will interface with Sasol's safety instrumented system, plant asset management and added instrumentation.

“When you talk about 3D models, there’s not really a DCS piece in the interface, but the data works directly with the SmartPlant instrumentation, which goes directly into the [EPC’s] 3D model,” which has various modules for electrical, P&ID, instrumentation, Delta V and more, says Ron Mitchel, instrumentation and electrical technical consultant at Emerson and I&E core lead for the Sasol project. The resulting configuration data, shared via an XML file, is exported directly to the SPI, “which keeps us from having to manually export all that data. We can export our database directly to an XML file, with some added Excel add-ons, and import that directly into the SmartPlant software."

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