Large industries can be notoriously slow to adopt new ideas. Sometimes they pioneer new technologies only to set them aside. Fully integrating new approaches is often easier for small, agile industries to adapt and innovate. Building Information Modeling (BIM) is one such approach that has yet to truly flourish in many large industries, including oil and gas.
Though BIM is regularly used in dozens of applications, several key areas of the energy sector lack sufficient adoption of this incredible information system. As parallel, emerging technologies are introduced into the oil and gas industry, the many significant advantages of adopting BIM technologies stand out more.
2 Origins of BIM
The fundamental concepts of BIM have existed in disparate forms since the time of the Industrial Revolution. During this era, the roots of project production management (PPM) were developed. PPM is simply the application of operations management to the delivery of capital projects. Pipelines, refineries, infrastructure, and many other assets fall under the heading of capital projects. BIM represents the most comprehensive and dynamic form of presenting and synchronizing all information relevant to the successful delivery, functioning, and maintenance of capital projects.
In all but name, BIM was first introduced by Charles Eastman and other researchers at Carnegie-Mellon University in 1974 in Research Report No. 50, titled “An Outline of the Building Description System.” Far ahead of its time, the document outlines the need for, current status, and goals of a computer program called the Building Description System (BDS) which sought to address the following concerns:
“(a) a means for easy graphic entering of arbitrarily complex element shapes;
(b) an interactive graphic language for editing and composing element arrangements;
(c) hardcopy graphic capabilities that can produce perspective or orthographic drawings of high quality;
(d) a sort and format capability allowing sorting of the database by attributes, e.g. material type, /supplier, or composing a dataset for analysis.”
The 23-page report continues to detail the problems inherent in communicating construction information through the redundant form of two-dimensional drawings, which by their very nature must repeatedly depict the same information to accurately describe a structure or even a single design aspect.
Additionally, any design changes led to changing an entire set of drawings. Maintaining current and consistent information for sets of drawings between groups of designers was agonizing, time consuming, and grossly inefficient. The authors elaborate, stating that this stage of initial data preparation generated the majority of cost in any building analysis. After construction began, any changes made to a building were drafted on separate sets of drawings, accumulating more paper. Many of these documents often became lost, scattered, or degraded beyond usefulness as a building aged.
Given these problems, the BDS program developed by these researchers was created to enhance all the strengths inherent in graphic representation while minimizing or eliminating the inherent weaknesses of the medium. Digitizing this process while including categories of data such as material type and attributes, supplier, cost, and other information into a database is the backbone of modern BIM practices.
The idea matured in the subsequent decades until it emerged in the famous white paper published by Autodesk in 2003, titled “Building Information Modeling.” In their paper, authors state the following three characteristics of building information modeling solutions in their introduction:
This white paper served as the tipping point for an idea that dwelled in the minds of several groups of designers since the original 1974 conception of the BDS computer program.
The National Building Information Model Standard Project Committee defines BIM as:
“…a digital representation of physical and functional characteristics of a facility. A BIM is a shared knowledge resource for information about a facility forming a reliable basis for decisions during its life-cycle; defined as existing from earliest conception to demolition.”
Simply defined, BIM is the process of creating and managing a digital model of the functional and physical aspects of capital projects throughout their lifespan.
As BIM has evolved seven distinct (oil and gas typically use 5D) dimensions are tracked in immense detail:
2D — Technical drawings
3D — Intelligent modeling
4D — Schedule, Time
5D — Cost
6D — Energy efficiency
7D — Capital project (Facility) management
For a closer, in-depth look at these dimensions, preparation and tips for using BIM, and more, read our article on The Drafting Side of BIM.
4 Oil and Gas Capital Projects
Over the last several decades, the oil and gas (O&G) industry has concentrated on making heavy investments in new technologies, streamlining management, detailed planning, and the critical path of executing complex and large capital projects.
These O&G projects are capital heavy, large-scale, and long duration projects. They require advanced technologies, and extensive collaboration between project teams. Generally, these teams are EPC (engineering, procurement, and construction) and EPCM (EPC and construction management) engineers, contractors, and consultants.
O&G industry projects, onshore or offshore, are often managed and executed through EPC (or similar) contracts. EPC and EPCM contractors operate in a highly competitive global market where their ability to deliver excellent quality, minimal cost, and on-schedule project execution is of primary importance. Those dynamics mean that contractors and consultants depend on using processes which are optimal for the management and execution of complex projects.
The combination of these circumstances within the oil and gas industry create the ideal scenario for BIM to flourish. BIM is an excellent and capable platform for coordinating the efforts of project teams. Enterprising oil and gas companies are facing an industry with rapidly shifting dynamics that create a greater demand for data generation and analysis than ever before.
