Benefits of using digital twin technologies in times when physical presence is restrained

As with most other industries, the energy sector is experiencing challenging times. Here, we list some of the ways digital twin technologies contribute to increasing stability, improving control and driving efficiency in heavy asset operations in times where physical presence is restrained.

  • Text:Shane McArdle, VP Production

Field experience is arguably the most valuable quality when dealing with operational scenarios. These days, however, the number of people physically deployed on facilities has been significantly reduced. Although this situation is unprecedented, unplanned shutdowns and ESD situations are of course situations that occur independent of the current situation. The ability to react quickly is paramount. Digital twins enable operators to have their eyes on their facilities from anywhere in the world. Having this ability enables remote orchestration of work execution and allow a global pool of experts to contribute in decision support. Workers who are unable to be on site can still contribute to the daily operations and safety of the facility. A real-time operational view of people, assets and events makes the big picture available, allowing operators to zoom in on areas that require critical focus. This drives improved task management and synergies, all done remotely. Scaling this principle affords operators the ability to deploy otherwise trapped global expertise to their entire asset portfolio.

When oil prices are fluctuating as they are now, reduced time-to-value is a priority amongst operators. In this context, digital twins exhibit two main benefits. First, they provide insight into the physical assets and the rich underlying data in-context. The ease of access to data stimulates no-risk experimentation and rapid analysis, that can quickly be turned into action. Second, digital twins represent the opportunity to quickly roll out a flexible and accessible innovation framework, where value-targeted apps can be rapidly deployed. At Kongsberg Digital, we work together with our customers to rapidly deploy digital twin functionality to unlock value including both near-term quick wins and longer-term strategic initiatives. Such initiatives must be aligned to operators’ foremost challenges. Top of mind items include

•        Increased production efficiency

•        Reduced OPEX, through optimized maintenance, worker efficiency and reduced travel/logistics. «Do more with less» is a recurring theme.

The markets may be out of our control, but production stability should not be. Digital twins provide a heightened degree of certainty in operational exception scenarios, allowing operators to maintain production stability and navigate through complex operational challenges. Operators can leverage digital twins to run scenario-based analysis, i.e. what-if parameter-based modeling, rather than spending time staging data. In addition to contributing value within the production regime, the digital twin provides the full situational awareness surrounding an event. If a change scenario requires logistics or other situational awareness, that is also modeled in. In our digital twin solution, Kognitwin Energy, Hybrid Machine Learning combines data analytics and IoT with physics-based simulation models to run advanced simulations on the Kognitwin to test, monitor and predict outcomes or detect abnormal behavior. These mechanisms allow operators to act-with-intelligence in near real time, avoiding plant instabilities and adverse events.

Many projects are facing delays or suspension of development activities. This can cause setbacks in not only the project timelines, and results in a pause of other value-generating activities, including executing on digital strategies. Such a pause can now be taken advantage of to proactively improve the operating regime, i.e. focus on those details that are otherwise secondary, but have high impact. Examples of such activities are

•        Training of operators and remote personnel – focusing on establishing common areas (e.g. digital twins) and work practices

•        Tuning the work process, onshore and offshore – to get the most value of out digital technologies, e.g. digital twins. Work process adopted during the current scenario may set a positive precedence for how work is managed more effectively in the future.

•        Proactive testing of production regimes

•        Ability to do further virtualized testing of the facility, potentially discovering costly over-design or incorrect designs caught during field development or modification projects

Operators are fielding the current oil price scenario by materially reducing their OPEX levels. This puts the onus on operators to “do more with less” and to properly leverage analytics and digital technologies to increase efficiency levels. Through digital twins, large energy companies can integrate expertise and historical data to improve performance today. With self-service analytics available in the cloud on digital twins, local asset teams can broadcast the need for expertise on a certain equipment type and get access to the company’s global expertise, enable identified experts with the analytics tools and data. With all information in context, experts can easily access historical data, live data streams and OEM information for virtualized collaboration and problem solving. Algorithms and methods may be tested, deployed and experiments are done in virtual scenarios, rather than on the actual facility, allowing for extensive boundary case testing, resulting in higher confidence and safety levels when implementing changes.

Operators are frequently challenged by the need to redesign and redeploy part of their facilities due to over-specification or insufficient testing prior to installation. Digital twins integrated with structured engineering data systems allow operators a means to virtually test production operations prior to finalizing the design. Digital twins with the appropriate cloud-based scaling mechanisms allow operators to test the boundary cases, i.e. operation at the edge of the envelope, more thoroughly, resulting in higher confidence in design and thus limited rework and re-procurement costs. The added ability to fully simulate the production regime, from subsea through topsides allows operators to fully virtualize commissioning and ramp-up, leading to shortened commissioning times and accelerated first oil. Since the digital twin represents a fully virtualized model of the facility, maintenance and logistics operations may be fully simulated and executed upon in advance, increasing familiarity and reducing risk. All of the above contributes to CAPEX reduction. These concepts are further re-usable in major events across the facility lifecycle, such as major maintenance activities, turnarounds and complex modification projects.