Comment: The challenge of change

Rafi Hattar of Hexagon PPM discusses how modern software can be used to effectively tackle the change-management challenges that are faced by many owner-operators

Hexagon PPM's Rafi Hattar.
Hexagon PPM's Rafi Hattar.

Rafi Hattar of Hexagon PPM discusses how modern software can be used to effectively tackle the change-management challenges that are faced by many owner-operators.

All oil and gas plants and facilities are subject to continual change – technologies evolve, turnarounds are executed, modification and upgrade projects take place, and yet the facilities themselves – and the information that describes them – are often not consistently updated in line with these changes, creating challenges for the effective and safe operation of the facility.

A recent study by Hexagon PPM showed that some of the biggest challenges met by owner-operators include the inability to find the necessary information for executing projects, and being able to determine whether or not this information is accurate and up-to-date. This is often due to lack of change management and traceability, as the companies don’t have an integrated approach to engineering information management. If you have 30 years’ worth of plant documentation in paper format scattered across the facility, it is no wonder that management of change (MOC) becomes a burdensome task.

Efficient change management

A paper-based approach does not allow the tracking and prevention of unauthorised changes, making maintaining an integrated information asset difficult. In addition, safety issues are often linked to the poor management of change, which has too often been a direct or indirect cause of major incidents, claiming lives and destroying facilities.

These issues have led to a growing focus from regulatory authorities on the MOC processes, and demands for demonstrable compliance with auditable traceability are continuously increasing.

Existing facilities are also often being operated for longer than was originally planned. In the worst-case scenario, extended lifetime, combined with poor traceability and insufficient processes, can lead to an increased risk of a facility losing its license to operate.

Managing change in an operating plant is a complex, safety-critical work process, where continuous changes need be managed. These changes often have to be controlled in parallel, if the same equipment is impacted by several changes. This can get complex quickly, as multiple alternative solutions to the proposed changes need to be managed simultaneously, and changes might be cancelled prior to implementation, or postponed for future turnarounds.

Executing these parallel activities in a manual, document-centric process can lead into erroneous decision-making that is based on incorrect or outdated data. The implications of this include extended plant downtime during the implementation of changes.

How can software help?

To address these challenges, owner-operators are searching for tools that offer the capability to maintain the dynamic engineering design basis, and integrate with other information systems. An example of such a solution is Hexagon PPM’s SmartPlant Enterprise for Owner-Operators, which  provides preconfigured work processes and out-of-the-box integration with operating systems, to provide major improvements for the management of a plant’s operational changes.

This integration between operating systems and engineering information management allows for the maintenance of the digital representation of the plant in an efficient and consistent way. Comprehensive solutions for capturing both unstructured and structured data – as well as data validation – ensure the transition from a manual, document-driven change process to a state-of-the-art electronic change process.

Creating a virtual representation of the existing asset

Often the existing engineering information and 3D plans of the facility might be insufficient, or completely missing. This makes any brownfield project challenging, as there is no way to ensure that the planned changes or upgrades will fit into the existing piping and space. To facilitate this, an increasing number of owners are using laser-scanning technology to capture the as-built information of their assets.

The whole process starts with surveying the plant with a laser scanner. Using the free Leica Truview software, the scan data is presented as a ‘point cloud’, in which each pixel has X, Y, and Z coordinates. This means that even without building a new 3D model, the point cloud can be used for measurements, and can be compared with existing computer-aided design (CAD) models of the plant.

Together with the photographs, the captured brownfield data and the point-cloud data make it possible to do a virtual walk-through of the plant, from one scanning station to another, and to take measurements. Based on this information, a virtual representation of the physical asset can be created, enabling owners to execute a data-centric approach to change management, and overcome many of the challenges related to manual processes: inaccuracy, lack of traceability, and a greater risk of errors.

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