Digitization and Digitalization Unlock Value in Brownfield Assets

Digitization and digitalization unlock value in brownfield assets

With the price of oil in a state of flux, many in the oil and gas industry are focusing on efficiency and operational improvements rather than growth to maintain profits and gain a competitive advantage. This is especially true for brownfield assets.

For example, as the Coronavirus continues to drain demand on energy, BHP managed to separate itself from the pack and avoid writing-down assets. Part of this is because while many of its assets are old, these brownfield plants have been optimized to produce at a lower cost, allowing BHP to extract oil at about USD$10 a barrel. With the current oil price of a barrel at USD$43, this ensures they’re still making a good profit.

Increase Access to Accurate Information
Data is at the heart of brownfield asset optimization.

Unlike greenfield sites, critical facility information in existing brownfield operations may still be captured on paper and stored in filing cabinets. Converting this information into an electronic format and organizing it via a central information management system is critical for effective operational management.

This is where digitization and digitalization play a key role. Digitization is the process of converting your information from analog to digital; it refers to things like automating workflows and minimizing paperwork. Digitalization, on the other hand, is using digital technologies and digitized data to inform how work gets done.

In chats with customers within various industries, we found that many admitted to spending much of their time searching for and validating facility information.

This is because personnel in brownfield plants are likely juggling a large amount of unstructured data, such as documents and drawings, that regularly arrive from suppliers, vendors and engineering partners. In fact, some information may even be outdated or incompatible.

Now imagine being able to readily access historical data as well as real-time information from a single Electronic Document Management System (EDMS) that’s available to everyone from the plant floor to the boardroom. Include 3D models, laser scans or integrated operations systems with high-quality structured information as part of it, and you’ll have important data regarding a particular process unit or piece of equipment at your fingertips.

Optimize Processes and Knowledge Transfers
According to the ARC advisory group, 42% of unplanned shutdowns are due to operational error, of which 16% is directly related to procedural error. Add an aging workforce to the mix, and it’s easy to see why proper transfer of knowledge between operators is a key driver for maximizing value.

Technology can help close this growing knowledge gap and reduce the potential for human error-driven downtime by incorporating tools, processes and systems design that empower and enable workers to standardize operating methods and improve efficiency.

3D simulation can enable engineers and managers to test, analyze, validate and improve process design, engineering workflow and overall plant operations. Such tools enable faster start up, for both new plants and existing ones coming back online after a shutdown.

Improve Asset Lifecycle Management
Advancements in the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) have led to new-generation data analysis tools and software that allow maintenance of brownfield assets to be predictive rather than reactive.

An example of this is our work with Eskom, Matimba in South Africa. The web-based environment created by us and Leica Geosystems enables a maintenance technician who needs access to plant documentation related to specific piece of equipment to simply navigate through the HD laser scan, visually identify the equipment, click on the geotag and have immediate access to all of its related information.

If the technician accesses a P&ID, for example, the technician can further navigate to other relevant tags and access information simply by clicking on hotspots within the P&ID. In other words, all available tags, documents and tag/document relationships are available in an integrated, intelligently navigable system.

This helps detect unplanned issues that could result in more serious accidents, thereby improving operations and safety while avoiding millions of dollars in unplanned costs. The ability to remotely monitor physical infrastructure assets improves safety in other ways, too, such as decreasing the need for staff to travel to on-site remote or possibly high-risk locations.

An Investment, Not Expense
It’s understandable that if your facility has been operating for years with no issues, you may not want to change the status quo. Why spend money to overturn established, accepted ways of working, especially against such a challenging economic climate?

It is worth noting that industry leaders must address current market-driven efficiency, cost control and profitability challenges. By encouraging executive teams to adopt an approach that prioritizes digitization and digitalization in brownfield assets, healthy profits can still be realized … especially at a time when the price of doing nothing could spell disaster.

Speak to us today and discover how we can help you unlock value in your brownfield operations.


Tai Wai Wong
Tai Wai Wong is a Hexagon PPM Business Development Consultant for the Oil and Gas industry. His areas of expertise include solution architecture, engineering data management, application architecture, engineering design tools and process consulting. He is based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

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