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Digital Twins: Promoting project performance

Digital twins are increasingly being deployed during the project phases of the facility lifecycle. In this second episode of the podcast series, “Digital Twins: The gateway to autonomous industrial facilities”, produced in partnership with Petroleum Economist, we discuss how the digital twin provides benefits during the project phase. 

BK: Hello and welcome to this special podcast brought to you by Hexagon. My name is Brian, and in this second episode of the podcast series Digital Twins: The gateway to autonomous industrial facilities—together with Adrian Park, vice president of presales; and Hans Kouwer, director of industry consulting, both with Hexagon’s Asset Lifecycle Intelligence Division—we discuss how digital twin platform ensures the handover of a high quality digital twin for operations purposes and provides benefits during the project phase.

This podcast series is created in partnership with Petroleum Economist and also broadcasts on PE Live Podcasts. Also, this conversation is moderated by Karolin Schaps, a regular contributor to Petroleum Economist. Thank you so much for listening and we hope you enjoy this episode.

KS: Welcome to this PE Live podcast, the second one in our series called Digital Twins-The Gateway to Autonomous Industrial Facilities, in association with Hexagon. I’m Karolin Schaps, energy journalist and contributor to Petroleum Economist. And I’m joined again today by Hexagon experts Adrian Park and Hans Kouwer to talk about digital twins, how they can help promote project performance.

Hello to both of you. Thanks again for joining us.

AP: Thank you, Karolin. It’s good to be back.

HK: Hey, Karolin. Also, nice to be here again.

KS: Adrian is Hexagon’s vice president for pre-sales in the EMIA region and has over 40 years of experience working in the process industries and joined Hexagon 16 years ago. Hans Kouwer is Hexagon’s director of industry consulting in the EMIA region and has over 30 years of experience in the process industry with half of those spent at Hexagon.

So today we’re talking about digital twins and how they can help promote project performance. And while most digital twin implementations today are really focused on operations and maintenance use cases, digital twins are also increasingly being deployed during the planning, design, and execution phases of the facility lifecycle. So, in this podcast, we will discuss how the digital twin platform ensures the handover of a high quality digital twin for operational purposes and also provides benefits during the project phase.

That’s a really interesting topic to be delving into. Let’s have a look at why we’re actually going to be talking about this topic today. Adrian, why do you think it’s important to talk about the role of digital twins in the project phase?

AP: Well, Karolin, we see that many digital twin implementations today are either focused solely on the operations part of the facility lifecycle or they’re implemented on projects where the primary focus is largely to prepare the information to hand over to operations rather than gaining benefits from the digital twin during the project execution phase itself. We at Hexagon we see the digital twin as a platform that delivers value both to the project phase and operations phase of the facility lifecycle. In a later episode in this podcast series, we’re going to be focusing on the operations part of the lifecycle. But what we’d like to do today is focus on the benefits of the digital twin converting to the project phase, including the handover to operations.

KS: And Hans, maybe you could elaborate on what aspects of a digital twin are particularly important to bringing benefits to project execution.

HK: Sure, Karolin. Well, digital twins, they provide a platform for project collaboration and for incrementally building the digital twin throughout the project phase. So, they provide a common data environment where the data can be captured, consolidated and contextualised to provide transparency of what’s happening on the project. So, the digital twin should be able to show the information in context according to a user’s role. So, this can be either information that’s and especially in the digital twin itself or information that’s pulled on demand from external systems such as data historians or transactional systems such as control work systems, material management systems, product scheduling systems and many other systems.

So, showing information in context on what we call a single pane of glass to enable remedial action as appropriate to deal with the issues identified. So, if we treat as a basis, visual intelligence reporting can provide a multidimensional reporting with 4D, so time, and 5D, costs and so on. So, visibility can be provided, for example, about the procurement status of materials, by the materials having been requisitions, purchased, delivered or installed.

KS: That’s interesting. So, you mentioned that digital twins provide a platform for project collaboration.

Adrian, could you tell us a little bit more about how that works?

AP: Yes, Karolin. So digital twins in the project phase ideally should provide a secure platform for the sharing and exchange of information across the complete project value chain. So, for example, the owner themselves, the contractors, subcontractors and even authorities potentially as well. We see the digital twin not only as a passive repository, but having said that, you know, it does have a value as a repository, a single consolidated source of truth for the project. But we see additional value can be gained by leveraging the digital twin as an active platform to execute key work processes. To give one example, where deliverables need to be reviewed and these need to be submitted, then routed automatically in the digital twin to workflow and electronic distribution matrix to the correct recipients in order to be able to comment, mark up and then consolidate those comments before sending them back to the originator.

Now we see that this process alone can dramatically reduce the cycle time for document use, reduce the number of revisions that need to be submitted and help avoid project delays.

HK: Yeah. Perhaps in addition to that, Adrian, also security is an important aspect of using a digital twin for collaboration. So common contractual standards, they should only get access to their own deliverables plus other information that they are specifically provided access to for interface purposes, for example. So, there’s also avoids contractors accessing and working with outdated information and a project itself. So, all parties to a project accesses the same single source of truth.

