Project Execution in the future in Plant Construction, EPC, Piping, Shutdowns, Site Supervision
Digitization is not "over", it is not just any technological trend. At most the thought that it will pass, will pass. - Michael Pachmajer
Dear Madam, Dear Sir, Dear Readers, Just as the world is constantly changing, so is plant construction industry permanently changing. Right now, the change in the world is happening faster and faster. The pandemic has shown us that we must and can change our habits from one day to the other. Videoconferencing models like Skype had been around for several years, and while the technology was already in place, it was not practical for most people. That changed overnight and today such systems are used not only at work, but also at school and even in private life to “meet friends”. Who would have thought that before the outbreak of the pandemic!? This knowledge and the realization that habits can be changed practically overnight will cause a greater change in our life than we currently suspect because the excuse: “We have always done it this way” has been proven wrong.
Just as there have been massive changes in our daily life, also the execution of plant construction projects, piping works, shutdowns and projects you have the supervision will also fundamentally change. The change that is already evident will spread further and faster.
Everything that can be digitized will be digitized - Hewlett Packard boss Carly Fiorina
Large, small and medium-sized companies must recognize and implement the potential and opportunities of digitization across company boundaries. Those who will master this challenge best in the next few years will achieve significant competitive advantages over their competitors.
The focus of this article is to be limited to the construction and assembly phase of the future, in plant construction industry, piping works, shutdowns and where you have the Project Supervision. To show you new ideas how to make your company fit for the future and to get competitive advantages.
It's up to you alone!
I wish you every success
D.I (FH) Franz Kitting-Muhr, MBA
Project management today
The challenges in realizing projects are omnipresent. The main goal of every project is to finish in the given time frame and budget with the agreed quality. However, we see the trend that more and more work have to be processed in the same or shorter time. Especially in shutdowns, where anyhow often only a few days are available and extreme peaks in personnel occur. In addition, the documentation effort is constantly increasing, the requirements of the customer and the projects are becoming more and more complex and challenging. To complete the total work of art, various companies and subcontractors often work on the same project together. Mostly, at least partial services are provided at different locations before the work is then completed on the construction site. This makes project management much more complex. Therefore, it is more time-consuming and difficult to monitor and coordinate the individual trades. Furthermore, there are often savings in project management or the lack of qualified personnel.
To master this challenge, experienced and assertive project managers, site managers and a reliable, well-trained and experienced team are working together to execute the projects. With their experience and unbelievable hard work, they achieve something unique; namely to transform highly complex projects, on time, on budget and of the required quality into functioning plants. But do we really want to continue to rely on the same way in the future on it? Shouldn't one think about how it will be easier in the future to get projects to the goal? Isn't it becoming more and more difficult to find such qualified and highly motivated people who can or want to organize smaller and larger projects? Is it not getting harder and harder to keep the existing employees in the company? New employees also must be trained first, which will take some time. In addition, other changes are coming among younger employees of the generation Y and Z. For them the work-life balance is much more important than it was for previous generations ever. Often these employees are also less willing to spend several months abroad and separated from their families or to work a lot of overtime. All of this increases the pressure on employers to find suitable solutions for the future.
Depending on the complexity of the project, different methods and tools are used today. These are often Excel tables, Primavera or MS-Project project plans, specially created (Access) databases, barcode systems primarily for material management and ERP systems, which are primarily focused on procurement, finance, controlling and materials management. Only seldom these systems are really suitable for operational project execution.
Wherever there is always newer and better software for engineering available, plants are planned in 3D, virtual tours and simulations are carried out, the teams in project management and especially in the construction phase still have to work with high effort and a lot of paper.
An essential factor in the future will be to make these countless lists, the communication in the project, the high documentation effort, management of thousands of punch points, etc., much more efficient. The project teams will be relieved and can therefore concentrate on the essentials things in project execution.
Most of project teams currently have several applications or lists in use, that most of the times are not connected to each other. It therefore happens that employees work with different information and different files, which results in significant additional work. Communication with the construction site is difficult and information is often not transmitted at all, only partially or incomplete. Employees in the office often do not know the exact status on the construction site and vice versa, because the corresponding tools are missing. The management of the interfaces with subcontractors and other partners involved in the project is therefore difficult as well. All of this is time-consuming, annoying, leads to frustration, extra work and wrong decisions in project management and obscures the view of the essentials. Expensive trained employees also leave the company for this reason.
