Oil and gas refinery

How Successful Operations Adapt 3D Visualization to Manage Operational Change (MOC): Digital Twins for the Oil & Gas Industry

Managed Operational Change (MOC) Effectively Can Mean The Difference Between Survival and Failure of a Business Today


On January 21, 2021, Visual Plan hosted a Managing Operational Change webinar with oil and gas industry consultants Chris Morabito of Duke Energy and technical process chemistry expert Dan Reed on how 3D visualization can enables complex facilities to manage operational change and excel in adopting technological advances. Below is an adapted transcript of that interview, edited for clarity.

Click here to view the MOC Webinar

Jeff Tetzlaff: On the frontlines of things like manufacturing and complex factory environments. We’re going to learn what something and some people are doing to be the most successful operations in adapting 3D visualizations into this world we live in of virtual production now. Today we’re going to combine the experience of a couple of guests. We’re going to discuss managing operational change in this new economy. When I talk about “new virtual economy”, what I’m getting at is that your physical plant may or may not be changing right now. With pandemics abound, there’s retirements, workforce reductions: there’s a lot of flux in the operational environment. Yet those of us who work in that arena are being tasked with working with fewer people on site required to produce at greater or equal rates than in the past. And this means that we’re going to have a gap in personnel that could potentially compromise operational reliability and safety.

I’ll share a couple of quotes for your knowledge from a 2015 report that Deloitte and Touche did. I found it interesting that back in 2015, manufacturing executives across the United States were very much inline with the fact that there was already a knowledge gap or lack of people capable of continuing their success. And today we know that things have changed even more dramatically.

“Over the next decade there could be a shortage of 2 million manufacturing employees.”

“About 2.7 million workers are expected to retire in the next 10 years.”

“Seven in 10 manufacturing executives surveyed by Deloitte report shortages of workers with
adequate technical and computer skills, while 69% say applicants lack problem-solving skills.”
– By Dori Meinert, Nov 1, 2015

So why am I doing this interview process? I have over 30 years in an operations environment, and my goal is to bring usable tools to operations to make it easier to get work done. It’s that simple. Why can my kids use their cell phones to get anywhere on the planet, but people like us on the frontlines that run and fix things can’t use their phones to simply get around their employers factories or to find things they can’t find? Why are we stuck with blueprints or physical measurements? That’s what this forum is: to provide a way to connect the most valuable tool an operational employee has (which is their eyes) to the power of the investments that have already been made into very complex 3D data.

Some further recommendations here: When we speak of managed operational change, this is the overview process. It’s a basic 7 step process.

If we look at one piece of that – the educational piece, this gap in knowledge. If we look at that gap it comes down to training, or retraining, which i like to call continuous commissioning. Today we are going to talk specifically about this area. When we talk about visualization, we mean being able to actually use or act upon 3D data. Which in the operational environment like what you see here, very complex areas can be challenging.

Let’s introduce our first guest: Chris Morabito. Chris spent 20-30 years delivering reality capture, portable 3D measuring solutions, the really high end of these technologies to a number of different times of these high stress production facilities in manufacturing. Everything from precision CNC to building bridges. Today, all of this really cool stuff, you now are doing things with Duke Energy. Can you share with us a bit about what your mission is for Duke?

Chris Morabito: Thanks for having me. My background is in mechanical engineering – that goes back into plant modernization and design. Way back to when we were literally just using CAD at Fleur. Longtime ME and 3D metrology has been my world since the early 2000s. Our team at Duke – we provide 3D laser scanning measurement and metrology services. Metrology is the scientific study of measurement. We do this for clients inside of Duke, mainly started with nuclear critical outages. In the last few years it’s extended into fossils and renewable energy stations – wind, gas, mixed / combined cycle, etc. Now we’re expanding outside of that to cover projects for external customers outside of Duke as well.

Jeff: To jump in here quickly Chris – as we’re moving around this pre-treatment facility in this 800 megawatt power area. You’re bringing lots of these technologies together for Duke to deliver critical information about the facility. Here we’re looking at something you were doing in testing out a different end of that spectrum which is the photogrammetry. Can you speak a bit about what you were doing here and where this fits inside of the overall ops efficiency of the capture world?

Chris: We were involved in scanning this entire facility

Jeff: That was laser scanning and drones for overhead?

