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Sat 4 Sep 2010 04:00 AM

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Intelligent design

Software helps reduce the complexity of the design process, mitigates work duplication, and can bring down the cost of construction and operation.

Intelligent design
Keith Denton, Intergraph.
Intelligent design
Design software pulls together the various engineering disciplines, fostering co-operation.
Intelligent design
The construction costs of a power plant can be reduced by management software.
Intelligent design
Mike Blalock, IFS.

Software helps reduce the complexity of the design process, mitigates work duplication, and can bring down the cost of construction and operation.

Power plants are large and complex operations that require the cooperation of different engineering disciplines. As designers and engineers start putting together the various elements of the plant, ranging from the layout to the integration of instrumentation and controls, the design process is in a constant state of flux. One of the most significant benefits of software is that it helps to coordinate the various design threads in real time.

"The problem is, that in general for power plants to be efficient they need to be large, and so therefore it becomes more of an integration issue for all the different disciplines that are involved in the design of a plant. Typically that will involve some architecture for the buildings, structural engineering and mechanical engineering for the equipment, as well as electrical engineering, control and instrumentation, and so on," says Mark Biagi, solutions executive for power generation at Bentley.

"Making sure all major plant components are designed and accounted for, and that each engineering group affected by those components has the most up-to-date information is one of the most important considerations," says Keith Denton, vice president, global power industry at Intergraph.

"Power plant designers spend much more time reacting to change and validating data than they do in creating the data in the first place. Software helps to reduce the negative impacts of those changes by notifying users earlier in the process so they can avoid purchasing incorrect components or producing incorrect drawings," he adds.

Ensuring that the vast amount of data needed for the construction of a plant is collected and distributed in the right way is crucial, agrees Mike Blalock, global industry director, energy and utilities, at IFS. "To succeed, a system must be implemented to support the setting of standards for data collection and for the collaboration of all stakeholders in the enterprise. This dynamic plant repository of data is critical to the overall success of the endeavour."

Savings from the start

Software can also help to keep costs down during the construction phase, says Denton: "The construction phase is by far the largest initial cost of the plant, so by lowering construction costs the life cycle cost can also be improved."

Intergraph have devised the SmartPlant Construction programme, which helps construction planners and field personnel make use of design data as soon as it is available. This enables immediate decision making when executing installation work and tweaking project schedules, and visualises potential problems and alternative actions.

Reducing construction costs is especially important when the construction of a power plant is contracted out, as is often the case in the Middle East. Engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) companies need the certainty that a plant will be completed, and completed at the projected cost. "It is crucial that EPC contractors can have confidence that the design can be constructed because, particularly in the Middle East, were you have contractors who are working to fixed price scenarios. They procure and construct the power plant for a fixed fee and if they get that wrong that could dramatically affect their profitability," says Biagi.

Co-operation is key

To achieve cost efficiency, collaboration between various stakeholders is important, thinks Guy Barlow, industry strategist at Oracle Primavera. And software can help achieve this cooperation. "Owner operators and engineering, procurement and construction companies are beginning to recognise the need for an integrated technology solution that enables all construction participants to focus on the project with full collaboration and visibility."
"The benefits of accurate information being available to all parties, both internal and external, of a dynamic repository of plant data are significant," agrees Blalock. "These capabilities result in more effective and efficient operations across the entire plant lifecycle, whether it is in facilitating collaboration with contractors during construction, streamlining commissioning, facilitating licensing, improving effectiveness in O&M in operations, and so on."

Barlow points to integrated programme management (IPM) software, which streamlines design and construction.

"It must not simply be another tool to reduce project risk, but be a vehicle for optimising the asset lifecycle management process in the planning, building, and operating phases of the capital asset," he says.

Using software during the design process can also help to reduce risks and lifecycle costs for power plants. "By employing software at this stage, power plants are able to identify common scheduling pitfalls that may result in misleading schedule or risk analysis results," adds Barlow.

He speaks of Enterprise Project Portfolio Management (EPPM), which gives an overview of the plant at the design stage and helps optimise resources and the supply chain. "EPPM solutions have the ability to reduce costs, manage changes, meet delivery dates and ultimately make better decisions, all by using real-time data once the plant is fully operational." Reducing life cycle cost is particularly relevant for power generation in this region. Public private partnerships are becoming increasingly common in the Middle East, and for the private companies involved, keeping life cycle down is vital. "The costs of any decision taken at the design stage are magnified during the life cycle of a facility," says Biagi.

Smooth operating

Software is, of course, also used to run power plants once they are in operation. The challenges faced by utilities are numerous, from rising regulatory pressures and consumer demand for lower prices, to a shortage in skilled workers and the need for cleaner forms of energy.

"EPPM software enables power plants to create ‘what-if' scenarios, allowing project stakeholders to see how even a slight contingency will affect the project and how different responses will have an impact on the budget and schedule. These solutions can also help optimise operational metrics and help ensure the right people are on the right project at the right time," says Barlow.

The importance of maintenance has never been greater, says Barlow, who assets that EPPM software helps reduce shutdown and turnaround time by matching resources to the workload and increasing wrench time.

"Millions of dollars and the success or failure of critical projects - like a refueling outage - are on the line every time a skilled craftsman lays a wrench on an important piece of  machinery."

New ground

As expected in a competitive market, companies are always looking to development their products. One of the latest developments is the inclusion of so-called ‘wizards', says Intergraph's Denton. While applications that relate data to the CAD drawings and models that are created have been established in other plant industries for around 20 years, one recent development to this technology is the inclusion of automation that helps engineers work more efficiently inside the actual design tools by leading them through the various options and design considerations. This ensures that the design is done correctly up front and greatly reduces the amount of checking and editing done in later steps, says Denton. "Tools used designing today's plants should have the ability to build in the ‘institutional knowledge' of standard work processes that younger engineers can leverage inside the technology," he adds.

Earlier this year, Oracle brought to the market AutoVue 20.0. The AutoVue Enterprise Visualisation programme helps viewing, reviewing and collaborating on asset and engineering documents and information across a global enterprise. "The solution has helped thousands of users in engineering, maintenance and operations access and work with the technical information they need to support plant shutdowns, plant optimisation and routine maintenance activities," says Barlow.

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