Data Management

Productivity Corner: DigitalPlant Solutions and ProjectWise Lifecycle Server

6 Dec, 2006 By: Rob Whitesell

Model enterprise operations to streamline production and save money.

To achieve true efficiency in an operating facility, companies must model plant operations. If operations can be modeled, then all their aspects can be analyzed, scrutinized and optimized for fiscal gain.

Operation and maintenance budgets in process plants are razor-thin. Success stories for managing these facilities are made by cutting costs and removing inefficiencies in the short term, not by launching major IT projects with the promise of future savings. This reality has contributed to the poor state of engineering and technical data management in the typical operating plant -- and this reality costs the industry millions in hidden costs.

Front-Office Fallacies
The drive for cost reduction and better operating margins has revolutionized the front office and the business end of plant operations. Today, management has sophisticated systems that enable precise tracing of facility operations on paper to manage for the greatest margin and know exactly where money is spent and money is made. Financial, production reporting and ERP systems can deliver clarity and accountability to the flow of money in and out of an operating facility. With these tools, management can achieve the first level of cost savings: a lean, mean operating facility on paper.

What the front-office systems can't do is understand the business that they model. An accounting package can provide the depreciation schedule for a given compressor, but it can't analyze why it provides operational advantages over its competitors in a given use. An ERP system can track the number of hours spent by operations engineers on performance enhancements, but it can't suggest ways to make them more efficient, or, for that matter, measure their efficiency.

In most organizations there is a big disconnect between the front office systems used by operations and engineering and their back office enterprise management systems.

The true nature of operations is not captured adequately by the maintenance system either. Their scope, however, is limited to relevant properties about maintainable equipment. Most maintenance systems can't describe how equipment is connected, much less model the functionality of the plant.

Engineering plant design systems, drawings, 3D models and document repositories contain components of what we are looking for, but no one system models the operating facility in a way that contributes to fiscally smart management.

Of course, if the solution for modeling the true nature of operations was simple, it would have been delivered long ago. This problem is complex, and conquering it takes foresight, planning and perseverance.

Just as no one system can model the operations of the front office, no single system can model the operating plant. To solve this problem, we need a starting point -- a place to hold the reference guide or the digital representation of the physical and functional facility. In the front office, this reference point is the money trail. In the operating plant, this reference point is the engineering backbone: the functional process and the physical manifestation of the functional process into concrete, steel, piping, equipment and manpower. In order to serve as a true resource center, DigitalPlant Solutions from Bentley not only connects these silos of information, but also provides critical functions on top of these connections.

Bentley's DigitalPlant solutions have a common engineering backbone that pulls together the engineering information held in many disparate systems to provide complete, consistent and accurate engineering information for the enterprise.

The engineering backbone comprises the entire infrastructure: the piping, the equipment in place, the knowledge of how it is connected, the interdependencies and the plan for its function. The technology for capturing the engineering backbone exists today in other segments of our industry. For years, engineering companies have deployed engineering data warehouses, such as Bentley's ProjectWise Lifecycle Server, on projects that design and build facilities and they are increasingly used on the owner side of major capital projects.

In these capital projects, owners have traditionally justified the use of ProjectWise Lifecycle Server by the benefits around the handover of technical information from the contractor. However, seeing a complete engineering backbone of the new facility can make people aware of new ideas for modeling the true nature of operations, and some owners are incorporating ProjectWise Lifecycle Server into operational IT systems.

This technology allows users to store a complete digital representation of the plant at the component level. The warehouse contains an entry for each component of the facility and all its relationships to other components, such as what it is connected to, where it is located, what it is part of, what its parts are and so on. Physical location, functional decomposition, connectivity, design characteristics, manufacturer data, spare parts BOMs and document cross-references are all found in standard technical data hand oversets in data warehouses delivered at the end of major capital projects. However, this only scratches the surface of the use of this technology in operations. ProjectWise Lifecycle Server is a generic entity framework model and its ability to store interrelated information is limited only by imagination and perseverance.

Optimize for Efficiency
Remember that the goal is to create a model for the true nature of operations so that it can be optimized for efficiency of both humans and machines. How does ProjectWise Lifecycle Server help achieve this goal? First, it captures the engineering data to create a backbone. With the backbone in place, the other components can be placed in proper relation to each other. The control system monitors the heartbeat and vital signs. So why not provide two-way navigation between the equipment, sensors and transmitters on the backbone to their real-time readings in the control system?

Are you reading fluctuations in pressure in some part of the system? A quick look at data stored in the engineering backbone shows that an upstream pump is overdue for having bearings repacked and could be the culprit. But wait, that information comes from the preventative maintenance schedule in the maintenance system. It, too, can be connected to the engineering backbone found in the data warehouse. In fact, the job of the maintenance system becomes much cleaner and easier to configure when extraneous engineering data is held in the data warehouse rather than in the record for a maintainable equipment item.

DigitalPlant connects engineering information to the enterprise and enables better decision making -- reducing the risks and costs of engineering and maintaining process plant.

Find the Answer
The people part of the equation must not be overlooked either. It doesn't work to have a great set of tools, but no commitment to training and use. The implementation of DigitalPlant Solutions must fit into a natural method of performing day-to-day business functions for it to be used. Capture the engineering and functional information of the machine and teach the worker to use the model as an integral part of the business.

Creating a digital plant is no mystery -- it simply requires a vision of the resulting features and functionalities and adherence to a plan of action. ProjectWise Lifecycle Server holds together all of the components of operations and is the cornerstone of the implementation. Operations and maintenance can learn and benefit from the experience of other segments of this industry, mitigating risk and lowering cost of implementation.

Change control, increased productivity, efficient resource use, reductions in downtime -- all these are within our grasp if we will only manage engineering information with the same fervor we show for our financial data.

About the Author: Rob Whitesell

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