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Seeing the big picture

Hydrocarbon Engineering,

Every major oilfield asset is a complex physical entity, described and operated using an even more complex array of different types of information. Not only does complexity, like entropy, continually increase; it is then made worse by the use of an assortment of different systems to create, manage and use the information. The result is that information is locked in silos, where it cannot be shared or cross-referenced, requiring the maintenance of a number of individual software applications and the corresponding skills simply in order to make the information accessible.

The consequences are always costly and often potentially hazardous.

Delays in finding and verifying relevant information can lead to excessive downtime, both planned and unplanned.

Maintenance teams not only take longer than necessary to perform their tasks, but may also be at risk if the information they work with is incomplete, inaccurate or hard to find.

KPIs may be misleading if their source information is incomplete or unreliable, leading to poor decision making and suboptimal asset operation.

The asset’s operating licence could be at risk if regulatory compliance cannot be readily and adequately demonstrated.

Overcoming this problem requires three closely-related capabilities. First, it must be possible to ‘unlock’ the silos so that the entire information asset becomes readily accessible and inconsistencies between corresponding data held in different systems can be highlighted.

Second, it must be possible to validate all information against defined criteria so that it is of known quality. Ideally, of course, it should all be 100% complete, consistent and accurate; in practice, not all information necessarily needs to be. With the right tools, one can adopt the Pareto principle to prioritise the validation of information according to its importance, ensuring that critical information is fully trustworthy, and flagging less critical information for a managed programme of validation, or as requiring validation before first use.

Third, it must be possible to access this vast and complex information asset in an intuitive manner. This is where 3D has moved out of the design office to add value across all aspects of asset operation. People – and especially engineers – understand most easily by seeing pictures; where these pictures are actually navigable 3D models of the asset with which they work every day, it becomes much easier to understand the context of information.

Technology now provides such capabilities, the business value of which it can be hard to overstate. Just a few hours of lost production can cost far more than the technology does, and what might failing a regulatory audit cost in fines, temporary shutdown or loss of licence? Not surprisingly, leading oil and gas companies have been quick to appreciate this, and users of AVEVA’s Asset Visualisation solution have reported significant operational performance gains. Often this is because, once in use, companies quickly find additional ways to exploit the technology; its ease of use empowers individuals to find new ways to improve their working methods.

Figure 1. Colour coded 3D visual reporting of plant equipment status during project execution.

Easy to deploy

A common concern is that adding yet another software solution to an existing mixed environment of deeply-embedded and legacy systems would simply make the problem worse. This need not be the case. An essential feature of the AVEVA solution is that it should be non-invasive and capable of being deployed over any existing suite of systems. Priceless asset data – and it is priceless, even where it may be of poor quality – is not compromised but, rather, made available to the solution. Users with established CMMS installations or archives of AutoCAD drawings can not only continue to use them, but can actually improve the quality of the information stored in them.

This is achieved through the use of a range of standard interfaces or ‘Gateways’ that link the various information silos to the central information hub. These can be selected according to the customer’s particular mix of existing systems and are readily configured during deployment. A typical deployment may require Gateways for 2D drawings, 3D models, XML data, digital and scanned documents, real time process data, and so on. Information standards are also configured so that, as information is submitted through the Gateways, it is validated against the applicable standards and either accepted, rejected or quarantined for the resolution of any errors or inconsistencies.

At the same time, intelligent document scraping identifies discrete data items within documents and drawings and creates tag-based cross-referencing of related information. Together, automatic validation and cross-referencing create a contextualised information asset of high and, importantly, known quality.

Easy to use

We are all familiar with information context; this is what we experience when browsing the Web and clicking links to navigate between related items of information. An asset visualisation solution takes this concept a step further, enabling a 3D model to be extensively hyperlinked. A typical scenario might be an engineer investigating a security guard’s report of a leaking pump. The guard simply reported the location, so the engineer first calls up the 3D model view of the facility and navigates to the location. Having found the pump, a mouse hover immediately shows its tag number and links to related information, such as its maintenance history, recorded duty cycle, etc. It may even be possible to view the real time vibration signature.

Other information views can bring up, for example, all pumps of the same type, any relevant complete, in-progress or planned Work Orders, maintenance procedures or spares inventory. Where the system is deployed enterprise-wide, one can even correlate corresponding information across multiple assets to identify any trends. Perhaps a similar pump on another asset had a history of leakage and the corrective action can be reviewed for relevance to this instance.

In practice, the most popular use cases for the technology are well understood and the solution comes with a suitable range of dashboard views to meet these. However, it is easy to reconfigure them or to create new aggregations of information views to meet specific or evolving requirements.

Figure 2. Applying intelligence to photorealistic laser scans enables users to make accurate 3D measurements and for objects to be hotspotted with links to associated information.

Handling legacy

The value of being able to navigate around a 3D model of the physical facility is considerable, but many older plants may not have 3D models at all. Where they do, the models may no longer accurately reflect their current as-operating condition.

While there are good arguments for remodelling an as-operating asset, a useful intermediate step is to make use of a 3D laser scan. This can be used for creating a native 3D CAD model but can also be used directly in an asset visualisation solution. Hotspots can be applied to parts of the 3D scan that represent individual tagged objects. The quality of laser model rendering is now photorealistic, enabling a user to carry out a convincing virtual walk-down, pausing to interrogate hotspotted objects simply by ‘touching’ them. Recent advances in laser scanners have dramatically increased both performance and affordability, making the acquisition and maintenance of a full scan of an asset a valuable part of an asset management strategy. There is also now a wide choice of scan service providers; however, one should look for those with particular expertise in plant scanning to achieve a satisfactory result.

Another common concern is that of technology obsolescence; many companies find themselves burdened with at least one system that was heavily customised by its original vendor, who has since gone out of business. Few wish to repeat the experience. A well-designed asset visualisation solution should require no, or very little, customisation to deploy or to subsequently adapt to evolving needs. This is why the AVEVA solution is built up from standardised ‘building block’ elements that can be readily configured, or subsequently added to or reconfigured as requirements change.

The business case

Operator justifications for deploying an asset visualisation solution fall into the following categories:

  • To create a portal into their information assets to both characterise the quality of information owned and to reduce its access time in support of operational processes.
  • To eliminate or reduce the discrepancies between as-designed asset information and its true current as-operating equivalent.
  • To establish a reliable engineering baseline before a major turnaround project.
  • To facilitate the capture of brownfield data when working with information engineering partners.
  • To establish an Information Management foundation for the long-term development of upper-decile business process efficiency.

In practice, although any one of these may be the initial objective, users quickly identify opportunities to achieve the others. The solution thus becomes a strategic enabling asset that supports long-term objectives and removes limitations to agile responses to emerging business opportunities. 

Written by Rick Standish, AVEVA Solutions, UK. Edited for web by Cecilia Rehn.

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