Revolutionising Upstream Design Processes  with Digital Twins

By Valentijn de Leeuw, Vice-President, ARC Advisory Group

Ensuring that the design team and stakeholders work together is crucial at the start of any large capital project. Colla­bo­ration is essential when it comes to working with many different groups, partners, subcontractors, and interdepartmental personnel, as they work with multiple information sources and make numerous design changes as part of the review process. Failure in any of these work processes can result in costly mistakes when the handover is complete as the project moves into construction, and even more so as it moves into operations. Long project delays and subsequent operational downtime are expensive.

This scenario, which is typical among engineering firms, is one that NOV, Inc. wished to avoid. NOV, Inc., a global company headquartered in Ho­u­ston, Texas, delivers technology-driven solutions to the global energy industry, including solutions supporting digital and smart oilfield initiatives. The NOV Wellstream Processing division supplies equipment and solutions for all the activities NOV performs when separating and treating oil and gas as part of an upstream production facility.

This article examines how NOV overcame the problem of remote collaboration with a unified view of its federated data from multiple sources provided by PlantSight, the digital twin cloud-based service developed by Bentley Systems and Siemens to support distributed/remote collaborative processes and engineering 3D design and operations.

Solving the problem of remote collaboration 

Previously, NOV used Navisworks to share de­signs with fabricators or subcontractors since it was a widely used review application in the oil and gas sector and could accept multiple file for­mats. One of the main disadvantages of the platform was the inability to track changes and versions across disciplines. Therefore, identifying which model was the main “source of truth” proved difficult when there was more than one file being used. In addition, Navisworks uses sn­ap­shots of the design files, and keeping this information up to date is impossible. Further­more, sharing files can lead to security lapses since other parties could potentially extract information from them. The inability to bring the many discipline-specific models and files toge­ther for review to enable the design team to share information with all stakeholders around a single plant model and resolve issues quickly was a major challenge for NOV.

NOV overcame these problems by switching to PlantSight as the models for the project can be securely shared in the cloud with partners and are always kept up to date. PlantSight pulls the la­test in­formation in real time from the design tools, and changes are instantly fed back to the originating system, showing a complete audit trail of when a change was made, why, and by wh­om. The mode­ls are protected, and it is possible to control whi­ch parts of the project a partner or a client can see.

Solution selection and digitalisation

NOV had scanned the market and did not find any other tools with the same level of openness and flexibility as PlantSight. The capability to integr­a­te the digital twin solution with many other tools increased NOV’s confidence in the software. Al­rea­dy a user of Bentley’s OpenPlant design app­lication, NOV could seamlessly integrate their design review work processes between Open­Plant and PlantSight to take advan­tage of real-time change management, issue resolution, and clash detection features. As NOV was already familiar with Bentley applications, PlantSight ca­me at a relatively low cost, did not incur any ad­ditional training costs, and the transition would cause minimal disruption. One additional hurdle was convincing the management to switch to PlantSight as they were not involved with projects on a day-to-day basis. However, they realised and understood that it would be inefficient to create a digital twin using the old method of pulling together a review mo­del on a single system with everyone, then commenting on the overall design during a review meeting. The management was convinced of the digital twin solution due to the transformation they saw, the potential for savings, and the significant benefits of remote collaboration and real-time revie­ws. This proved advantageous wh­en the Covid-19 pandemic struck just after the start of the project, as PlantSight could help all project team members to collaborate from home while working si­mul­taneously on shared design information.

The overall transition to PlantSight from Navis­works was very smooth. After receiving a two-hour training course and participating in hands-on exercises, they began working on their projects faster with PlantSight.

Keeping the project on track

NOV was an early adopter of PlantSight, as they used it before it was officially released in 2019. Working alongside Bentley, NOV’s CAD manager and some key personnel worked on testing iterated versions of the solution to achieve acce­ptable new digital work processes. The project was able to remain close to the original schedule plan of about six months for the preparation and acceptance of new ways of working for their teams. While thinking big about digital transformation and digital twins, NOV decided it was best to first prove small. In controlled phases, NOV started its PlantSight implementation with a small group from the 3D layout department and associated personnel, making the transition easier to control. Process design and schematics was the next phase, which created further ease of use for piping designers as more information from the upstream design process was made available to them. Previously, the piping designers had to enter a lot of information manually to start their work. Now they could easily reference the existing layout information faster and in real time.

Cloud-based accessibility and security

When NOV went live with PlantSight, it moved from server-based to cloud-based software. The tra­nsition removed the limitations of specific de­si­gn files on local servers used by different disci­p­lines working independently, while also elimina­ting any inconsistencies and rework. With Plant­­Sight, the personnel can now work simultaneously on a single, large design, and are immediately no­tified when clashes are detected and ot­her iss­ues are highlighted. Since PlantSight is cl­o­ud ba­sed, personnel can access files remotely, wh­ere space, security and scalability is never a problem.

With the PlantSight digital twin service, NOV keeps information in one place, controls it in a si­ngle environment, keeps it consistently up to date, and makes all data sources accessible. For exa­mple, 3D design information, the attributes of pip­ing specifications, and installation notes for pi­p­ing are all visible and manageable from a web browser. Previously, if a piping manager wanted a piping layout report, it needed a piping designer. Now, the piping manager can use self-service dashboards and reports directly. Apart from being able to work faster, collaborate more effectively, and make design changes wherever they are, NOV personnel improved productivity by reducing in­terruptions and project waiting time. With two de­dicated resource personnel, NOV supports 100 engi­neers on projects, which typically have 20 contributors who do not require much assistance or support.

Future outlook

Cloud-based digital twins can quickly demonstrate the benefits of combining engineering, de­si­gn, build, construction, operations and mainte­n­a­nce data, including 3D representations and quality-related data. NOV has already benefited from remote and collaborative design reviews and qualification, overcoming common pitfalls such as unreliable information, manual processes, and an unclear line of sight across the design team. It has been able to improve its designs and resolve any issues and potential clashes early in the de­sign phase so that they do not become expensive problems during the construction or operational phase.

Moving forward, the digital twins in PlantSight are inspiring new ideas for products and processes within NOV. They can modify designs to include remote equipment, and operations can be monitored by feeding live data directly to the models for a complete picture of performance.

This article is taken from an original white paper by the ARC Advisory Group, in collaboration with Bentley Systems, titled “Early User Testimonials of the Cloud-Based PlantSight Collaborative Engineering Service”