Unleash the full potential of Plant Design Systems

During the 1980s, traditional drafting tables were gradually replaced by plant design systems running on CAD workstations. Nowhere was this more true than in the offices of the companies doing engineering of the oil platforms in the North Sea. Interdisciplinary coordination and checking could then be based on a common electronic 3D model instead of general arrangement drawings and plastic models. This was a revolution that changed the way these large and very complex projects were executed. All designers could now see the latest changes done by fellow designers in the same area, and electronic clash checks could detect and report any conflicts between objects.

Picture: Courtesy of AVEVA Solutions Ltd. Copyright 2015

The objects in the model had not only a graphical representation, as in the drawings, but also attribute which made it possible to report weights and materials directly from the model. All this made it possible to shorten the engineering phase of a project, reduce the man hours and increase the quality of the drawings and other information used to build the platforms.

The Norsok initiative was launched in 1993 with the ambition to reduce the cost of development and operation of new platforms by 50%. One of the results of this work was that EPC (Engineering, Procurement and Construction) became a common contract form for new platforms. When the same contractor had the responsibility for all phases of a project, it created an increased focus on how the information flow between the different phases of a project could be improved, and how the data entered by engineering could better be utilised in the construction phase. This led to a large number of improvements of both the tools and work processes.

When we look at the development of the plant design tools and the ways they have been used during the last 10 years, we do not see the same rapid development within the offshore industry that we did in the early years. Perhaps plant design systems have been regarded as mature technology, and that further improvements would only give minor business benefits. However, with the recent drop in oil prices every stone is being turned to save costs, and once more we are seeing an increased focus on how efficient plant design systems can contribute to cost savings. Users of a Plant Design System in a large company may in total spend 1mill hours per year - building, changing, checking and extracting data from 3D models. A 25% increase in efficiency would mean that the same work could be done with 250.000 less man-hours. Increasing the efficiency of these systems can definitively generate considerable cost savings.

The obvious place to start in order to unleash the full potential of these systems is to upgrade to the latest generation. AVEVA claims that their new E3D system will yield increased design efficiency of up to 20% compared with PDMS, while some companies that have done this migration report even higher figures. But notably, the same companies also report that proper training of the users is required to realise the increased efficiency. Training is an area which is too often neglected and we see that new functionality available in upgraded software versions is not utilised. Users continue to use the system in the same way they were taught many years ago, and do not benefit from the investments done by the vendor in order to improve the efficiency.

Drawing production is another area with a large potential for savings. Why are traditional drawings which are very difficult to produce automatically still needed when the information on the drawings is available in the database? Would it not be better if each user of the information on the drawings could get access to an approved and released 3D model or easily extract a report with graphics, including only the information he or she needs? The industry itself has a job to do to reduce the requirement for traditional drawings, but the SW vendors also have a challenge to develop automatic extraction of those drawing types that are actually needed. Drawings are just another representation of information in the 3D model, so why is manual work required when computers could do it much faster?

A large number of hours are still spent by the engineering companies remodelling equipment which has already been designed by external vendors, in mechanical CAD systems. To be able to efficiently import design developed in other CAD systems would save hours and increase quality.

These are just a few examples of improvements which in total could generate considerable savings for a field development project. I believe that 25% is achievable for many companies even with today’s technology, and with further development of the plant design systems in areas which make it easier to exchange data and automate parts of the design process the potential is even higher.

Frontica has a team of 25 experts on plant design systems, some with more than 25 years of experience. Our customers are regarded as some of the most advanced users of these systems globally, and we have supported them with the implementation, configuration and customisation of their plant design systems. We have contributed to the way the use of 3D models has changed field development projects, and we are looking forward to contribute to the further changes required to unleash the full potential of this technology.


Written by Rune Vassdal, Service Delivery Manager in Frontica