Furthermore, companies that want to work successfully in the future must considerably increase the use of existing engineering data on the construction site. The project handling in the construction and assembly phase shall be made much easier and clearer overall. The construction site and the office must merge into one unit where all the people involved, work with the same data and the same status of information.
The key to success is: All relevant information must be available in real time for everyone involved in the project, so that employees can work really productive. With this, efficient communication in the project team is made possible and best decisions can be done. Therefore, you achieve project goals more easily. Depending on the company, as simple and as clear as possible project management processes must be implemented, because you achieve then your company goals.
What would it mean for you if: All companies and people involved in the project are integrated on one platform and not only access their relevant data, information, drawings, correspondence, project status, etc. but also make already directly at construction their corresponding entries or documentation into the application? The "transparent project in real time" is not just a dream, it became practical reality! The construction site and office would be therefore perfectly connected and the information, communication and decisions in the project get a completely new quality.
Project execution in the future
Depending on whether it is a plant operator, EPC company or an assembly or execution company, a different depth of digitization will be necessary and possible. The holistic approach to project management includes the digitization of business processes from basic engineering, across the detail engineering, construction and assembly phase, until to commissioning and as far as possible till to maintenance.
The plant is finished on paper ... and now?
The engineering is finished, the 3D model of the plant is available, people are already walking virtually through the plant, simulating the operation, but the construction phase is only now to begin.
Data, plans, lists, etc. must be available on execution site. But on execution site, where is that actually? The engineering took place on place A, the construction site is on place B, the prefabrication is on place C and that is still an easy example, as companies from different countries are often involved in a project. However, it is essential that the good engineering documents and data find the right way to process them - somewhere in this world. In our experience, this still happens today either on paper (physically as well as electronically with web transfer or mail), or occasionally with self-developed solutions.
The growing gap between the excellently compiled engineering data and the construction site is often filled with an enormous amount of paper that has to be "produced". It is known that the projects are increasingly faced with challenges such as increasing complexity, remote locations, many involved parties and cultural differences, as well as increased price and deadline pressure. Nevertheless, the same methods like 20 years ago are still used. Innovative and holistic software solutions can hardly be found.
Once the valuable engineering data has reached the construction or assembly company, often this data must be prepared and additional information are to be add for prefabrication and assembly. All together must find then its way to the workshops or directly to the final construction area where they are used to perform the related work. In the execution and assembly phase a lot of things are to be done. However, it is the same important that the data and documentation are promptly returned to the office from the construction site because then you always know what the real status in execution is and therefore better decisions can be done. This is essential and that effort is mainly done with tons of papers because there not many other options available. And that in times, where I must sign directly at my front door to receive a package!?
With a holistic software solution that includes the entire project management team, including subcontractors and other partners involved in the project, different levels of knowledge would be avoided and that effort would be minimized considerably. This would significantly simplify project management, information could be processed much more efficiently and with higher quality in the project. With prompt and complete feedback from the construction site, needed adjustments can be incorporated in a timely manner or problems that arise, can be resolved at an early stage already.
For plant operators it is important that they always have all the data from engineering to commissioning in their pocket because then they already have the documentation for maintenance available or can access easier existing data in case they want to extant or revamp the plant. In addition, this approach would significantly minimize the risk for plant operators, but also for EPC companies, that if an execution company slips into financial difficulties or even bankruptcy, that they will miss the necessary documentation and data. Or that they have to “buy” them for expensive money and that therefore the completion is much more difficult.
EPC companies would close the gap from engineering to construction and assembly phase till commissioning and start up. For such companies and also for companies that work as construction supervision, the "transparent project in real time" would become reality. They would know exactly what the subcontractors are working on and what the exact current status is in the construction and assembly phase. Deviations from the project are recognized at an early stage and suitable steps can therefore be initiated in proper time.
Assembly and construction companies would benefit, because they simplify their project execution considerably, avoid double entries and work, minimize the necessary documentation and create them in due time. They by themselves would have a clear picture about their performance and could also take prompt action if the achievement of the project goals gets in danger. In addition, more office work could be relocated from the construction site to the home office. This saves costs for travel times, accommodation, allowances, etc. and usually increases employee satisfaction because employees are less often separated from their families.
