Are work processes and high-quality design software the key to mega project success?

Are work processes and highquality design software the key to mega project success

(Guest blog by Pieter Dubbelman)

We are in the era of mega projects – these days, projects involving multiple participants from all parts of the globe are the norm.

However, along with these mega projects come mega problems. According to an Ernst & Young survey, two-thirds of all these projects suffer cost overruns, and four out of every five face schedule delays. Alarmingly, the survey also found that 86 percent of cost overruns are caused by factors within the control of those executing the project – for example, people, organisation, governance, management processes, contracting and procurement strategies.

Challenges for engineers

By their very nature, mega projects are complex, with multiple moving parts where changes are constantly required. Engineering software has been designed to help deal with the complexity and changes – these systems potentially offer enormous benefits, but the reality is that to harness these benefits there needs to be an adjustment in work processes.

Today, we use procedures that were developed in a time when software was not available as a tool for automation. There have obviously been some adjustments to these procedures, but there is still a reluctance to change. We have to empathize with the engineers as this change is not without risk and does mean a lot of effort. There are two main reasons why EPCs are reluctant to change when it comes to looking at existing work processes:

  1. Risk considerations: Engineers have been trained to minimize risk. Their core function is to ensure the facility has been constructed with safety and operability in mind. Engineering, Procurement and Construction companies (EPCs) have developed their knowhow on plant design and layout and the associated work practices over a number of decades.
  2. Lack of understanding of the benefits: Across the board in the EPC industry, I think there has been a lack of proper education about the benefits that engineering software and solutions can offer.  Vendors may have been too quick to sell the solution and oversee the implementation, then take a back seat until troubleshooting is required. There is a third, vital step that has been missing – ensuring that the EPC is using the solution properly, and that it is experiencing maximum benefits.

The 3D example

Take, for example, 3D design software. Many of today’s engineers qualified when engineering was performed in 2D on “separate” databases (drawings). At first this was done by hand, on paper this later changed to a CAD format, but essentially the concept of separate drawings representing the plant is today still present.

While most EPCs have made the move from 2D to 3D, for many companies the transition is not complete. They do not do the Original design in 3D, the layout is still done on 2D individual drawings. Changes are highlighted on drawings with revision clouds. Then communicated intra and extra discipline on plotplans and other drawings. The changes then need to be circulated and then manually transposed or updated. The 3D model is then also updated in a similar way (actually requiring additional work).

Unified 3D model (collaboration)

What has been misunderstood is that if all original layout or design is done directly in the 3D environment, then much of this manual communication and changes are automatically seen and updated by all in the model. It’s a brilliant collaboration tool, across all disciplines! It’s like having one massive drawing compared with thousands of separate drawings representing the same thing.

So while there is some understanding at a high level of the benefits of 3D design software, often engineers will push back as they do not always trust the data created by the system. It’s the old story of garbage in means garbage out. For a 3D implementation to be successful, it’s vital that the reference data is high quality. So when an item is placed in the 3D model its representation (i.e. dimensions shape, description, properties cog, weight) are correct. The engineer needs to have confidence in the output before they will forego the checking. To set this in place requires a higher quality Front End Loading.

Benefits of 3D for engineers

Moving to a single 3D environment will boost accuracy and efficiency for engineers in three main ways:

  1. Automation of many mundane processes and tasks
  2. Solid collaboration platform between departments
  3. A reduction in inefficient change management

Benefits for management

For EPC senior management, there are two main benefits of complete 3D adoption:

  1. Reduced risk in lump sum turnkey project delivery: An increasing number of owners want EPCs to deliver on this basis, rather than a reimbursable arrangement. With automated processes you will be able to minimize work hours and have a high degree of confidence that the project will be delivered at the agreed price, which will in turn maximise your profit margin.
  2. Procurement and construction benefits:: The earlier 3D is embraced in the work cycle, the more benefits your will experience around standardization, modularization and traceability of materials during procurement and construction. Again, this will have a positive effect on profitability as factors such as over- or under-ordering, wastage and loss of materials will be kept to a minimum. This high quality environment can then also be re-purposed and used downstream for procurement planning, procurement operation, construction planning and progress where traceability is vital to project success.

What’s next for EPCs?

Let’s compare ourselves to other industries where there have been massive gains in productivity, and huge reductions in risk – for example, the aircraft and motor industries. I truly do believe there is a lot of scope for improvement in our industry, however it will mean some adjustment to work processes. To that end, we here at Intergraph have recently launched a program for our EPC customers in Asia-Pacific called Engineering Advantage, which is focused on working with EPCs to achieve a result where maximum benefit is achieved from our solutions. This is very much a partnership. This includes areas such as harnessing the full power of your 3D design solution, Materials Management and Construction Planning, Operational Readiness, Commissioning and all the way through to operation of the plant.

If this is of interest to you and you would like to discuss further, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

About the author:

Pieter Dubbelman Account Management Consultant at Intergraph PPM

Pieter Dubbelman is Intergraph PP&M’s Asia-Pacific EPC consultant and has over 20 years’ experience associated with Intergraph’s toolset. He is responsible for assisting our EPC customers with a focus on the work procedures and practices associated with implementing our software. Pieter worked for EPCs and owners in South Africa and the Netherlands before he moved to Australia early in 1997 as PDS co-ordinator on the Olympic Dam Project. After joining Intergraph in 1998, his focus was on project delivery using Intergraph design and materials management tools, providing a solid base for business development and later account management within Intergraph. He has been responsible for various initiatives over the years, amongst them mining and materials handling capabilities in Smart 3D.