Chris: Laser scanning, drones – yeah we had drones that were capturing overhead. We were using 360 photogrammetry to help introduce this visualization to Duke. This is the area that we laser scanned along with another area 150 feet above, on a top steam deck.

Jeff: As we look at this, Chris, you captured this pretreatment area with laser and with 360 – obviously there’s needs for both. How would this photogrammetry piece end up helping the high end engineering that you are engaged with? The compliance – the commissioning – and so forth?

Chris: There are obviously going to be areas that are so tightly complex – when you’re replacing something or repairing something – depending on the need for an area for training or maintenance purposes. When we’re seeing a valve that we aren’t getting a pressure reading on, to be able to show that and communicate with a quick annotation in this tool “i need you to check on this area” – and it leads them exactly to that area. Whether they are calling an external vendor or service team to go out – they can preview what they need. Do we have an electrical panel? What kind of gear do we need? Safety gear? How far up are we climbing? Do we need a lift? How can we get the information to the right people and even invite them in virtually to review this area.

Jeff: Talking about our focus on the knowledge gap – I think that many folks in the operational environment are unaware that information as simple as we’re seeing on the screen. Obviously it took effort of the organization to gather, produce capture test etc. But when you think more in terms of the specific use of visualization – can it help deliver more value in your organization even just as an educational tool? Be it long term, retrain, knoweldge retention – what are your thoughts there?

Chris: Absolutely. Because it’s so fast – the scanning that we do takes 8-10 minutes per laser scan. With Visual Plan’s 360 photogrammetry, I was able to do the entire facility within 10 minutes in the time of one laser scan.

Jeff: Both were done together – so you end up accelerating your process?

Chris: Yeah and we catch everything. When we have the site captured, and there is another project coming up – like if we need to replace a steam generator or some large pump – this is what we need to know to plan. Whether we’re doing higher level scanning or even maintenance or having vendors come in. Everything right now has changed in our world as far as protocols to come in on site – we have vendor meetings now where we’re bringing photogrammetry information in to allow them to see it firsthand. Literally doing virtual simulations to say these are the avenues that are safe to move, which equipment needs to be removed or replaced rather than accidentally taking out something or having an issue come up that stops the progress.

Jeff: The type of facility you’re showing there – I have extensive experience being in those pre treatment areas. It’s self evident to me as we sit here and talk about it, since all of us are working virtual here, there’s a lot of education we could do here just simply on how to operate that or fix that unit, or even where to find it. It seems you are seeing not only operational efficiency in even just getting this data – but the opportunities to expand into that educational piece.

Chris: I think the opportunities there – especially for customers not utilizing visualization like this – is for them to go ahead and start. To allow for safe access of outside or internal support – it gives everyone in the organization better visualization of what’s going on and to be able to communicate how do we take care of this next project. You’ve got virtual controlled access for simulation, training, familiarity, job prep, safety. The ability to create a safe environment protocol for customers, support and service teams, which is critical right now.

Jeff: So next I’d like to introduce another professional – Dan Reed. He and i worked together as well in some of the high intensity areas of manufacturing. Dan’s a professional engineer and has worked for over 30 years as what i like to call an embedded contractor in the refinery industry, finished fuels and other complex chemical infrastructures. So Dan you’ve touched everything from hazardous waste disposals on superfund sites to fuel additive processing – all of these in an operational fashion across all of North America and wider. In contrast to Chris, I know that you have little experience working with operations using 3D information to help you. Can you talk a bit about what you do right now in the chemical industry and your thoughts on those challenges with this knowledge gap?

Dan Reed: Sure – to touch a little bit on background. I work in a large number of refineries – typically i work with the oil industry downstream thought i have worked upstream as well. One of the things that is a burden in today’s world is the management of change process has become very cumbersome. It can require as many as 20 to 25 signatures in some cases, and I’m typically stuck implementing one of these a day. 20 years ago we thought we were lucky when we digitized everything and it became a digital world – but what that lacks is that 15 of those signatures will want to put their hands on or see in the field what we’re talking about. As simple as a small chemical injection or a small change.

