Breaking down operational silos

Synergi Pipeline - Pipeline Insights 2021 report

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Breaking down operational silos is crucial for pipeline companies, gas utilities, or any asset-centric businesses that aim to make informed decisions with complete information for optimal effectiveness and efficiency. A fully integrated approach that eliminates traditional operational silos provides the collaboration and insights needed for effective management, planning, and decision-making.

“Never the twain shall meet!” 

One of my favorite comedy shows from the 1980s was Never the Twain. It is about two competing independent antique dealers with very different approaches to life and who are constantly bickering. However, they have in common that the son of one is married to the other’s daughter. So, they have common interests at heart, both family- and business-related, but mix about as well as oil and water. 

The phrase “never the twain shall meet” comes from the Rudyard Kipling poem, The Ballad of East and West, and has come to be used as a means to express situations where views or actions are very different, have little common ground, and are generally believed to be unreconcilable. Unfortunately, it’s a phrase that springs to mind all too often when I talk to the planning, operations, and integrity teams responsible for the management and safety of physical assets, including those for oil and gas pipelines and gas networks. This situation is sub-optimal in so many dimensions. It impacts operational effectiveness and efficiency and becomes visible through reduced business, safety, and environmental impact performance. 

So, what are they missing out on and why is it important that they do “meet”? What can we do about it? Well, there are many touchpoints where added value could be achieved through better collaboration. Let’s examine the touchpoints in the lifecycle of a pipeline. 

Design and construction 

By the time a major physical asset such as a pipeline is commissioned and becomes operational about 10 – 15% of its lifetime costs will have been incurred. However, the decisions made during design and construction will lock in up to 90% of the lifetime cost. So, the impact is that while the costs are mostly incurred during operations the opportunity to control these costs post-commissioning is limited. Typically, new pipelines are routed such as to reduce construction costs. However, what if we included the lifetime fuel costs for pumps or compressors; the lifetime cost of risk management based upon proximity to people and property or the potential to impact environmentally sensitive areas? What if we could simulate the lifetime performance of the asset and profile its combined operational costs over time? 


Breaking down operational silos in pipeline management 

The answer to this is to be able to simulate the performance from the expected operational conditions based upon a digital representation of the asset and its environment. Indeed, this is the foundation of the pipeline’s digital twin. With route location, construction details, and mapping we have the physical structure and operating environment for the pipeline. We then need what the physical demands will be upon the pipeline over time; the required throughput. Then we come to the “behaviors” of the pipeline: 

  • How does it operate? 
  • What are the threats and degradation to which it is exposed? 
  • How likely is it to fail? 
  • What happens if it does fail? 

These “behaviors” are all provided through captured knowledge, engineering modelling, and data analytics, including hydraulic modelling, risk modelling, integrity assessment, and failure mechanics. Armed with this we can evaluate combinations of route and construction options alongside operational scenarios. 

Operations and maintenance

When we move into the operational phase of the pipeline, we are faced with the dynamic challenges of managing the asset and ensuring its effectiveness and fitness to meet the required throughput. This is fundamentally about the reliability and availability of the pipeline under actual and projected operational conditions. We need to be able to get answers to questions such as, “can we deliver this amount of product over this timeline while keeping the risks of failure as low as reasonably practicable (ALARP)?”; “Are the projected risks within the safety and environmental performance levels set by the operator and/or regulator?” 

Enter the digital twin once more. Now it knows how it was actually constructed, any subsequent changes made to it, and it also has historical information on the demands it has been put under, how it was managed, and how it has degraded over time. In addition, it has available real-time operational conditions and perhaps condition information from sensors delivered through the SCADA or other monitoring systems. This feeds the analytics for projecting future behaviors and updating the understanding of the asset and its performance under operational conditions. The performance of the pipeline is a convolution of the operating environment, demand, and how we manage the integrity and safety of the asset. Typically, these are managed somewhat independently with loose interdependency assumptions. 

Data and information are the foundation 

At the heart of the matter is that many of the decisions made in all parts of a pipeline business depend upon the same information and often results of assessments or analysis from other operational areas. If we are to break down the operational silos, data and information management and being able to trust the source are fundamental. Many silos are perpetuated by the inability to share data or, alternatively, by being unable to trust data not directly curated and managed by the occupants of any individual silo. Breaking down silos requires trust and an assurance that a single source of information is viable and fit for the purposes of the individuals and the tasks they need to complete, regardless of the silo to which they may belong. 

This is the core of the value brought to you by a digital twin. What’s more, when following the digital twin recommended practice from DNV, DNV-RP-A204: Qualification and assurance of digital twins you can begin to build the trust within your organization that the deployed digital twin is assured to acceptable standards and trustworthy. 

Beyond the data 

The next critical element in breaking down silos is the toolset to leverage the extended value of the cross-domain information. Traditionally, each silo has typically had its own toolset and little shared capability between them. This has been an artefact of organizational structure and information access. True value is enabled when we can utilize information from all areas of the organization and use it in analytical tools that deliver insight not possible through the divided, standalone setup. 

To meet this need, we at DNV are on a journey to enable our software users to derive additional value from our pipeline modelling and complex engineering applications such as Synergi Gas, Synergi Pipeline Simulator, and Synergi Pipeline. The core capabilities are being combined into task-centric applications and, where appropriate, augmented by machine learning to extract value from extended data sets. An example of this is our regulator station Synergi Gas Overpressure Analysis application, which combines Synergi Gas network analytics with risk and consequence analysis from Synergi Pipeline. 

In conclusion 

Back to Rudyard Kipling and The Ballad of East West and the first four lines, which read as follows: 

"Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet, Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God’s great Judgment Seat; But there is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth, When two strong men stand face to face, though they come from the ends of the earth!"

Now that we have these lines, we can see that the message goes way beyond the idea of “never the twain shall meet”. The truth is that there is and should not be any division between concepts such as East and West. Nor should there be between the operational areas of a pipeline company, a gas utility, or any other asset-centric business. We at DNV are working to make this a reality. 

Find out more 

To learn more about the Synergi Gas Overpressure Analysis application, the Synergi Pipeline regulator station risk model and other task-centric applications contact us.

Author: Tom Gilmour

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