AP: That’s right, Hans. And you know, of a collaboration process typically leverage the digital twin in projects, include things like technical queries. You know, some people call those request information, which can be routed within and between organisations. Action tracking is another example. Interface management can also be useful included in the digital twin platform and by referencing between those objects and timely documents and other objects in between, were able to enable traceability of those processes.

KS: I think it’s interesting you mention documents here. I thought that’s the whole idea behind digital twins, that everything will be digital and has no more need for documents. Could you explain a bit more what you meant by that?

HK: Yeah, of course. Yes, yeah, yeah. Well, we still see documents still being an important component of the digital twin today. And we also see that 40 years to come. And you are correct, that many documents can now be eliminated by generating reports from intelligent engineering tools, for example. So like layouts, generation, drawings, isometrics, they can all be generated from the 3D model and look drawings, wiring, diagrams, single diagrams can, for example, be generated from instruments and electrical applications. However, there is and continue to be for the foreseeable future, a large volume of funded documents and others that will continue to be managed. So therefore, we have chosen to include a comprehensive and native document management and control capability fully integrated within our digital twin offering.

KS: And within the oil and gas industry digital twins are still fairly new. So could you maybe just explain to our audience what needs to be done to implement a project for a digital twin?

AP: Yes, Karolin, you’re right. Successful implementation of a digital twin on a project requires far more than simply procuring a digital twin technology platform. Firstly, some sort of digital twin specification is required to define the scope of the digital twin to be implemented. For example, is the digital twin solely focused on the physical twin of the facility? Is it a process twin to be included or integrated? Is really to reduce spatial time. What sort of interfaces with other systems in the IT landscape are needed? What is the scope of the data to include data required, just operations or data also that is needed for project execution purposes? So, the responsibility is split between the contractor or contractors and the operator for delivering the digital twin also needs to be defined.

HK: And the scope of the information to be handed over at each project milestone and especially from the project to operations that has to be defined, right? So, for handover operations, many owners are increasingly adopting the C4 standard. And C4 stands for capital facilities information handover specification. But typically, owner specific additions are required as well as additional data to support the project execution.

AP: Yeah. And requirements and specifications also need to be correctly included within contracts, including, for example, specifying that individuals with knowledge and experience should be appointed with responsibility for delivering the digital twin. The owner should have the right to audit the preparation of deliverables of the contractors premises and alike to validate and verify those deliverables. What must be delivered and when and how needs to be defined or the data’s going to be handed over as batch files or through some sort of API based data transfer also needs to be defined. And we also need to make sure what we can get if required incremental deliverables. So, yeah, there are many different aspects to consider when implementing a digital twin on a project.

KS: You mentioned that validation and verification of deliverables and extracting data is still needed. Could you elaborate how much of this process is manual versus automated in a digital twin environment?

HK: Sure. Yeah. First of all, it’s fundamentally important that the incoming information from contractors and suppliers is validated before it’s loaded into the digital twin itself. So, the approach that we take here is that all information, no matter from what source it’s coming, is first loaded into the solutions staging area. And in the staging area it’s validated before it’s actually being loaded and made available for the other users and to the digital platform. So, the process of validation is automated and the rules use can be automatically generated from the configuration or the digital token itself. So, when a digital twin is set up, rules about, for example, naming conventions, mandatory data, relationship cardinality, checklists, units of measures and many more are automatically defined. So, these rules can be reused to validate the incoming data automatically.

In addition, business rules can be easily defined by IT specialists. For example, a rule that maximum origin pressure cannot exceed the maximum design pressure, for example. So those rules can then be designated as errors or warnings. So, any data in error will not be passed for loading to the digital twin. Data with warnings, however, will be loaded and a validation report is then used as a basis for correction and later for resubmission of the collected data.
So at the early stages of a project there are rule sets used will typically not be astringent as later on in the project. So, they will have more warnings and less errors than the rules that’s used at later stages in the project.

And as regards of data extraction, we typically run drawings through a data extraction process and we can strip attacks on a drawing and data from title blocks if needed. So, this process also generates multiples on the documents under drawings for navigation purposes so that a user can navigate to a document or drawing and from there to other documents or a 3D model or a laser scan or any other data inside the digital twin.

KS: And Adrian, I’m wondering whether there’s a difference in implementing digital twins on greenfield or brownfield projects.

AP: Well, Karolin, I think the answer to that is both yes and no, because whilst the overall principles in each of the digital twin are the same, brownfield projects introduce an additional level of complexity in the data and documentation for these parts. An existing facility typically need to be loaded into a digital twin as a basis for the work to be undertaken.

Now the quality of data coming from the existing facility may be variable and the digital twin has to be able to cope with that sort of situation. For example, typically you have to be able to accept tag and document names that don’t comply with the syntax rules that apply for the new project. And the numbering system must be able to allocate time and document numbers and in some case even fill gaps in the existing sequences as the high sequence number has already been taken. So, I think we can continue doing brownfield projects can pose some additional challenges, but many of the principles are the same.