A lot of those people – a metallurgist for example – is not typically familiar with the plan and will spend a lot of time and effort to physically locate and track down what we’re talking about. Where the change is to be made, usually that involes me handholding. If there’s something like this, I’ve eliminated a number of hours. When I publish this to the team and say it’s right here – you can find it if you need it. Typically this is enough detail for enough of those people to be satisfied and it speeds up the whole process, reduces the manpower involved. We can then take it and use that as a training tool. We can document that it looked like before and after. And then it’s a training document for the operators that will be the end users of the equipment. You can use them in the approval process for ergnomic reasons, etc. It has just tremendous power.

I think of an example right now – I have a number of young operators in a plant I oversee some processes for. The difference between the field operator and the guy in the control room is 1 year versus 2 years of experience. So neither one is really versed – none of them have gone through major shutdowns in the plant for example. There are a number of valves that don’t get used but once in 3 to 5 years. And to get a consensus on to where that valve is and to confirm – to have the board operator walk the guy in the field to that position. This provides a tremendous tool to be able to do that.

Jeff: So Dan as I’ve introduced a wide range of this technology to you in the last 3-5 years. We can look at something practical here like these deaerator systems – the challenges of someone saying well which valve do I pull. You and I have lived that world. What are your thoughts on why the operations environment has not been able to access this type of data very easily? Do you have any thoughts on what the obstacles are?

Dan: The obstacles are – it’s been really expensive in the past. Speed is obviously an issue – or used to be more of an issue than what you’re showing here. This is really practical. It’s the education level of the end user to be able to use the software. It’s got to be really simple to say this is where I need to be, this is where I need to go, which direction I should be looking. Likewise, it has to happen for 2 people if you’re trying to communicate something where they probably aren’t even in the same room. If they were in the same room it’d be much easier.

Jeff: I know that there’s more that we can dive into today, but I’d like to get some final thoughts from both of you. We’re talking a bit about these different viewpoints – and Dan you are very familiar as almost a used term in the refining industry as MOC if you will – when we look at the overall view of operational change and visualizing or using this type of access to information as a trainer. Can you speak to what you think the impacts could be on the wider area of MOC?

Dan: I think the potential is tremendous. It may be limited by your imagination only to simplify the process. This serves as a tremendous tool to document, put everyone on the same page, communicate where those changes lie, what those changes will look like – and then take that to use the same information and incorporate it into a training tool for the end users that now have to implement and use those changes. That reduces the amount of effort on everyones part – expedites the whole process. Typically from my experience, when I’m asked I go out to a number of chimcal applications and many times they’re put in an emergency process for lack of a better term – I can procure pumps and equipment and construct faster than the paperwork can travel through with the approval process. It makes it very difficult even in the digital world to get that many people on board who want to visualize or experience whether they are actually in the field or see it on the computer screen. That is a tremendous tool.

Jeff: Valuable insight – especially with the timing of the pandemic environment. Any thoughts from you then Chris? You work with change in a different way within a power organization?

Chris: I’d like to build on what Dan’s mentioned – I think it gets rid of that treasure hunt of ‘okay i’ve got this problem and i’m trying to communicate it to someone else who may not have any knowledge of the area’. I think Duke is really big on pre-job planning – so what all do we need to preplan. For those who haven’t done it before, to give them a pre-visual of what we’re looking at start to finish of how it’s going to look, what parts we are going to need, for either maintenance or replacement. The planning part – having everybody on the same page from the get-go. We’re all visual.

Dan: Can I offer one more example? I managed a service organization for a number of years: whenever there was a bid-spec coming out. For example if I didn’t have process diagrams, it wasnt worth my travel – and many times i had to travel just to visualize because a drawing does not show you whats in the field – a classic example is that two parts of a single unit were roughly a mile part. The drawing doesn’t show you that. So when you’re trying to push chemical between the parts, there’s a lot of hose you didn’t account for. This solves that problem instantly.

Jeff: Early on I said that retaining knowledge of factory and process ops is really critical now – so if we don’t do something different in how we educate or keep that knowledge, we risk compromising both operational reliability and safety. Would you guys agree or disagree with that promoted idea?

Dan: Absolutely agree.

Chris: Yep – agree.

Jeff: Well you always want agreement at the end of a discussion. I want to thank Chris and Dan for their discussion and hopefully we can further this discussion on MOC and where these type of technology can really help people drive and make their jobs easier on the site and maybe do so without being there as often so as not to compromise safety and operational reliability. Let’s check if there any audience questions.

