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Oil & Gas

Search for single source of truth continues

Virtual strategies for asset management in oil & gas and other process industries

April 04, 2013
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For most process-industry professionals, the upstream oil and gas industry is a horse of a different color.

Just to start, hydrocarbons are extracted from the earth’s crust in remote locations. Operations there are less susceptible to standardization than is any plant environment. And the industry retains significant vestiges of its wildcatter-mentality heritage.

Further, oil field development is increasingly complex and must be coordinated amongst multiple independent and highly specialized contractors, including engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) concerns, service companies and equipment suppliers, as well as owner-operators.

The emergence of EPCs having global scale has been driven by the immense scale of infrastructure in oil & gas. Oil-industry services companies are a considerable force. Besides the billion-dollar giants like Schlumberger and Halliburton, the industry is serviced by numerous midsized contractors. Equipment providers stand behind their equipment in the field.

There is a demonstrable need to improve coordination amongst these highly specialized providers and of course with owner-operators as well. “Project execution is changing everywhere. The workforce is changing everywhere. More planning flexibility is needed,” Andreas Geiss, VP, COMOS Industry Solutions, Siemens COMOS, says.

The question is, how best to do it? COMOS software is for asset lifecycle management. “While there’s a considerable gap between growth and investment rates in developed and developing countries, growth in these kinds of software is much more even across global regions,” Geiss says.

Oil industry uniqueness

No government space agency or defense department makes better use of today’s immense computing power than does the oil industry in its seismic and other type exploration and analysis technologies. Its use of 3D and other type models is truly mind-blowing. Yet some say the industry is slower to make best use in the field of automation, industrial IT and enterprise systems.

Of course, especially in the United States, plenty of oil and gas wells chug along unattended, each producing perhaps only a few barrels of crude oil every week.
On the other hand, the emergence of national oil companies and dwindling conventional oil resources have moved the major independent oil and gas companies to tap into more and more unconventional resources, including deepwater subsea, shale plays, tar sands and subsalt. Billions of dollars are being invested in energy infrastructure, in Brazil, offshore Africa and in the Arctic regions.

It is these high-risk, high-reward projects that will benefit from asset-based coordination of development, operations and maintenance, based on the tremendous efficiency of having a single source of truth. The challenge is that each type software vendor believes its system should be lead.

Design automation vendors of 3D computer aided design (CAD) systems, such as Autodesk, PTC and Siemens PLM and others have a large stake in construction industries. What they do may range from product lifecyle management to plant lifecycle management.  For others, including Bentley, Meridian Systems, Integraph and AVEVA, analysts may use the term infrastructure lifecycle management as most descriptive of their solutions.

On the other hand, an enterprise system vendor like Sweden’s IFS says EPCs and owner-operators share a need for project-based systems to reduce risk and better manage the entire contract lifecycle from design through commission, while operating multi-site, multi-national, and multi-currency. The term enterprise asset lifecycle management may be apropos.

Compare and contrast

AVEVA supplies 3D design and modeling solutions for the process and power industries. The visual impact of 3D and its incorporation into virtual environments makes the promise of these systems particularly exciting. But really what’s most important is how it can be applied to age-old problems like, “What did I actually buy and what did I actually get?”

AVEVA Plant integrates engineering, schematics and 3D design data into one managed plant model, says William H. Muldoon, IV, an AVEVA executive VP. “These capabilities are increasingly important because just the sheer mass of materials involved in the EPC construction team’s handover to the owner-operators team begs for digitalization.”

Using AVEVA PDMS, the logical model of a plan becomes a full 3D design layout. But there’s more. Reports say it’s not unusual for engineers to be sent to a remote offshore platform to check what’s actually installed against the as-designed. The Aveva exec says today’s more portable laser scanning systems allow on-site modeling of a remote environment.

Muldoon says the introduction of AVEVA Everything3D as the core design platform for AVEVA Plant can bring EPCs and owner-operators into this new age. Eventually, models of unlimited size, based on laser scan data from the construction site, could be integrated into the plant model by means of tie-in points. Engineers will increasingly find themselves making use of a virtual world, including walk-throughs, to act as their interface to the real world.

Enterprise viewpoint

As a large enterprise systems vendor, IFS believes the emergence of EPCs and new business models highlight issues related to best practices, data management and collaboration. Further, the company believes, these complex issues can be addressed by project-based systems that will support roles-based users from first tender to after-sales.

IFS notes that an enterprise system for the oil and gas industry must manage supply and demand lifecycles, much like an enterprise resources planning (ERP) solution. At the same time, it must be suitable for an environment where information is volatile in nature and managed using project methods and tools.

Some of the most relevant functionality for project-based industries then includes:

• An engineering register that ensures automatic information flow from engineering to procurement, improving efficiency.

• Project-driven materials management ensures equipment is procured or produced based on project plan and not controlled by a traditional materials resources planning process.

• Defined rules for progress tracking and invoicing for management of complex contracts and unstructured deliverables. In this respect project-based systems are unlike traditional procurement approaches using purchase orders.

• Forecasting and project accounting lets users conduct project cut-off and forecasting independent of financial periods. Project accounting lets users track progress and includes auto-routines for revenue recognition.

While design work is accomplished by means of CAD, IFS Applications can be the system of record for asset design, planning, data management and engineering change management (ECM), furnishing stakeholders with consistent, accurate information regarding asset infrastructure. These product lifecycle management capabilities are based on IFS Applications for document and data management — including integration with leading CAD vendors.

Objects to objects

Other type integration platforms allow “object-based” access to information gleaned from multiple systems. Then if you’re interested in a pump, you look for it in the 3D model and drill from there to a wealth of information, regardless of whether it actually resides in a maintenance, process control, design or some other type system.
With geographic and other type interfaces, organizing information around vital capital assets is as intuitive as it gets. In September of last year Siemens COMOS acquired VRcontext International S.A., Brussels, Belgium. In consequence, COMOS is being equipped with 3D simulation walk-through capabilities. Users will segue seamlessly, Siemens says, from this 3D simulated world to the more familiar landscape of P&IDs (process & installation diagrams).

VRcontext’s Walkinside 3D visualization software is used in operations and maintenance in more than 200 companies. VRcontext has specialized in remote offshore installations for the oil and gas industry. There, as in other process industries, says Geiss, “the P&ID is the bible, containing all definitions of equipment and instrumentation. And that’s where we start.”

Use of a platform like Siemens COMOS can begin during a design and construction phase and be the means for a sure handover of as-built documentation. After that, “integrated operations” are achieved by allowing access to information from engineering, ERP and operations systems.

This can lead to a rationalization of applications used in the enterprise, reducing their number. A major benefit of a correctly implemented system should be that information no longer need reside in multiple systems and users securely access the most current revisions.    

Technology vendors have an emerging vision for tomorrow’s world of industry professionals, empowered by automation and information systems. These systems will put what’s needed into the hands of those most needing it when it’s most needed. But the installed base of systems, especially for midsized companies, today typically falls far short of that vision. Software suppliers believe companies will invest in systems to attract effective employees used to being served by the latest technology. And progress is being made toward a kind of roles-based, application-driven integration that will further streamline coordination of complex operations, and that promises continuing productivity growth in the 21st century.

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