And how could that look in practice?
An example of how this could work in practice is that the data that are necessary for the construction and assembly activities are imported from engineering via an interface, into a project/construction management application. This application is the main, if not to say the only, tool for project execution. All companies and people involved in the project are integrated in this application, depending on which authorizations and roles they have. The execution companies prepare all necessary data for execution in this application or import the data. It is crucial to use a mobile solution to make this data accessible to the responsible project-, site manager and his employees at the construction site. With this application, it must be possible to carry out or update the required construction site documentation and to make all the needed entries on site. This information’s then are available in real time to all other people involved in the project.
This holistic solution means that all disciplines involved in the project, such as engineering, construction, steel construction, piping construction, E&I, scaffolding, painting, insulation are integrated in one platform. Therefore, the trades can be coordinated much better and more easily and interfaces are minimized. Corresponding areas of application would be as example, the recording of changes and additional works, punch points, the control and implementation of site instructions, progress determination, material management, drawing and related status management, welding part, the administrative section, task manager and much more.
Targeted communication is an important area in project management. Currently this is mostly done by email and numbering the correspondence to keep track. It is much more expedient to integrate this important area into the platform as well, where the entire history to a subject is simply assigned to each correspondence. You can therefore easy identify with pinpoint accuracy what is still unanswered, what the status of a correspondence is and which points are still open. Targeted communication in addition also includes tasks being properly distributed so that they can be processed in proper time. Agile task distribution is the magic word here. This means that tasks in the future are often no longer delegated directly to an employee but to a team. The task is then carried out by the person in the team who is best suited for it or by the person who is available at the required time. Therefore, a corresponding task manager is required.
The main goal is to complete projects on time, within the agreed budget and to the required quality. To guarantee this, good planning but also timely and correct feedbacks are crucial. This means that as soon as the prices are set with the execution company and the first data from engineering are available, to determine the corresponding budget values. Drawing revisions or additional works shall be incorporated automatic or easily immediately because with such an approach fullest cost control is then given already at an early stage. The same applies for handling of changes and additional works at the construction site. Why not to record, document, calculate and sign such additional services right away at the construction site?
In connection with the budget and deadline control, an essential component is that the progress evaluation and thus the “money installed in field" are determined in real time. Imagine you have just installed a vessel on the construction site, confirm this with a simple entry on your tablet or phone and the progress and the invoice amount will be automatically adjusted?
What would this mean for you as a plant operator or EPC company if in early stage, together with the development of the Engineering you know already what the overall project is likely to cost? And this in real time?! Furthermore, in the construction phase you always know what is currently processed, you recognize changes at an early stage and can therefore plan your cash flow accordingly!
What would it mean for you as an execution company if you always know what you will likely be billing at the end of the project, what you have processed right now and could therefore currently invoice? You don't need anymore to prepare the invoice with high effort at the end of every month! Therefore, you would get your money faster. In addition the application is analyzing your performance and the hours spent. It tells you how much hours you are most properly going to spent in the end of the project!
Do you think that you will complete your projects much more successfully if the "transparent project in real time" were practically a reality?
Especially for piping construction
Piping construction as a core discipline of plant construction is one of the most complex trades in terms of project management, with many small steps that have to be completed in order to create the total work of art. Due to the large number of work steps, different trades and companies are often in direct contact. One work step fits seamlessly into the next one. This starts with the procurement of materials. Goes through what isometric should be prefabricated with the available material in order to be able to prefabricate as much as possible. Continues with how must the assembly be done so that prefabricated spools can be installed with minimum effort, till how do I test and make my handover systems so that the plant is put on time into operation correctly. In addition, some trades are directly dependent on piping construction such as painting, insulation, NDT and more.
In piping construction, material management is an essential factor for project success. In addition to the timely availability of the material and control of the assembly based on which material is provided for which isometric for prefabrication and erection, the traceability and documentation of the material is important in execution. Here, the gap from procurement to receipt of the material in the warehouse, where the batch numbers and material certificates are already recorded and stored, including the handover of the material with batch numbers to a certain isometric must be closed. With this approach complete traceability of the installed material is given. Furthermore, the effort for documentation is minimized.
