Interview with Simon Evans, Director of Digital Engineering
As one of the world’s largest engineering and design firms, SNC-Lavalin continues to develop its digital capabilities, combining technological skills with traditional engineering expertise. Their continuous approach to innovation has led them to become industry experts helping to enhance operations for their customers. Simon Evans, Director of Digital Engineering discusses the company’s digital approach, including the ‘digital twin’ concept and use of immersive technology.
What innovations do you think will most benefit the oil and gas sector?
The “digital twin” approach, wherein you use design data and/or digital scanning to create a highly accurate 3D environment of an asset through data capture, enables an asset owner to leverage its data to create and sustain value across a full lifecycle. Used on greenfield projects it allows you to integrate data into a model at the outset that embeds efficiency and productivity gains into the ongoing operation of the facility. Efficiently cracking the ‘digital twin’ for brownfield sites would deliver considerable value to asset owners. The missing link in the chain is the efficient and accurate conversion of complex geometric data into CAD. The technology industry is investing to address this, and have made significant progress including using image recognition and ML, though it is probably 2+ years from being fully automated.
How is SNC-Lavalin using immersive technology to increase efficiency in the industry?
SNC-Lavalin use immersive technology, such as virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR), across the entire project lifecycle, providing greater spatial context and understanding to an environment. For example, we use it for design and hazard reviews, installation and construction planning, outage and downtime optimisation, and of course training. These technologies are sadly often perceived as ‘gimmicks’. For us they are enablers, and the focus is always on the outcomes and benefits they bring. With targeted and engineering-led applications, we are using these technologies to enhance our engineering design, construction and operations, which enables us to improving safety and efficiency whilst reducing costs (often by quite significant amounts!). Excitingly, we’re also using these technologies to facilitate and enrich global collaboration by bringing together multiple dispersed teams into a 3D virtual environment - allowing them to collaborate and share whilst seeing virtual ‘avatars’ of each other. This is brilliant for iterative design reviews, preparing teams for inspections and works, and of course shared health and safety training.
What impact can this use of technology have for effective training?
Immersive technologies are hugely impactful for training, especially in situation where repetitive tasks or maintaining competence levels is crucial. Studies has shown that the knowledge retention rate from traditional ‘classroom’ based training is in the order of 15%. Whereas training conducted using immersive technologies like virtual reality result in a retention rate of over 75%! The technology also allows you to virtually recreate and train for scenarios that may be difficult or expensive to simulate in real-life, such as major accident hazards.
Will new levels of training be necessary to equip the industry for these emerging technologies?
Absolutely, “Digitalisation” requires a cultural shift and training is key to ensuring the adoption of emerging technologies. Additionally, there will also be a change in the makeup of workforces to include more data analysts and ‘digital engineers’.
How can the introduction of digital technology help to reduce costs?
The oil price changes have forced oil companies to seek innovation to maintain operations efficiently; whereas gas companies were not typically hit by these price changes as dramatically. Digitalisation has the potential to reduce costs by up to 30%, so companies are most certainly seeking advantage here. SNC-Lavalin has and continues to be involved in some large innovations across a number of sectors. One example: we were the first company to successfully fly a drone over a nuclear licensed site in the UK with all the CAA (UK Civil Aviation Authority) approvals.
What are the most important innovations in the field of digital engineering currently taking place?
Data reuse is a key theme. The integration of digital technologies across the design-build-operate lifecycle will enable us to mine and analyse historic and current project data to inform and design future projects and improve the management of assets. Tools such as automated parametric design, drones for surveying and inspection, and virtual and augmented reality are changing how we deliver projects to our clients. Visitors to our stand will be able to hear and experience these tools and see examples of where we are applying them.
For you, how is digitalisation and new technology transforming the face of the industry?
Digitalisation is radically changing how companies operate. Over the next decade, we will see a number of technology advances in automation, data analytics and design, driven by the underlying need to reduce operating costs and improve efficiency by optimising and standardising production methodologies. With advances in sensors and automation, it is likely that all high-hazard sites will be significantly de-manned during normal operations by 2030. Standardised design will mean we see fully IoT (Internet of Things) enabled, automated facilities (as Equinor are currently piloting as part of their Remotely Operated Factory Development roadmap), with data analytics providing optimised production and uptime. Ultimately, perhaps by 2050, exploration, development and interventions will be completed remotely. Machine learning (ML) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) will help us generate insights that inform field execution, enabling us to produce designs rapidly and also shift more of the work into the design part of a project, which both reduces cost and de-risk the construction.
SNC-Lavalin are exhibiting at ADIPEC 2018 and you will be presenting on ‘digital transformation in downstream operations.’ What can attendees expect from you at the event?
ADIPEC is a key event for SNC-Lavalin. It is a wonderful platform for us to showcase how we are able to align work processes & behaviours with best-in-class technologies to create sustainable value for our clients through innovation and technical excellence over the entire asset lifecycle. We have two stands this year, one in the main hall (stand 14425) and one in the digitalisation zone (stand 4435). This is because we will be showcasing live how we are using immersive virtual reality to facilitate collaboration across geographies with multiple participants. On each stand we will also be hosting daily presentations, covering a wide range of specialisms in the oil and gas industry – including digitalisation.