The engineering and fabrication of oil and gas facilities have traditionally been treated as separate processes. Paul Wallett, business manager at software specialist Tekla, explains how this distinction is starting to blur, with positive implications for the modelling and execution of construction projects.
What is the extent of Tekla's involvement in the oil and gas sector?
Paul Wallett: Tekla's building information modelling (BIM) solutions have been used for many years by both engineering and fabrication companies. We've been involved in a number of oil and gas projects worldwide, from upfront engineering work all the way down to the fabrication process. Tekla is involved in both onshore and offshore. We are particularly busy in the Middle East, with companies such as Petrofac and Technic using our software for their oil and gas installations.
Unusually, under our system the same model data that a facility is engineered from can be passed down and used in the fabrication process, expediting the information flow from one side to the other.
How do you integrate the many software solutions being used across the project lifecycle?
Quite often it's initially driven from the fabrication side. From a detailing and lofting point of view, offshore companies may begin with models that originally derive from design solutions such as MS or PDS. Those particular programmes are more focused on the actual planting equipment as opposed to the main structural features such as topsides and jackets. So there is often a need to integrate different solutions.
Tekla has had an open BIM philosophy for many years. We can bring in information from solutions such as PDMS - where design may be initiated because planting is often driving how the structure is being designed - and migrate that platform directly. From there, our solution can take all the technical details of the fabrication process and incorporate them - everything from an individual well to nuts and bolts, the production of fabrication drawings and specialised equipment such as tube profiling.
How are your customers taking advantage of this capability?
Recently, many companies have begun driving building/design information further upfield. Engineering can now begin with Tekla as opposed to starting with a plant design solution. Tekla allows the user to directly integrate an analysis application. For example, we've worked with what was known as REI for many years, and the capability of building the analytical frame is directly incorporated into the Tekla solution. That means that engineers can start the conceptual model within the Tekla solution and incorporate their loading conditions directly from that model.
Then, using what we call a 'direct comm' interface, that physical model will open up directly in the STAAD analysis solution within the analytical frame. The value of that is that you have a direct link between design and fabrication, so any changes or revisions that may occur are going to be directly linked and translated down to the actual production model.
Plant and equipment will still remain, for the most part, in the plant design solutions, but using methods such as BGN we can bring in the planting equipment and overlay it on top of the physical model.
Does the overlaying of approaches make for more difficult clash detection?
Situations can occur when the planting equipment clashes with the structural support model. For example, let's say a conceptual model is put together, but later on a new bracing system may become a fabrication requirement. Sometimes that information is not picked up by the plant design solution because it is not creating the actual fabrication model. So it's easier to detect whether those clashes will occur in the fabrication end-model, and then feed that information back to the plant design solution.
Tekla was initially known for fabrication modelling solutions, but over the years we have expanded way beyond that into engineering solutions and downstream construction project and site management. We allow organisations to carry out task management directly with the model, as well as feed information back into it, be it on a weekly or real-time basis. Being able to cover the whole construction solution, from front-end engineering to the job site, means that we provide a fantastic solution.
Are there any obstacles to adopting this more integrated approach?
It's a matter of education, I would say. The industry has been focused on a traditional approach for many years. The oil and gas sector has had a good solution from an engineering standpoint with plant design solutions. It has been building these quite complex models that coordinate planting equipment with the overall structure. But taking that beyond an engineering perspective into the fabrication field is something that has taken time to adopt.
There is a workflow that people have to get used to. A view in many companies is that engineering stops, then those in charge of fabrication pick it up and do their own thing. There is a need to break this method in these companies and then build a workflow and work method behind that.
Tekla has the capabilities and has had them for a long time - it's just about changing people's work processes. We know some very established companies worldwide that have made great strides in changing their workflow; they've really been able to install Tekla throughout their organisations.
Bechtel, for example, is primarily an engineering company, but also does detailing and so integrates both areas. It's about re-engineering company processes and showing them that there is a better way to use technology.
How do you envisage Tekla's business growing over the next two years?
A year in the life of an energy company is a small snapshot. If you look at their projects from an offshore standpoint, in particular, they could last two or three years - changing from one work method to another will have to come in fits and starts. But there are small changes you can make here and there that add value. Tekla will focus on on-site solutions. For example, an employee can take a PC tablet to the site, scan a barcode and later upload it to a centralised model. So if you are looking at commissioning of structures, that's one aspect that immediately adds value to the system already in place.
Also being able to download data directly to the handheld survey layout equipment really takes the benefit of using a building information model to another level.
Typically the model has gone as far as the fabricator's door. It then becomes a piece of steel that gets put onto a truck and taken out to the site - they still have to print out drawings on the site. But with Tekla, you can bring that model data right onto the site. Rather than manually inputting layout position points into a survey system, they can be downloaded directly from a model into a handheld unit and positioned exactly. We are then using the full force of that model data, all the way through to on-site construction services.
Could managing this information prove tricky among multiple project partners?
Information modelling is one thing but information model management is something else. Tekla provides a free-of-charge solution called Tekla BIMsight, which we've developed to encourage people to start collaborating in their use of model data. There's always been an assumption that to collaborate and have these tools you have to purchase a product. We think that would lead to slow adoption as there are budgets and internal approvals to consider.
We encourage the adoption of Tekla BIMsight. It can save the industry a tremendous amount of money and adds genuine value by allowing a move away from traditional methods.