A 3D digital twin can provide many benefits for oil & gas sites and other process industry facilities undergoing digital transformation. These include the ability to conduct “virtual walkdowns” without expending the resources required for field visits; securing valuable insights for operations and maintenance (O&M) planning; enhancing safety measures; supporting capital projects throughout the engineering-to-construction cycle, and much more.
The concept of virtual 3D models has been discussed for many years in the process industry. What has hampered adoption is that many companies have been understandably concerned with their accuracy and update process.
However, with the availability of cloud computing and high-precision 3D scanners, it’s now possible to create digital replicas of facilities in minute detail and keep them consistently updated. This moves the technology’s capabilities beyond a mere 3D model to a 3D “digital twin.”
Only an accurate replica of both the physical assets along with associated asset data will secure the confidence of management and staff to support real-time decision-making and achieve operational excellence.
Based on our success in leveraging 3D data to transform O&M activities, here are some key steps on ensuring effective deployment of 3D digital twins at process plants:
1) Create an accurate baseline of ‘as-is’ conditions
It’s important to first build an accurate foundation of the 3D digital twin by capturing the facility as it truly exists, not as it was designed. Many teams assume they can use a facility’s 3D design model as the primary source for a digital twin. However, facilities generally change over time and even newly constructed facilities are almost always different than the original models.
That’s why it’s imperative that asset operators conduct a thorough 3D laser scan of their facilities to capture any deviation from the original documentation. 3D scanners offer a simple way to ensure the digital version of the facility is captured ‘as is’ not ‘as designed.’
With the physical site captured digitally, engineering staff verify and embed asset metadata – such as equipment tags and piping line numbers from piping and instrumentation diagrams (P&IDs) – to the corresponding components in the 3D digital twin. Once this process is completed, the 3D model becomes a reliable and trusted digital replica ready to be deployed in support of many daily tasks at the plant.
2) Integrate the 3D digital twin into the daily activities of the facility
Once highly accurate physical and spatial models of the facility have been created and linked to the associated engineering data, it’s critical to start having plant personnel incorporate use of a 3D digital twin in the daily work of a facility.
Today, 3D design models at many facilities live in data silos and are rarely used to support daily operations. However, once these 3D models are turned into an accurate 3D digital twin, trust in the technology will build among plant teams enabling much more effective ways to plan and execute daily field tasks across all functional groups: engineering, inspection, operations, maintenance, turnaround, safety and compliance. Securing that trust is key to a successful implementation.
This presents a real opportunity to many asset operators to prioritize each process that can benefit from using the 3D digital twin across their sites. The strategy is to start small, build momentum among staff and eventually make the technology part of all current work practices.
3) Consistently update and maintain the 3D digital twin to accurately reflect the facility
To ensure ongoing value is maintained among all users, it becomes critical to include the 3D digital twin as part of Management of Change (MOC) processes at the plant. Based on the nature of the change, an update can be added manually. However, in most cases, it is best to employ 3D laser scanning to continuously capture changes made to the facility.
Previously, changes made at a facility were rarely noted in the corresponding documentation, or at least in any detail. Ongoing 3D laser scanning, used in conjunction with a 3D digital twin, can make updates more practical — and far more accurate — than they were in the past. This is what is known as an “evergreen” 3D digital twin.
Also, consider using new artificial intelligence/machine learning tools that can automatically identify changes that have been made to the facility. These tools will not only help ensure the ongoing accuracy of the 3D digital twin, they can enhance the health and safety of employees and the efficiency of all operations.
By following these steps, a facility can properly ensure the ongoing accuracy of a 3D digital twin. With confidence in the data, facilities can create a continuous improvement cycle where real-time monitoring leads to optimal performance, safety and ROI.
mCloud are experts on creating and managing 3D digital twins for complex energy facilities.
Contact us today to find how our AssetCare™️team can help your facility achieve its maximum productivity.