Another elementary topic in piping construction is the entire welding- and documentation chapter. Imagine that the welding and material documentation is digitally available on a tablet or phone at the construction site. You make all the necessary entries directly at the construction site. The correct batch number for the isometric and material documentation has already been assigned correctly due to the material take over described in the section above. Would that not make your work much easier? In addition, you avoid double work entries and mistakes because you no longer must transfer the handwritten entries from the construction site into the final documentation at the office. With the related entries at construction site, the performance of the welders and the project should be monitored as well. This means that when a weld seam is declared as welded, it is added to the welder's statistics and to the isometric statistic. In the same time of course, the progress of the corresponding isometric is updated as well. Seamless integrated should be the further work steps in relation to the weld seam, such as the handling of non-destructive tests and their documentation. The integration of external testing companies should be self-evident because this minimizes your own work, saves time and the documentation is already created completely.
Support for assembly and completion should also be available to all other sub-areas that belong to piping construction such as Pressure test circuits, TIE In management, administration of the blinds and parts removed for the pressure test, etc. so that the entire project handling is digitally mapped. The use of the 3D model directly at the construction site must also be improved.
To put the plant into operation correctly and in good time, not only the test and takeover systems must be defined, it is also important to monitor the execution and corresponding documentation digital. What speaks against for example, that pressure test reports are signed immediately in the field after execution and punch points are recorded directly at construction site when they occur?
Would it help as example, if a application could tell you which isometrics you should prefabricate or assemble with the existing material, to build up the most weight or welds?
What are the average costs for teams with poor performance or for welders with a high error rate?
Especially for shutdowns
Shutdowns are important times in various industries. Since this is a period in which a company cannot produce, the shutdown times are minimized to the most extend possible. This increases the pressure massively for the executing companies.
The specific shutdown periods often are set relatively early in advance. At this time, the exact scope of work is most of the time unknown. Even reserves are planned, in the end everything is often packed into the shutdown scope of work because it is most of the time the only opportunity for years to execute some works. Usually, planning is carried out in great detail in the preparation phase up to the time the shutdown is carried out. A lot of effort is put into the exact determination of the execution sequences and required time frames for each work, in critical path analysis, for the resource requirements and corresponding leveling of it and much more.
Then comes the first day of the shutdown. And with it the first delays and changes in the schedule for various reasons. In the further course of the shutdown, the dynamics in the field increase. Therefore, reporting is delayed, inaccurate or missing entirely. Furthermore, additional works must be executed due to needed repairs and much more. All of this complicates project control, scheduling and the evaluation of progress is getting behind. Therefore, during shutdown execution, the project team often has less and less timely data available. Currently, a lot of resources and money are put into the project management to stay up to date as much as possible. In the worst case, however, project team lose completely or largely track of the execution on site.
The only possibility to remedy this is a mobile solution. All work steps are available in one application, where the supervisor enters directly at the construction site when a work step has been carried out. In doing so, the progress is automatically updated. This electronic recording in real time, directly from the people who carried out the work, creates the prerequisites for being able to control the work sequence and to use therefore the resources in the field efficiently. With little effort you can keep easily track with the works ongoing at construction site.
A key factor in shutdowns is to make the best possible use of the available valuable time and to minimize waiting times because this saves costs and shutdowns can be completed on schedule. In addition to the performance of your own teams, another decisive factor is to manage the interfaces between working teams or different companies in the best possible way. With the mobile solution of the future it will not only be possible to provide recording in real time directly from the construction site, but at the same time the following teams and companies will also be informed about the completion. With this approach, they know when they can start their work. This will reduce waiting times and costs significantly and shutdowns will be carried out much more efficiently. Of course, with this real-time recording, progress and "earned money" are also updated. For this reason efficient cost, budget and deadline control is ensured.
What would it mean for you if you were notified directly from the construction site, with a simple "click" on your tablet or phone that a job has been completed and the progress is adjusted in real time?
Imagine how you can become more efficient and minimize waiting times if your teams or partners are informed in real time when a work step has been completed and they can therefore start their activities!
Can you improve your results if you record additional services directly on the construction site and therefore never again forget to invoice them or if you will never miss the necessary documentation?
