Improving plant design

Paul Boughton

For offshore engineers, being able to accurately, quickly and safely record measurements on their in-situ installations has long been a major challenge.

However, help is now at hand in the form of point cloud data (PCD), a system which allows engineers to gather information from existing facilities, or under-construction modules, for use in the proprietary Project Design Management System (PDMS).

PCD is the result of collaboration between Amec and three leading technology companies. The first is AVEVA, one of the world's fastest growing lifecycle engineering IT solutions and services providers to the oil and gas industries. The second is Z+F UK, which specialises in 3D laser scanning technology, particularly for the process and industrial market sectors. The final company is Hi-CAD, a global 3D data capture services company that specialises in 3D dimensional control, 3D laser scanning and photogrammetry services.

The result, PCD, is a system that avoids the long and costly process of modelling plant drawings or manually taken measurements. It produces geometrically accurate digital models of existing structures. This new computerised system also has the added advantage of an automatic check capability to ensure clashes between the existing and new parts of the plant are avoided.

In practice, manually operated laser scanning equipment is used to capture the required data and produce a 3D representation of the plant to an accuracy of 3-5mm, along with photo-realistic, 360degree images. On a brownfield installation, a two-man surveying team can record the image of a 15metre by 15metre module in a single day. After a further day of onshore processing the information is ready for use in the PDMS.

“Engineers in the offshore industry have long searched for a fast and accurate means of recording measurements on in-situ installations and applying them in their designs,”says Neil Bruce, Amec's md of oil and gas. “We are constantly looking at how we can develop new technologies and by bringing together tried and tested systems in this innovative way, we have been able to improve the design process, saving time and money for our oil and gas clients. We have trialled the technology on North Sea projects and a number of clients have shown a keen interest. The system also has potential uses beyond the design phase.

For example, we envisage that during construction, engineers will be able to monitor fabrication progress in offsite locations to ensure that prefabricated units will fit exactly as planned.”

A technological edge

The technology is already being used on Shell Expro’s Sigma 3 and ONEgas projects in the UK sector of the North Sea. The Kuwait Oil Company and independent oil companies Talisman Energy and Lundin Britain have also expressed a keen interest in using the technology to capture data on their mature assets.

According to Colin Fairweather, engineering systems manager with Amec oil and gas, this solution has given the company a timely lead in a highly competitive race to improve the design process, improve safety and cut costs. He believes it will revolutionise the way that greenfield and particularly brownfield projects are managed and delivered.

A frustration common in brownfield projects, such as site refurbishments and expansions, is the lack of existing plant data, particularly as-built 3D models. “Previously the existing plant had to be modelled from drawings or from information gathered via manual survey to give the 3D model sufficient accuracy to allow a new pipe, valve or other equipment to be designed and installed clash free. By combining PCD with PDMS this process is now redundant, reducing unnecessary cost and removing a manual process.”

It is not hard to find a wide range of uses where this new technology can be profitably be put to use beyond the benefits during design. For example, in the construction phase of a new oil and gas facility, engineers can review the fabrication progress from offsite locations, focusing on connectivity to vendor packages and pre-assembled units. For commissioning, access to valve wheels and instrumentation is verified. While for maintenance, activity planning can be enhanced for shutdown or scheduled maintenance activities. And from a safety point of view, escape routes can be reviewed and PCD used as part of the personnel induction programme.

“PCD will save time and money and improve the safety of our personnel by reducing the time they are exposed to the hazardous offshore environment,” added Fairweather.

As International Oil and Gas Engineer went to press, Amec was engaged with Hi-CAD on laser scanner survey work in the North Sea, offshore in Angola, onshore in Kuwait and offshore in the Gulf of Mexico.

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