Plant Information Management: The Key Differentiator

A Methodology for Systematically Improving the Operational Efficiency of a Plant

  • Fig. 2: Best practice for asset technical information, capture, evolution, management, and turnover.

These are troubling times for executives determining strategies and tactics for their organizations. Gone are the safe, traditionally competitive, resourceful, and technological advantages of the recent past. Being "lean and mean" doesn't cut it anymore. Competition is global. The days of the "vertical," self-sufficient organization are becoming numbered as specialist organizations appear on the Internet as if from nowhere to bid for plant assets being deployed in ever-more remote and cost-efficient locations.

The pharmaceutical industry in particular faces many challenges, including time to market, patent window (time in market), modular design to allow flexible production, compliance to stringent regulations (e.g. FDA requirements), ongoing facility audits in operation, avoidance of heavy fines, and shutdown penalties. Document Management, Document Control, and Configuration Management are critical components supporting validation and ongoing operations.

So, what issues, strategies, and tactics are prevalent today, and how does a Plant Information Management (PIM) strategy play a part?
Most of the focus on PIM technologies to date has been aimed at the O/Os (Owner Operators) since they have the most to gain financially. Technologies, such as data warehousing, integration with enterprise resource planning, and operations systems, would seem to offer little to the EPC (Engineering, Procurement and Contruction). However, for the EPC companies, PIM is being linked to strategic business expansion, and in some cases survival, in an increasingly competitive and complex marketplace relevant to both OOs and EPCs.

There are three simple reasons for strategically investing in Plant Information Management (PIM):

  • Reduce time to market (TTM) - design and construct the plant asset within budget, while avoiding schedule slippage and operating at capacity to meet market window of opportunity.
  • Maximize time in market (TIM) - mitigate unplanned outages and delayed start-ups, optimize planning for engineering turnarounds, and prevent safety, hazard, and regulatory risks, which would otherwise halt production.
  • Optimize operating parameters (OOP) - make the most of that which you have least (time, resources, and schedule) to gain more of the things you want (throughput, safety, and profit).

Traditional technical databases, engineering databases, and data modelling (employing data models expressed in tables [with rows and columns], foreign keys, joins and views, and an application hardwired to updating the data model) do not lend themselves to lifetime PIM. In these traditional types of environments, it typically demands that extensive data modelling, integration points, and interfaces be defined before data is generated, thus having a placeholder for the data before it is created.

eEngineering Integration Hub

Intergraph's vision for PIM is called eEngineering Integration Hub. This approach underpins Intergraph's data and information management solution, SmartPlant Foundation (SPF). The tool is not designed specifically to be "the" corporate information portal or corporate "generic" document management system, nor is it designed in any way to compete with the existing capabilities of enterprise resource planning and other line-of-business systems.

SPF is primarily developed for the consolidation, aggregation, configuration, distribution, and change management of "engineering information" (data, drawings, documents, models, etc.) across multiple sources. It can establish and manage an ever-changing, holistic, highly interrelated, high-quality/integrity, and object-oriented digital representation of a plant to ensure consistency, validity, and accuracy. The solution provides the "single source of truth" for engineering activities and a "source point of access to the truth" for non-engineering activities (e.g. access to non-engineering data for engineers and access to engineering data for non-engineers) and understands engineering support over the plant's entire life cycle irrespective of the multiple tools that will come and go during this extended period.

However, at the commencement of a project, little time, resources, and funds are available for such an activity. Typically, as a result, high-quality data models are never deployed in time; the data model becomes fixed too early and is inflexible to change; or the integrity of data deposited is called into question. Furthermore, integrations either do not happen or do not happen at the required level of granularity, and correlations and consolidations of data from multiple applications do not occur, resulting in inconsistent data. When proprietary data is received from a partner late in the project, there is little opportunity to include it within the data set. And this does not take into account the vast quantity of data (sometimes of questionable integrity and often with multiple duplicates) received from vendors and suppliers.

Continuous Information Turnover

What is required for such a lifetime technical database is that it is generic and flexible - applicable to unlimited types and formats of data, irrespective and independent of application and usage; extensible and soft coded - the data model is data driven, self-describing, and grows with the addition of new data; and capable of managing highly interrelated and highly interdependent, ever-expanding data types and sets.
This allows the PIM technology to be deployed as early as possible by the plant designer. It eliminates the need for lengthy pre-project data model development. It allows ongoing addition and adjustment, data integration, and turnover of a consistent, stable data set to the plant operator.
Commercial turnover of the information from the plant designer to the plant owner also should not be viewed as a one-off activity. The PIM system should be an evolving entity with value to the plant owner from day one of deployment. Its content and latent knowledge capacity should be made securely available to engineering, construction, operations, maintenance, and regulatory parties alike - either locally or remotely - without the need for the source technical application on the desktop.

The evolutionary and continuous information turnover is a capability of SmartPlant Foundation. This capability is delivered by a number of discrete functions, including:

  •  Dynamic, extensible, data-driven and flexible data model, which allows it to evolve over the life of the plant
  • Neutralized and normalized data (converted from proprietary formats) stored for remote access (i.e. streamed media) or delivered to populate plant owners' / regulators' tools
  • Secure, Web accessible, and requiring non-specialized, mainstream computer equipment designed for longevity

Managing engineering data as an asset as valuable as the plant itself is key to success. It feeds the operations/maintenance systems and is invaluable for decision support, but if not given constant care and attention, its integrity will degrade and so too will the quality of decisions based upon the data. The strategy needs to be defined for a long-term, flexible, pragmatic, sustainable data maintenance and continuous improvement strategy that is harmonious for operations, maintenance, delta engineering projects, and regulatory affairs alike.

Information inconsistencies need to be managed rather than trying to enforce consistency. The latter is not possible in engineering projects not only because disciplines in engineering projects execute concurrently and not serially, but also because enforced consistency would stifle innovation. Progress and change are synonymous. Therefore, an overarching program of informing and managing change across and between the disciplines and "line-of-business" systems should be more important than change management at the application or department level.

Ultimately, integration comes in many forms, including data integration, application integration, business process integration, etc. The company PIM strategy should evolve to the highest form rather than starting there from day one: Start small, keeping the big picture in mind and grow organically, showing step-wise improvements.

PIM is not a technology as much as it is a philosophy - a methodology for systematically improving the operational efficiency of a plant.




Intergraph Benelux B.V.
Siriusdreef 2
2132 WT Hoofddorp
The Netherlands

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