Adding engineering technology to the OT/IT mix

01 November 2016

Bhupinder Singh discusses the important role that digital engineering models can play, alongside operation and  information technology, to deliver actionable intelligence from asset performance modelling.

Sensors on operating equipment and assets can produce an enormous volume of big data which has led to a need for improved security, information sharing and data management to allow operational technology (OT) to leverage the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). This, in turn, is driving a convergence with Information Technology (IT). However, many organisations struggle to make use of the data from their OT and IT systems, resulting in missed opportunities to improve asset performance. This is due, in part, to the fact that the digital engineering models developed during the engineering phase of capital projects, are typically not playing a role in operations.

What if owner-operators could use these models in operations? Imagine how a digital engineering model – the engineering technology (ET) of an asset – could help operations and maintenance people forecast problems, do better planning, and improve performance. 

It is now possible for companies to converge their IT, OT and ET – and seamlessly integrate process and information flows between them to enable asset performance modeling for the delivery of actionable intelligence for decision support through an immersive environment for visual operations.

For many years engineering departments have been using advanced modeling and simulation applications that focus on the process of design and construction of an infrastructure asset in a way that improves project delivery and asset performance to optimize CAPEX. There is a staggering amount of information related to assets and today’s engineering technology makes it possible to bring all of this information together within the federated digital engineering model, making it possible to track, access, and share with others collaborating on the project. The technology also enables engineers to model projects in a 3D virtual setting for design integration and construction work packaging, so that when the project is actually constructed in the real world, the project teams and stakeholders are able to minimise unforeseen situations and keep the project on track. 

The beginning of convergence 
The IIoT is driving a convergence between operational technology and information technology.  Digital engineering models can accelerate this convergence and add the visual representation of the real world to aid decision making.

South Australia Water, for example, is using predictive and real-time operational analytics to forecast water demand and improve customer service while reducing operational costs. To create a demand forecasting tool, they needed to pull information from both the operational and IT sides of the organisation in real time. Bentley’s predictive analytics software was chosen as the operational intelligence platform. Real-time monitored sensor data is brought in from the reservoirs, water treatment plants, valves, flowmeters, and pumps spread across the pipeline network. This operational data is combined in real time with climate, energy, cost, and population data and is displayed on dashboards. 

Bringing these data sources together has resulted in improved performance, enhanced understanding of interrelationships, and better decision-making and more accurate predictions of short- and long-term demand.

South Australia Water also integrated a demand optimisation tool that is used to optimise the availability and the movement of clean water around the network to demand areas quickly and efficiently. It calculates how to deliver the water by calculating costs and determining which pumping stations to use and which pumps are needed. Built-in analytics take the output of the demand forecasting tool to develop a live hydraulic model that determines water pressures and flows throughout the network. Using this digital engineering model, South Australia Water can actively optimise water supply and reliability to customers. Customers enjoy improved water security, and response times to problems, such as broken water mains, have been reduced by 90%. Tying together IT, OT, and ET also allows the company to take advantage of lower forward market pricing for electricity. 

Taking the convergence of IT, OT, and ET one step further, it is now possible to enable real-time asset performance modelling, which ensures assets are safe, reliable, and efficient over their operating life. Bentley’s asset performance management software, for example, enables companies to develop both operational and asset strategies for improving reliability and maintaining asset performance and predictable production. Using a common data environment (CDE), companies can collect, consolidate, and analyse data and turn it into actionable intelligence. The software also helps ensure regulatory compliance and is aligned with asset management standards, including PAS 55 and ISO 55001. It also applies leading information modelling and information management technologies to asset operations and maintenance, and when combined with information delivered at handover from projects, provides a complete lifecycle information management solution.

Asset performance modelling
To move to asset performance modelling, 3D digital engineering models across all disciplines are integrated with the IT and OT systems used for asset performance monitoring. As the operating baseline for infrastructure assets, digital engineering models bring together schematics; engineering analyses; network models; 3D models; functional components, catalogues, and specifications. 

It is helpful to think of digital engineering information as the digital DNA for infrastructure assets. Just as doctors can analyse human DNA to anticipate health issues and personalise healthcare for better outcomes, companies can harness the digital DNA of their assets to personalise asset maintenance for better TOTEX, maximised uptime and more. 

Companies could, for example, manage the performance of their assets more effectively with digital engineering models that intelligently bring together all infrastructure data. When IT and OT systems connect with this ET data, teams can view the asset performance history, see all failure alerts, geo-coordinate to the exact positioning within the infrastructure asset, and drill down into the 3D digital engineering model to determine the cause of the alarm. Then they can refer to the manufacturer’s degradation data, access maintenance and repair data information, and take corrective action – all in seconds. 

Having an accurate frame of reference – for example, capturing precisely located photographs and videos and comparing these over time – allows companies to bring together OT, IT, and ET to support asset performance modeling. Photogrammetric surveying methods now allow systems to keep these frames of reference up to date. Bentley’s ContextCapture software, for example, is being used to turn digital photography from UAVs and close up ground shots into accurate as-operated 3D models of infrastructure assets. Rather than producing a point cloud, the software generates a 3D reality mesh that can be brought directly into a 3D engineering environment, and geo-coordinated for precise real-world location, to design in context or compare the digital engineering model with the reality mesh — highlighting differences between the digital design and the actual conditions. The 3D reality mesh can provide the digital frame of reference aligning all IT, OT, and ET data with the real world. When events occur or alerts are triggered, users can navigate their assets through the 3D mesh and then drill down to related maintenance and repair manuals and more. The entire experience is immersive, highly accurate, and based on the latest data.

These same technologies allow designers to engineer – and re-engineer – in context. For example, when making the decision to repair, replace or remove, rather than starting from scratch or using an existing design model, it is possible to use the continuously surveyed model of the plant or asset as the accurate, 3D representation for the decision. Engineers can walk through the model virtually and explore the options for adding or replacing equipment in the context of the 3D reality mesh. Once the engineering is approved and construction or replacement begins, the same continuous surveying technique can continuously generate a new 3D reality mesh to track progress and finally create the new point of reference for IT, OT, and ET. Everyone involved can see conditions change as construction progresses – and once work is complete, it is possible to continuously monitor and model assets to assess conditions, drill down into alerts and issues, take informed action, and optimise asset performance.
We are at an incredibly exciting convergence in the world of asset management. The ability to work in a comprehensive modeling environment and connecting with the IIoT through asset management and predictive analytics software, companies can converge their information technology, operational technology and engineering technology – and seamlessly integrate processes and information flows between them. The next generation of engineers will no doubt continue to find ways to further exploit this convergence in unprecedented ways. 
Bhupinder Singh is chief product officer at Bentley Systems.

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