PennEnergy features McLaren Software’s CEO, Philip Woodrow, commenting on the importance of having quick access to the most up-to-date versions of your engineering content

In today's business environment, with many companies running legacy document management systems and operating across multiple platforms, it is vital that you have confidence that your engineering data is the single point of truth.

In today's technology-led, information-saturated business environment - where energy companies can be operating on legacy document management systems or are managing data across different platforms and systems - there is a real risk of multiple versions of the same document being in play. This is particularly true when managing engineering data, where pertinent documentation may be stored in multiple folders throughout a company's IT network - or across different systems. There is a business-critical need for multi-discipline teams to be able to link associated documents, diagrams and content together, and trust that the version of engineering data they are using is the single point of truth.

Having the confidence that everyone in the team can access the right information quickly and easily, and is working from the same up-to-date documents, has the benefit of increasing the operational efficiency and productivity of your engineers and operational staff, enabling you to respond to downward cost pressure by working smarter.

The challenge

With so much information stored in different locations in multiple formats, across a myriad of digital archives and databases, it can be challenging for engineers to manage the mass of acquired data and access the information they require quickly and easily, in a format relevant to them. We're reaching the tipping point, where the management of data can lead to it becoming too unwieldy to be easily searchable. And as version supersedes version, and the importance of tags and metadata consistency across different sources and document formats increases, it is essential that all the appropriate information is accessible, with the latest updated versions easily identifiable.

While many engineers enjoy the process of getting to the first working model, this is merely the starting point. The model then needs to be captured in engineering drawings, with supporting engineering data collated. The drawings are used to describe how to consistently reproduce the design, which forms the basis for product improvements and production efficiency. Meanwhile, the engineering data proves that the product conforms to the original design goals. Proof of conformance has business-critical importance to both internal stakeholders - from marketing, accounting and production - through to external groups, such as distributors, customers, service providers and regulatory agencies. 

However, simply creating engineering drawings and recording engineering data is insufficient. To be truly useful, engineering drawings and data must be stored, reviewed and approved, published and maintained. As revisions are made, it is all too easy for different versions of the same document to be created and there is the risk of outdated, parallel versions of drawings and plans being viewed and the information used. There is also the possibility that other systems, such as ERP or asset maintenance systems, hold retained documents.

What sort of information needs to be stored?

Each engineering drawing - including technical documents such as specifications and procedures - contains extensive information. This includes who is ultimately responsible for the document content, a document numbering system to enable identification, a title or description, appropriate document revision or other indication of a specific design iteration, author(s), reviewer(s) and anyone else who contributed to the information. There is also all the appropriate technical information necessary to fulfill their purpose.

In addition to the formal engineering drawings, all background information - which is the basis for the engineering designs - also needs to be saved electronically. This data includes: product capabilities and functional requirements; budget estimates; production volume assumptions and development schedules; suppliers' component datasheets; product performance tests and qualification results; alternative design data; as well as notes, calculations and other written communications. This amounts to a huge mass of data, which must be accessible to anyone involved in the design, upgrade or renovation process.

What happens if the wrong version is used?

There is a potential risk when documentation is held offline, in different silos within a business, that it can lead to teams working together, simultaneously, but using different versions of a plan. In a best case scenario, if the wrong version of engineering data is used it can cause some misunderstandings, which can then lead to a delay in the project.  The worst-case scenario can be that it affects the overall quality of the project and impacts on the bottom line. The quality issue can also lead to serious health and safety challenges further down the line.

Commented Phil Woodrow, McLaren Software CEO: "Oil and Gas and the Energy sector have large plants and assets, which means there is an increasing amount of engineering content that needs to be managed.  With so much more information out there - compounded by compliance and regulations or deregulations - it is vital that companies recognise and understand the importance of getting their engineering document management right."

The importance of searchability 

Phil continued:  "There are serious health and safety - as well as cost - implications of information not being up-to-date and easily searchable. Imagine an emergency situation, such as a natural disaster that results in an oil spill.  What happens if the health and safety, and emergency processes, including the information on the pipelines is not the most current?  Where there is a risk to human life or a danger to the environment, this often amounts to much more than financial penalties, and in these situations time is of the essence. Even if ultimately the outcome is not too severe, there can still be huge financial costs of retrieving documents for lengthy audits, post-event."

In a different vein, but equally important as far as having the correct engineering drawings and plans, is planned decommissioning. According to industry experts Oil & Gas UK, between 2014 and 2023 a total of 927 oil wells on the UK continental shelf (the North and Irish Seas) will come out of production. This represents 246 topside structures to be removed from 104 platforms, weighing a total of 281,600 tonnes. Another 134,000 tonnes of subsea structures also have to be removed, while 3,277 km of pipelines will be decommissioned. The scale of this undertaking demonstrates the absolute necessity for accurate, up-to-date asset information. Without this, the assumptions made during the decommissioning design are exceedingly likely to be inaccurate, with extensive environmental and health and safety risks.

The whole truth

The ideal scenario is to have a single point of truth portal, which enhances and complements any existing Enterprise Content Management (ECM) system for searching, finding and navigating engineering content. To achieve this, a thread must link together all related and associated engineering content within different source repositories. Effective data management through technology means documentation can now be easily found and understood at the touch of a keypad. Having consistent tag and data integrity across different document types and sources, provides the confidence that when information is required, it avoids duplication and enables search results to be instantly validated. Also, with quick and easy navigation, time wasted during searches - caused by sifting through too many folders and finding several different versions of the same document - can be eradicated. By making data easy to navigate and searchable through a single point of truth portal, as well as linking associated documents, diagrams and content together with tag and hotspot links, to return a single, most recent result, everyone will be on the same page when it comes to any given project timeline.   

New, exciting software is due to be launched soon that will enable this to become a reality.  When introduced it will increase the operational efficiency and the productivity of engineers and operational staff, and respond to downward cost pressure by becoming more efficient, providing access to information they seek much more quickly and easily.  It will leverage content through advanced tag and metadata extraction capability, to search and find key information and will introduce a step-change advancement within the industry.

If you enjoyed this article, you might also be interested in reading Engineering the Solution. Steven Bruce, Director of Development Operations, discusses the need for role-based and intuitive systems.