Audience questions:

What preventive maintenance processes do you feel this would be most valuable, and where would 360 photos NOT be valuable?

Chris: I think there are instances where a 16th or 8th of an inch – if that’s not planned out, that can be quite an issue. That’s where we would rely on the right technology for the intended outcome.

Jeff: So you’re saying like in what we were showing, Chris, you use a lot of high end technology and it makes sure you are engineering correct and in spec and you’ve commissioned that thing to operate. But after that, visualization tends to be enough to ensure you stay operating – is that what you’re kind of getting at?

Chris: That’s correct. We have to look at the type of accuracy and the cost associated – for instance if we miss something. If we take out or have to bring down a panel that’s running a critical operation, because we didn’t use the right tool at the right time – to have all of this site-wide 360 technology available to decide what tool we need to use is very valuable.

Jeff: Dan I know Preventive maintenacne is a big part of your world – speak a little bit to that because the number of preventative tasks that turn into savings and efficiencies is enormous.

Dan: Let’s touch on the planning of any kind of maintenance – typically, 3D visualization lets me – without having to go out into the field – to understand does the truck fit through the hole it needs to drive through? Are utilities handy? Job safety analyses and assessments – is there a safety shower there or do I need to bring a portable one because the closest one isn’t within eyesight? Very simple things that visualization can do without having to invest time to go out in the field. I work in a number of refineries and I would say probably 1 person in 5-10 is doing no more when he’s in the field than visually confirming something. That’s a huge man power investment just to walk out there. I’m still going to stress at the end of the day the operator of the unit needs to be there with the maintenance people to confirm they are doing exactly right thing. But a lot of that planning can be done without being in the field with significantly less requirements. And in the planning stage if you need to fix XYZ valve, you can provide pictures of the area as part of the work submittal, you are several steps ahead of the game.

Jeff: Yeah you don’t want to be walking around these places like a lost sheep as they say.

Does the ability to share your pointclouds in the Visual Plan platform provide value? And if so what type of value?

Chris: Yeah first off I’d ask was it created by (laser) scanning or photogrammetry? What type of scanner was it created with – so I know the accuracy level of that. Based on that, I think it can really increase that confidence of accuracy if you’re needing to measure in a certain area that pointcloud can be very valuable.

During a turnaround, what type of savings would you see using 3D visualization as a critical role?

Dan: Turnarounds in an oil refinery is planned years in advance. The planning for 2025 has already started in a number of places. The details of that, documentation of that, through any kind of visualization process – it was a number of years when I was doing the service side of the business before I started incorporating photographs because a number of customers were sensitive about including images of equipment. But if you give a photograph to a maintenance vrew in the field – they can walk up and visualize and find it easily, walk up and have a plan pretty well put together – so when that operator comes by, this is confirming everything and move on so people can go to work. I’d hate to wager a percentage on a shutdown but it would be a significant, measurable percentage.

Jeff: You and I have experienced this in a turnaround because it’s planned so well in advance – there are a lot of stakeholders. And all of those stakeholders have to be on a common ground of understanding in that complex understanding. To date, in many cases, it’s all of those trips back into the units or back to the plant, all of those trips just to get people to look at the same thing. When in fact visualization today really effects that. The percentages are quite high in time savings – I would suspect most assessment and planning could be done from a person’s home, very much like like we were just looking at that live today. That’s essentially how it could be done if you were working through the processes or planning for it, or as you follow through with it. It’s gotta be a significant time percentage just in time of travel.

Dan: I think that’s exactly right – and I’ll use the example of collision, if two contractors are tasked to do work in the same area, the visualization in advance can recognize those types of collisions and the delays associated with it. It’s been my experience in every shutdown ever and I’ve done a way to many of them, it’s the unplanned events that bite you, that cost you and destroy your critical path, that mess up the entire shutdown, cause cost overruns, etc. They’re not fun when they’re recognized, and recognizing even a few of those in advance, visualization is by far the best way to do a lot of that. It saves you a ton of money and gets you a little more sleep at night. That’s all good.

Jeff: Oh yeah – I can relate to that. Sleep is a good thing. So it looks like we don’t have any more questions. Gentlemen – I thank you for your time today and thank everyone for jumping online and listening in. It was fun talking with colleagues i’ve known for many years and I hope we can discuss operational change and visualization again in the future.