Digital Plant, Houston

Digital Plant turned out (almost) to be a standards body get together with Fitech, ISO 15926 and the iRing prominent. The co-located VR Summit included a virtual shoot out between VR-Context, Dassault Systèmes’ Eon Reality. Dow Chemical-led panel debates the thorny data handover issue.

The 17th (and seemingly the last) Digital Plant event was held late last year in Houston. We already reported on Katherine Frase’s entertaining presentation of IBM’s Watson with its potential application of artificial intelligence to oilfield data. This was followed by presentations from plant IM vendors, offering an interesting contrast in marketing techniques.

Anne Marie Walters (Bentley) was exhaustive, rolling in the PointTools LIDAR/point cloud data acquisition, iPad apps for 3D model viewing, developed with Bluebeam’s Revu, SACS finite element modeler (another acquisition) and a ‘competition through collaboration’ paradigm focused on Bentley’s ISO 15926 OpenPlant. Joseph Krol made a more straightforward pitch for Siemens’ plant information management offering focusing on Comos, a database for all plant data. No mention at all of the XHQ operations intelligence platform—marketed by a separate division!

The ‘future technology’ roundtable heard from Tad Fry (Anheuser Busch) which is trying to rationalize its core software. The brewer has virtualized its tens of thousands of servers and moved to a thin client infrastructure—reducing its energy needs and costs by 50%.

Jorge Vanegas (Texas A&M) made a spirited attack on some obstacles to the roll out of new, ‘disruptive’ technologies. Knowledge custodians are often a barrier to information sharing. There is a need to ‘de-siloize’ the knowledge resource base—and particularly to open it up to academia. Moreover there is a whole generation of knowledge workers leaving industry who are ‘not allowed to teach’ and whose case histories are not available. Another sacred cow is the fixed schedule for classes which must be ‘totally obliterated.’ Vanegas cited Stanford’s global distributed teaching initiative as a ‘great success.’ .

The panel was invited to comment on their strategy for the ‘Cloud’ with some interesting results. For Ray Cline (formerly with SAIC, now at the University of Houston), ‘The Cloud model has been around for a long time, it is called ‘outsourcing.’ It is just about making data available to external stakeholders.’ Cline, a Dropbox fan, is skeptical about current implementations and suggests we ‘wait for Cloud 3.0.’ Siemens Ulrich Loewen was equally dismissive—putting the Cloud ‘somewhere between bastard and innovation.’ Collaboration is all very well but it is the process that drives IT (not vice versa) and the process needs to be improved. The debate turned to the use of smartphones, iPads and other devices in the enterprise. Annheuser-Busch lets employees bring in their personal devices which access a guest wireless system locked down with technology from Zachry. Zachry’s Todd Sutton observed that when the board of directors bring in their own devices, IT may not have much of a say in the matter. Siemens has a ‘very strict’ IT strategy at least in manufacturing. R&D may need more freedom. This can be a challenge to the younger generation which expects the latest technology.

Cliff Pedersen is CIO of the North West Redwater (NWR) partnership. NWR is active in the Alberta oil sands with an ambitious plan for a greenfield refinery that will convert bitumen directly to ultra low sulfur diesel fuel in a ‘one step’ upgrading process with CO2 capture and use in EOR. The plant will be built 45 km NE of Edmonton, Alberta over the next couple of years. Pedersen observed that the plant IM business is full of silos and that companies are still seeking the holy grail of a ‘single harmonious work environment.’ This presupposes software interoperability—missing from current operations and maintenance tools. Handover is still very problematical and is achieved at best with PDFs. ERP systems are ‘not connected to a damn thing.’ Today, the gap between ERP, real time, operations and maintenance is filled with custom ‘point to point’ software. What is needed is a data service bus transport offering federation rather than replication. Pedersen sketched out a bewildering standards landscape spanning engineering, procurement, construction and O&M. Pedersen’s analysis derived largely from BP’s Integrated Subsurface Information Systems project (Oil ITJ Jan 2007), a precursor to OpenO&M. A demonstrator of the NWR concept ran on the exhibition floor showing information exchange between IBM, Bentley, Aveva and CIEAM.

Rick Morneau, whose ‘VR Summit’ was co-located with Digital Plant had a good stab at estimating the dollar value of virtual reality on an FPSO. Savings accrue from a speedier first oil, from better uptime due to ‘just in time’ maintenance and from a better understanding of dependencies. It is puzzling why VR is not more used. A virtual reality shoot-out began with Marc de Buyl’s presentation of VR Context’s work for Total on the Pazflor FPSO, using its WalkInside simulator and data portal. The Pazflor training simulator includes metadata for three million objects along with photo realistic scenery and real time navigation. WalkInside has proved itself on Pazflor and will soon be deployed other Total assets. Harry Daglas took the stage to show Dassault Systèmes 3DVia, a VR system linked to plant and simulation data. An Exalead portal provides links to SAP. The system includes realistic scenes with water ripple, day/night, fire, smoke and a hand held flashlight for your avatar. But it was Dan Legerskar’s demo of Eon Reality’s ‘iCube’ VR cave that most impressed us, with its attention to detail in a VR walk around of a compressor station. Eon claims 160 installations of its iCube ‘Cave’ around world. With 3D projectors available for $800, there is ‘no excuse not to buy.’ Interaction is also getting cheaper—gesture-based valve control is now available with Microsoft’s Kinect. Even better is the iPhone with its onboard GPS/gyroscope combo providing plant situational awareness.

Dow Chemical CIO Jerry Gipson described a move away from proprietary tools to allow for information sharing with stakeholders, citing Fiatech as an example (Gipson is chair of the Fiatech board of advisors). The ISO 15926 standard has been delivered, the challenge now is execution.

Ryan Cormac has been investigating the role of process, systems and tools at Worley Parsons, (WP). WP delivers asset management services particularly for brownfield redevelopment through its ‘Improve’ offering. This is powered by an in house developed enterprise management system (EMS) including a risk-based framework for project execution and cost-time-resource analytics. The EMS embeds tools from Aspen, Aveva, Autodesk, Bentley, Integraph and Primavera. Palisade’s @Risk is used alongside Quest/Kbase for risked cost estimating. Cormac described the NISTIR 7259 Capital Facilities Information Guide as a good roadmap. He also referred to the NIST GCR 04-867 cost analysis of inadequate interoperability—although the EMS itself appears to show that interoperability may not be as big an issue as some pretend! Cormac concluded with a value triangle—showing that the main contribution to PMC project value was hosted information management (by WP, naturellement). In the Q&A Cormac was quizzed on post execution data handover. He observed that data handover should be limited to what is in scope. If the client only want documents, ‘there is no point in doing a big database project.’

The handover issue was the subject of a roundtable moderated by Dow Chemical’s Bob Donaho who opined that data handover may not be sexy but it is critical and is no longer about paper documents—but increasingly about re-use. Donaho referred to the Dow/Saudi Aramco Sadara (formerly Ras Tanura—Oil ITJ May 2010) as being on the ‘bleeding edge’ of standards-based asset lifecycle management. ‘It is a huge challenge to make this happen.’ More on the future of Digital Plant from TradeFair Group.

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