The human factor
The people involved in the project are the most important factor in project execution. This is often said, but it is seldom actually acted on! However, it is people who organize, make decisions, do the physical work, and much more.
Most changes in companies fail because of the human factor. It is in our nature that we are against change. Because we want to keep our comfort zone. People's main fear is losing what they have. Only then does the desire to gain something come up. Hence, we are concerned about new things and will always try to maintain and protect the current status.
In addition, the execution of industrial plant construction projects is very complex. With a lot of dynamism during the execution phase. Where many unforeseen and unexpected things can happen. And yes, for this reason it is sometimes even necessary to take shortcuts or work “outside the norm”. Nobody else - no software - can do this better and faster than humans. On the other hand, that there is a need for improvements shows the high stress level by many people working in project execution.
You can have or implement the best tools, software, processes or whatever. If these don't suit people or if people don't accept them, it will fail!
Therefore, the most important thing is to involve people in this digital transformation as early as possible. The advantage is that today almost everyone has a smartphone, tablet, PC and is already using the Internet and is therefore part of global digitization. However, any solution for the project execution of the future must focus on the people and their needs. This transformation must be carried out with and for the people as well as for the organization. It should make the work afterwards easier and not more difficult. The application must serve people and not the other way around. Applications can only help us, but they won't end up doing the job by themselves. People will still do the work. A really successful digital transformation first takes place within a company and with people! This is why it is important: Firstly, to understand what the people and the organization need, and Secondly, how this can be implemented.
The implementation must then take place step by step together with the people it affects. Where wishes, suggestions and changes are taken into account. There must be enough flexibility here.
The goal must be that the results are made for people and the organization and bring added value. Easily understandable, meaningful and user-friendly!
On the way to integrated solutions.
Invest little, profit a lot.
Of course, nobody wants to start the next Mammut IT project with an unpredictable outcome. The well-known Pareto principle says that 80% of the results are achieved with 20% of the total effort. That should be the guideline because the 100% perfect solution will be anyhow never achievable.
One platform. This platform means that the valuable engineering data are made available to project execution without loss. The construction and assembly phase are processed according to clear processes and are also digital captured. Till to commissioning and the use of the data for the Maintenance. In addition, the platform has to have all the essential and useful functions for project management such as deadline and budget control; Material management, welding and material documentation, task manager to minimize interfaces; Management of all isometrics, drawings, correspondence; the recording and / or administration of punch points, pressure test circuits, recording of additional works, TIE ins, scaffolding, as well as the administrative sections. At the same time, the accounting of own services and subcontractor services should be carried out and much more. As a result, the construction and assembly phase would be done much more smoothly and smarter. Simplify plant construction life!
On this one platform, all persons and trades involved can access all their relevant data, drawings, information, correspondence, clarifications, etc. directly with PC and / or mobile devices. They call up the required information, create the documentation and carry out all of the entries and recordings. This is done in real time and directly from construction site. Therefore, communication in the project is significantly improved and better decisions will be done because everyone has the same project status and important information in real time. This must be an easy to use and user-friendly platform where all-important information’s are summarized on user-friendly interfaces.
All RELEVANT data consolidated in one mobile solution, that will be the future.
There are a lot of potential for savings because the construction site is perfectly connected with the office and vice versa. This is the reason why you can save travel costs, costs for accommodation, daily allowances, site facilities and more. In addition, all works are properly documented and can always be called up. This significantly simplifies project execution and additional services will no longer forgotten to be billed. Claim management is underlined by facts provided by the application. Management dashboards and reports form a solid basis are available for making best decisions because they are based on real-time information. Furthermore, project communication will be improved a lot which means that projects are executed on a much better way. Automatic knowledge acquisition and thus a steadily growing pool of knowledge help you to improve yourself continuously. This will then result in improved project and company results and you will gain competitive advantages.
The construction manager, foreman and supervisor will have to interact with communicating tools and equipment in the new digital construction site. However, the focus will continue to be on his organizational and technical skills and abilities. Tablet, smartphone or data glasses will therefore not replace work, but bring various advantages for the construction site process because they will close the gap between construction site and office.
The step by step digitization of the construction site and the consistency of digital process chains from engineering through construction and assembly to commissioning and maintenance are raising economic, structural and safety-relevant potential.
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I wish you a lot of successful projects