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Disrupt Existing Assets With Digital Twins

EP Editorial Staff | May 12, 2021

When developing a digital twin of an existing facility, systematically connect engineering data from the plant as it stands today. Laser scanning will quickly and accurately create or verify the 3D model, which has likely changed from its original design.

Data-centric engineering and sharing project information in the cloud enable value-added digital-twin creation for successful capital maintenance and brownfield projects.

By Vanessa Erickson, AVEVA

Throughout the past ten years, brownfield and greenfield capital-expenditure projects have become more complex and challenging due to factors such as ever-changing environmental, societal, and governmental (ESG) standards and requirements,
increased end-product specialization, and a move toward larger, more distributed global project teams.
As a result, industrial capital projects are commonly delivered over budget and beyond the originally planned project schedule by an average of 20 months or more.

Add to that the typical project design-and-execution approach that involves the use of outdated technologies and methodologies, disconnected systems and tools, siloed working with lack of data integration, and duplicity in data creation, and an industry ripe (and ready) for change is revealed.

As the industrial sector emerges from the global pandemic with a much clearer view of the future process-plant market requirements, operators and their engineering, procurement, and construction (EPC) contractors have doubled down on implementing digital transformation to build the plant of the future.

Age Doesn’t Matter

The digital twin of a plant digitally captures the as-is version of the physical plant and can help generate the necessary insights to drive savings; improve safety, sustainability and productivity; and enhance the overall asset life cycle.

As companies adjust to new market demands and shift to cleaner operations and more sustainable endproducts, the majority of the capital projects that will be delivered in the next few years are planned for existing, aging, or operational assets.

Unlike on a greenfield (or net-new) project, when forming a digital twin on an existing (brownfield) asset, data will already be in place from original design and construction. There are likely years of operational and maintenance data to consider as well.

All of this data is commonly spread across disparate systems, in multiple versions, and may even be conflicting. When it is aggregated and contextualized, it becomes a strong foundation for creating the asset’s digital twin.

Greenfield vs. Brownfield

On an existing operational asset, two critical factors will help you get the most out of your digital twin. The first is to systematically connect engineering data from the plant as it stands today. Laser scanning the physical plant is particularly useful to quickly and accurately create or verify the 3D model, which has likely changed from its original design. It’s ideal to also incorporate all available process-simulation data, material and equipment specs, and construction and fabrication vendor data, as well as any operational data collated over time. This will provide a contextualized understanding of your plant and how it behaves.

The second critical success factor is to deploy on a secure cloud platform. This makes verified, up-to-date asset data accessible to internal teams and external contractors around the world. Aggregating asset data into a cloud platform is like connecting the dots between related information from different places. It aligns all teams around a single source of truth no matter where they are based in the world. This provides faster and more precise decision-making capabilities and reduces the possibility of expensive errors at the end of the project.

Lack of data integrity or access to trusted data can be disastrous. This is especially true for brownfield and maintenance projects, with costly consequences when planned operations are expected to be resumed and do not happen. Worse, it could become a factor in missed regulatory compliance issues or future safety incidents.   

Putting data at the center of your asset strategy disrupts the way all project and operations stakeholders work and collaborate. Efficiency gains from this approach translate to 10% to 15% savings on the total installed cost of a typical capital project.

Integrated Asset Data

Whether executing a project or gathering project data to form a digital twin, the approach remains the same. A strongly integrated approach to the technologies that create and use your data is crucial. This should include process simulation, equipment lists, piping-and-instrumentation diagrams, and the 3D model, as well as vendor, procurement, and construction information. This data-centric strategy minimizes leakages from offline collaboration, reduces the time spent finding and verifying data, and provides deeper understanding of processes that would otherwise stand alone in the legacy, disparate approach. Integrating the engineering and project data is, in effect, the first form of a digital twin.

Once you have the foundation of your digital twin in place, you can easily layer in advanced operations-efficiency programs such as operator training simulators (OTS), visual asset-performance management (APM), and other maintenance predictability programs throughout the asset lifecycle.

By its nature, creating an integrated digital twin of your plant generates these project and operational benefits:

• Project teams have full visibility of required data with all relevant context in one central location.

• Sharing data, specifications, and standards reduces risk of costly errors and rework.

• Teams can focus time on critical tasks instead of data management.

• Capital project status updates can be determined instantaneously using progression of the data.

• Communication and collaboration improvements can be seen throughout the project.

• Overall transparency is improved in terms of anticipating downtime, productivity loss, delays, and overruns.

• Technology deployment times are much faster using the cloud, i.e., from months to as little as a week.

• Operational-efficiency programs, such as Asset Performance Management and Machine Learning become effective options.

Incorporating project and asset data into your digital-twin strategy creates transparency through digital tools and real-time data sharing. This transparency will inform and expedite decision making, drive project efficiency, and reduce risk while simultaneously enhancing future enterprise operations.

Putting data at the center of your asset strategy disrupts the way all project and operations stakeholders work and collaborate. When data is continuously shared to the core of a digital twin as it is generated and all documents and reports are created from the latest version of that data, the insights you extract can help you make informed decisions quickly and with complete confidence. The efficiency gains from this approach translate to 10% to 15% savings on the total installed cost of a typical capital project.

Don’t downgrade your digital-transformation aspirations for existing and legacy assets. With access to powerful technology and the right partners, a digital twin is well within reach, no matter the age of your plant. Potential future benefits are significant. EP

Vanessa Erickson, Capital Project Portfolio Expert at AVEVA, Cambridge, UK (aveva.com), is primarily responsible for thought leadership and customer engagement to enable reduced risk and drive greater efficiency and profitability for AVEVA’s owner/operator and EPC customers involved in capital-expenditure engineering and project execution. In the past 13 years, she has held regional and global customer-facing roles delivering transformational technology, construction, and fabrication solutions for a variety of industries.

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