5 Oil and Gas Capital Projects with BIM
Projects like those found in the oil and gas industry require solutions designed to centralize, clarify, and coordinate vast amounts of data. Oil and gas companies require as much reduction in development time (and thus significantly reduce capital cost) as possible.
Oil and gas projects enjoy the distinct difficult of enduring exceptional variability from one project to the next. Virtually every project is different from the proceeding project, even if the facility or building itself is identical in purpose. Several unfortunate side effects originate from this aspect of industry projects.
Project teams infrequently work for the same company on multiple back-to-back deliveries. O&G companies often carry on too, while useful data from the previous project logs (among other information) is left unanalyzed by companies. They may sit in disparate filing cabinets and hard drives collecting dust for years. If this information could be automatically sorted, categorized, and fed into a master data bank, it would provide treasure troves of data that would directly impact almost every measures of performance, quality, and management (both materials and personnel). Post construction inspections are also a difficult metric to examine accurately without well-integrated data collection systems, though BIM experts routinely conduct precise LIDAR scans on-site to compare with modeling. Some BIM teams conduct these scans with extreme frequency to track, even daily, the productivity and schedule progress.
BIM has the truly exceptional capacity to transform the landscape of oil and gas industry projects. Despite its ability to solve or significantly improve on all of the difficulties listed above, it is, perhaps, significantly overlooked and almost entirely under-integrated into the PPM (or lack thereof) of oil and gas companies. This incredible, highly collaborative technology is patiently awaiting large scale adoption and purposeful integration within O&G companies. It is true that many projects feature BIM experts, just as they are routinely sought out by EPC and EPCM consultants and engineers. The burden largely rests on O&G companies to adopt BIM as a central component of information management and analysis. Though everyone would benefit from this approach, O&G companies would likely see the greatest ROI.
6 Adapting an Industry
Most industry companies are currently awash in opportunities to adapt existing technologies to complementary, well proven development and management practices.
Perhaps the easiest places to begin digitizing capital projects more are those tied into BIM. Nearly every category of EPCM contracting could be significantly improved through automation, digitization, cloud computing, tagging systems, and the elimination of paper documentation. These digital process enhancements serve a dual purpose in that they generate large quantities of data while they remove cost creating inefficiencies. Companies that establish a database and standardize their data formats can create advanced analytics programs. When analyzed, project information and can capably guide teams toward improving EPC and EPCM processes. Project teams could use this data to predict and minimize problems related to achieving 5D BIM objectives.
Many companies stand to gain worthwhile resiliency to market supply and demand changes through adopting PPM as their model of project delivery. Essentially, this ideation of management views a capital project as a collection of mutually enhancing yet discrete production units that possess their own distinct processes. When adopted, project managers exercise discretion over the entire project-production operation. This grants project managers considerable maneuvering room when responding to unanticipated changes in supply or demand. As a result, project managers can maintain their performance levels for the capital project even when these events occur. Enormous cost can be adroitly avoided through exercising the PPM delivery method.
The natural extension of this form of management is for a company to recruit several small, specialized, and highly adaptable project teams for a project they can deftly execute. Once recruited, the company outlines a minimal roadmap, delineates the crucial decision points, and identifies the essential information required to make those decisions along the way.
The teams begin working for a few weeks at maximum speed to achieve their respective tasks while decision makers remain available in case teams require them. These teams lock in their decisions and continue toward subsequent objectives.
Companies employing these EPC and EPCM teams may use traditional stage-gate process models as guidelines for managing stakeholders and finances. This form of project team management (referred to as agile management) has shown reductions of several months to a few years on their projects.
Several aspects of these industry adaptations (and technologies) are only a couple of years old, while a few have existed for decades. Despite their ages, many of these practices are destined to become essential aspects of future oil and gas projects. Their primary advantages rest not merely in their impressive speed and singular focus, but in their integration of current cutting-edge technologies, analytics, and widespread digitization.
Future technologies such as BostonDynamics robots have already added to the capabilities of BIM with their robot series, Spot. This automated tetrapod has dozens of sensors for navigating difficult construction sites, is damage resistant, and capable of supporting LIDAR scanning to create a digital twin for as-built to BIM comparison.
The use of BIM in the oil and gas industry has profoundly impacted companies and project teams within the field, creating vast areas open to experimentation and refinement. From concept to completion, this form of digital modeling provides users with an intimately detailed method of mapping and tracking up to seven dimensions of design. This provides project teams with a groundbreaking degree of coordination and boundless usability throughout the processes of project execution.
Most oil and gas companies have yet to adapt to BIM, extensive digitization, and project management theories as principles fundamental to project delivery. Despite this, BIM is poised at the cutting edge of oil and gas industries, showing no signs of slowing or disappearing, it continues to reveal opportunities to further improve existing industry practices.