Unlocking lean methodologies in the plant industries

By Guest on 02 April 2014
Unlocking lean methodologies in the plant industries
This article was first published in the Spring 2014 issue of Prime

Even with today’s powerful engineering, design and information management software, capital engineering projects remain dogged by the commercial risks of cost and delivery overruns. Little wonder then that the plant industries have looked enviously at the benefits of lean manufacturing in the volume manufacturing sectors and sought in vain for the catalyst for their own lean revolution.

There are several fundamental reasons why lean manufacturing methods cannot simply be ported across to plant projects. Perhaps the most obvious is that each project is a one-off; it is simply not practical to build development prototypes or to run an R&D department to develop methods that cannot be amortised over a production run. The situation is only slightly improved where a series of similar plants are required, or where a modular design approach can be used. But frustratingly, the demand for ever-increasing complexity and speed of delivery are matched by wafer-thin margins. The hapless contractor is squeezed on both sides and looks for every opportunity to increase efficiency and reduce business risk.

Facing such pressures every day, it was not surprising to find industry delegates at the AVEVA World Summit in Boston last October giving an enthusiastic reception to a pioneering new technology developed by a partnership between Microsoft and AVEVA Solutions.

AVEVA is a leading developer of engineering software for the plant and shipbuilding industries. Its 3D design solution AVEVA PDMS has long been the de facto standard in the oil and gas industry and extensively used in every other plant sector. But the time was ripe for a next-generation solution and AVEVA listened carefully to the needs of its customers to create AVEVA Everything3D (AVEVA E3D). It also worked closely with Microsoft to identify opportunities to exploit the rapidly maturing cloud and tablet technologies to meet the needs of tightly regulated industries that deal in million-dollar per hour projects.

AVEVA E3D had been released early in 2013 and was quickly adopted by industry leaders attracted by its new capabilities and its full compatibility with their existing PDMS installs. What delegates saw at the Boston Summit was something completely new, however: AVEVA E3D Insight is a Windows 8.1 tablet app that connects directly to an AVEVA E3D design. Visually, both AVEVA E3D and this new app have a huge ‘wow’ factor, but what really grabbed the interest was the business value that it offers the plant industries.

One common constraint on capital projects is the limited availability of key personnel to review and approve design, particularly at major milestones. Their time is spread across a wide range of responsibilities and, often, their limited availability creates critical-path tasks. AVEVA E3D Insight relieves such bottlenecks by providing authorised users with secure direct access to the project’s 3D design model. Using it, a design manager can, at any time and from anywhere in the world, log in to his team’s project to review any aspect of its design, check measurements and equipment specifications, add comments (which become part of the project’s audit trail) and change the approval status of any items. This is needed more often than one might imagine; a plant is a massively complex undertaking with almost unlimited scope for poor design. Checks and decisions are required on an hourly basis; one should not have to wait until a major design review to discover a host of simple problems that could each have been resolved in minutes if the appropriate decision makers had been available.

The particular significance of AVEVA E3D Insight is that it extends the capability of AVEVA E3D, which itself provides the key to lean construction by its integration of 3D laser scan data into the design environment. Capturing the state of the physical plant’s constituents as soon as they are available, and returning the scans for rapid checking against the design model, closes the feedback loop between design, fabrication and construction. This enables project schedules to be shortened by trapping and correcting errors early and quickly, reducing opportunities for waste and rework. Where a discrepancy between fabrication and design requires a prompt decision whether to change the design to suit, or to reject the fabricated part, AVEVA E3D Insight enables this. 

AVEVA has long been committed to the Windows platform, which is universally used in the engineering industries. The company’s partnership with Microsoft maintains a bridge between the developer of core technologies and an economically important end-user community for whom the robustness and reliability of its software tools are as essential as their features and functions.

AVEVA demonstrates AVEVA E3D Insight to impressive effect on both Microsoft’s Surface Pro tablets and its Perceptive Pixel touchscreens, showing how technology advances in both hardware and software combine to deliver new business enablers. Just as 3D design technology and, more recently, 3D laser scanning have, cloud and tablets provide new opportunities to transform business processes in the engineering industries. But it is essential that such transformations increase users’ capabilities while reducing their business risks. AVEVA E3D Insight has set a high benchmark for this.

Simon Bennett is senior product business manager at AVEVA

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