KS: So, Hans, does that then mean that it makes more sense to begin a digital twin project at an earlier stage? Is that more beneficial?

HK: Yes, absolutely. A digital twin should be established as early as possible, so ideally already during the conceptual engineering phase. So, the reason for this is to ensure that the data is captured at an early stage. It’s validated and ensured that the data and documentation doesn’t necessarily need to be recreated again because of optimal handoffs between the project stages. So, for example, from the conceptual to the basic engineering to the detail design to the construction and then to completion. So yeah, we still see projects where information must be unnecessarily recreated between those projects phases, and that leads to increasing costs and likelihood of error because handover hasn’t been made that efficiently between those phases.
KS: That’s interesting. And with that, I also wonder since during the design phase of a project, there’s lots of different information sources coming from various different contractors and people being involved in the project. How do you ensure that there is data consistency in these projects going forward?

AP: Well, Karolin, what we do is that we load data from different sources, disciplines, contractors, vendors, etc. into different areas within the digital twin, and then we’re able to highlight inconsistencies. To give you an example of how this might be shown as four inch looking ID but six inch in the 3D model. We’re able to capture that inconsistency and highlight it for resolution. We’ve encountered examples of where that sort of simple inconsistency cheque can save over $1,000,000, just one single instance. So, it is a very valuable capability.

Similarly, we have reports that can cheque if all the expected document types have been delivered for a tag and highlight where expected documentation appears to be missing. For example, we would normally expect all instruments to be present on at least one ID. If an instrument is not present on any ID, then the question arises is our instrument still valid? Has it been incorrectly identified or missed on the IDs? So that’s another capability we have.

And another aspect of ensuring consistency between contractors and venders is this automated allocation of document numbers, tag numbers, and other object identifications within the digital twin. This shows that all numbers are allocated correct according to a syntax defined in the owner’s engineering specification and are unique. If required, as I mentioned before, we can actually fill in existing numbering sequences and that can be important, particularly on brownfield facilities, where the highest sequence number has already been taken.

KS: And what benefits exactly can a digital twin bring during the construction and completions phase of a project?

HK: Okay. Yeah, well, digital twins can support the fast work packaging process and show the status of materials, whether they’re requisitions procured, delivered and installed. So, this information, together with information of constraints such as trade capacity, drainage availability, can be used to optimise the construction sequencing and help to reduce waste.

And one capability that we have implemented in our digital twin platform is the ability to compile electronic data books for compile documents such as generator books, fabrication record books, manufacturing record books and systems operating manual. So, these can also be used to hold commissioning data books about the details of inspection results, analysts, certificates and any carry over work to operations.

AP: And, Hans, maybe I could just answer that. You know, one other possibility is that digital twins can be extended in a reduced spatial dimension, which enables us then to track the positioning of work in vehicles. And this information can be used to ensure that workers, for example, do not accidentally enter areas where they shouldn’t go and potentially send messages to their mobile devices to warn them if you actually do go into an area which is restricted where they shouldn’t have access. In addition, workers can be equipped these days with environmental health sensors that measure things like ambient temperatures, lighting. They can include accelerometers, which can detect slips, trips and falls. And to some extent, we can also pick up the danger of repetitive strain injury and even fatigue. This data can be captured and alerts raised. So, in the case where we think workers are at risk, for example, possible trip, slip, and fall, we can contact the worker to cheque that all is well and whether the worker requires any assistance or even a break.

KS: And as you mentioned in your introduction, digital twins in the project phase are frequently also used as a mechanism to transfer information to operations. Could you elaborate a bit on what you meant there?

HK: Yeah, absolutely. So digital twins are frequently used for operational readiness purposes. So, this includes the handover of information to operations, but potentially includes much, much more. So, prior to hand over to operations the access to the latest available information can be used for worker familiarisation and to prepare training materials for operations, so for example. And the information from those can be used to calculate spare parts needed for operations and to optimise space holdings across the facility. Engineering information and other data can be used to prepare maintenance plans prior to start of operations so that maintenance schedules are well established before operations commences.

And as regards the handover of information to operations itself, this can be a major undertaking that can cost anywhere between one and 4% of the total project costs. So, with an integrated project and operations twin, handover can be managed seamlessly with no data move, just changing the ownership to the data and a digital twin. So, data can be handed over incrementally within the platform as commissioning is completed and responsibility for care, custody and control is handed over from a project to operations.

KS: That’s really interesting. And thank you both for your elaborate answers here on all things digital twins. I think it’s been a fascinating discussion as always.

Thank you for joining us again, Adrian and Hans.

AP: Thank you very much indeed, Karolin. It was a pleasure and look forward to the next episode.

HK: Yes, thank you, Karolin. It was a pleasure talking to you. Thank you.

KS: And thank you, everybody for listening to this episode. Don’t forget to subscribe to PE Live Podcast to get notifications of the next episode in the series about digital twins as well as to access our previous episodes on demand. Thank you very much.