Coordinating the different aspects of the construction of refineries and offshore rigs is a complex undertaking for on-site engineers. However, a sophisticated new way to share IFC-format information fluently and accurately between two leading modelling software platforms offers the chance to put an end to misunderstandings. World Expro talks to Saku Jarvinen, business development manager at Trimble Solutions, and Sami Koponen, director for plant industry at Cadmatic, about how the two companies are working together to optimise processes across the board.
'An accident won't arrive with a bell on its neck,' says the Finnish proverb. It is appropriate advice for any engineering project. Rarely will a blueprint survive the rigours of the work site, with even the most precisely calculated measurements falling short of what was actually required. Parts have to be recut and frames rearranged. Although many might consider the phenomenon unavoidable, it nonetheless eats up costs and has to be factored into the total hours allocated to the project.
Mistakes in planning can become an infinitely more expensive proposition when constructing an offshore plant or oil refinery. Not only does Trimble Solutions (formerly known as Tekla) have to factor in an efficient transfer of resources while guaranteeing a safe working environment, it must also contend with a meshwork of steel frameworks and piping to support it all, necessitating complex planning.
Now, however, collaboration between Finnish software vendors Cadmatic and Trimble Solutions has led to the development of a new interoperability that can minimise disruption and maximise savings for operators.
"I joined Tekla straight from university - it was on the other side of the street," says Saku Jarvinen, now a business development manager at Trimble Solutions (previously know as Tekla).
When he began working for Tekla in 1999, it was a much smaller organisation. Since then, however, he has seen the company grow into an international concern."In the construction industry as a whole, the amount of complex data that has to be dealt with is constantly increasing," says Jarvinen.
"Within that, it has always been a challenge that the exchange of data between different participants, relating to the coordination of the overall design and general project management, has never fulfilled industry demand.
"Additionally, there is a challenge in the fact that this data can be and often is stored in various places. It can be in clouds, servers, hard drives or elsewhere, and managing access rights and limiting the repetition of information within that is essential."
It is also very difficult. A carnival of talents has to be assembled for each construction project, and the traditional way of conveying the original intention of the chief engineer or designer behind the project has been to create a formal drawing and hand that to the next partner. Within that chain, however, lies a great deal of potential for misunderstanding.
"Engineers are constantly asking themselves and each other, 'How late can we still make changes to the plan, and what will be the consequences?'," says Jarvinen.
"We need to understand the cost and implication of those changes, and then understand the impact of the change for everybody who's participating."
The value in having up-to-date information available not benefits not only the design phase, but also the whole value stream - from design to fabrication to site scheduling and operating and maintenance of the plant.
To help minimise this fundamental problem, Trimble has partnered with Cadmatic to create 3D modelling software that allows multiple stakeholders to make changes to a core digital design blueprint. As virtual project model, it promises to reduce that risks and costs that are associated with going back and altering the central plan of a construction project.
"There is much more added value retained in a model that can interface easily with other disciplines," says Jarvinen. "Models can now easily be exchanged to make sure that the design remains correct and that there is no collision between construction priorities.
"Project and production managers are using the virtual model to add non-part-related information such as scheduling, or to do classification, quality inspection, material origin and so on."
Originally founded in the early 1990s, Cadmatic remains at the forefront of 3D design software solutions for a range of industries, including marine design and information management, in addition to retaining substantial expertise in the field of plant design.
As director of plant industry for the company, Sami Koponen is well aware of the practical difficulties that arise when designing modelling programs for the oil and gas industry.
"The specificities involved in designing an industrial plant or an offshore facility are really complex," says Koponen. "There is not a single stand-alone software program that can be used for this type of design and engineering. Hence the importance of interoperability between different programs and disciplines; after all, the more standardised the processes in which the data is shared, the more error free and, therefore, more productive the whole endeavour will be for the end client, who finally pays the bill."
Cadmatic has worked hard to make sure that its design software has remained intuitive and user friendly. For example, if equipment needs to be moved to a new location within the simulation, its connection to the pipe network modelled within the structure is not automatically severed. Rather, the pipe geometries are altered automatically, saving time and resources.
Moreover, the software retains compatibility with Microsoft products, as 3D models from different CAD systems can be imported with ease.
It is to that end that the IFC interface between Tekla Structures and Cadmatic software is allowing easy import and export of data between stakeholders in the construction process. "It's what I would call the bulletproof solution to exchange data with Tekla Structures users," says Koponen.
It's a partnership founded on their principle strengths within the construction process. Tekla Structures takes care of the steel components of the simulator, allowing engineers to model and detail whole structural sections of the project, such as complex ring plates, node connections, long-seam rotations and plate girders.
Within that, they are also able to visualise welds, bolts, associated weights, and the centre of gravity of the structure and its parts in four dimensions to benefit not only design coordination but also fabrication and site erection.
Cadmatic, meanwhile, assumes responsibility for the piping. "Our work involves the design, engineering and production data related to cabling, HVAC, piping, supports and so on," explains Koponen.
"There can be up to 500km of piping or cable trace in any one project we are involved with. Each section will retain a certain weight and centre of gravity. Designing with this data in mind is our speciality."
This pursuit of standardisation is echoed in the reasons why Cadmatic chose to partner with Trimble in the first place. "We speak the same language, and the cultural aspects are the same," says Koponen.
"Even the behaviour is the same and, of course, we're also headquartered in Finland, a country globally appreciated for its expertise in high technology."
Certainly, the result is a collaboration that will serve structural engineers in the oil and gas sectors well in the coming years.