Digital transformation shaping change for the LNG industry

Jul 29, 2018
9 min read
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Hans Kouwer, Hexagon PPM, discusses the current LNG industry trends and challenges for the Middle East, and how digital transformation shapes the future of the industry

There’s a lot of talk about LNG as natural gas is expected to be the fastest growing fossil fuel until 2030. There are many positive sides to natural gas in comparison to its fossil counterparts – it’s less emission-intensive while gas plants are often cheaper to operate than other type of refineries. According to Royal Shell’s LNG Outlook 2017, the global demand for gas is expected to increase by 2 per cent a year between 2015 and 2030 whilst LNG is set to rise at twice that rate at 4 to 5 per cent (Shell LNG Industry Outlook 2017- Royal Dutch Shell).

Current challenges for the LNG industry As natural gas will continue to play a key role in meeting the globally growing energy demands, the natural gas supply is expected to continue its steady growth in the 2020s (2017 Global Gas and LNG Outlook by McKinsey), mainly driven by producers in the US, Middle East and China. The recent new discoveries, especially in the Middle East and US, will create an oversupply in the early 2020s until the demand will catch up with production in mid 2020s.

The oversupply will force providers to further lower their prices and tighten operational margins to ensure that the assets can stay operational until the time of growth in demand.

At the same time, more investment is already needed for the industry to be able to meet the increasing global energy demand in the future. This is also happening at a time when the natural gas prices and CAPEX are still down, accelerating the need to do business differently. The oil and gas industry needs to undergo digital transformation to be able to increase productivity and profitability during this time when spending is low but future investment is needed.

One of the core issues hindering LNG operators’ ability to start their digital transformation is the lack of access to and existence of up-to-date, integrated and intelligent facility information. This is frequently referred to as the facility “digital twin” and is the digital representation of the physical facility that contains all the data of the asset.

This can include different types of information, including models, technical data, and business-related information. This digital twin is a prerequisite for digital transformation as is the need to break down barriers between isolated silos of information that often still exist within most organisations.

For the LNG operators, not having a centralised information asset creates a challenge to exchange information, ensure consistency, and handover of information across all disciplines. Digital transformation being the buzz word for the industry, more and more LNG operators are researching ways to get started with the change towards a digital way of working.

The bad news is that, as mentioned above, the existing facility information is often not structured or accurate enough to support the first steps of this transformation. The best recommended approach to start the digital transformation journey and improve work processes is to capture the “as is” state of a facility, the “digital twin”. Having this up-to-date and easily accessible asset information provides the basis for a successful digital transformation.


Towards digitalisation of LNG assets

The starting point for creating a digital twin is moving away from a document-centric approach to having a data-centric environment for asset information. A data-centric environment allows users to find what they want by starting with what they know, because data is based on a single instance of objects which are related according to logical structures. For example, engineers onsite can easily navigate from any equipment to all relevant and related data to support their day-to-day work processes, without having to worry about duplicates or inconsistent data.

Creating this digital twin includes having all data and documentation in a centralised location that becomes a representation of the physical asset in a digital format. If needed, this can also include capturing of the as-built information of the asset with laser-scanning technology.

The first steps towards being able to undergo a real digital transformation can be taken by digitalising the already existing data and information. Smarter engineering information management solutions, such as technologies from Hexagon PPM, enable facility owners to turn their scattered, unintelligent data into intelligent asset information.

This information can be checked for accuracy, consistency and completeness no matter what the original format is – paper, PDF, network drives or legacy databases.

After checking information quality, the actionable information can be made available for all users and applications throughout the company, enabling real-time decision making, improved efficiency and productivity. LNG Owner Operators typically have CMMS/ERP systems, DCS/data historians, Asset Performance Management and many other systems within their IT system landscape.

These systems and others need information about the equipment and facility configuration that is held in the digital twin but processes today often involve manually updating these systems or semi-automated data export/import routines that are prone to error.

The result is that the master data held in these systems rapidly erode over time and lead to equipment being improperly maintained or even not being maintained at all; incorrect purchase of replacement equipment or parts; and incorrect decisions being taken daily. These all result in cumulative inefficiencies, unnecessary costs and increased risk. Hexagon PPM have implemented ODATA RESTful web services and ready-made integrations to facilitate the exchange of information with third party systems.

Data and documents gathered from multiple sources can be consolidated into a single, cohesive digital twin. They can be subject to validation and verification to identify missing, incorrect and inconsistent information. Hexagon PPM has well proven technologies to validate data at high speed against a wide range of business rules and class libraries.

The recently launched Intergraph Smart Digital Asset portfolio incorporates the new CFIHOS standard out of-the-box to simplify implementation and exchange of data with project stakeholders. Once engineering information is more actionable, accurate and up-to-date, smarter software solutions bring yet another paramount benefit to the LNG operators: the ability to access and visualise engineering information via zero footprint applications without having to install any software.

These types of browser-based applications enable secure, fast access to critical information at anytime, anywhere on almost any platform with a simple link, providing decision makers with the information they need in a timely and efficient manner.

When combined with extended reality technologies such as virtual and augmented reality, zero footprint applications provide LNG operators an unprecedented access to real-time data of their facilities. This data can also be leveraged through electronic workflows to transform many bureaucratic, paper intensive manual processes and achieve faster, better and more consistent work processes such as management of change, review of project deliverables, permit to work and many more with full auditable traceability.


Real-life project example

Identifying Goals

Woodside is the largest operator of oil and gas production in Australia, and the country’s largest independent dedicated oil and gas company. It produces around 900,000 barrels of oil each day from an extensive portfolio of facilities. In 2014, the Ngujima-Yin FPSO was moored 50 kilometers off the Western Australian coast. Ngujima-Yin is 333 meters ong, operates at a depth of 350 meters, and has a daily production capacity of 120,000 barrels of oil. Hexagon PPM was engaged by Woodside to help prepare the engineering scope for execution.

The engineering information for Ngujima-Yin was found in multiple data sources, including several international locations. Data and documents were inconsistent and in different formats as they were managed differently at each location. There were also multiple versions of drawings and documents, and without a single set of masters, it was difficult to determine the latest and most accurate versions. To bridge this gap and move forward with the safe and effective operation of Ngujima-Yin, an accurate ‘as-is’ status of the FPSO was required.

Realising Results

Woodside chose Hexagon PPM’s information management solution to tackle the challenges of managing unstructured information. It is designed to rapidly capture, and organise large volumes of previously unstructured information, making it available for decision support.

The types of unstructured information include documents, drawings, lists and sheets, 3D models, and even laser scan images and high-resolution photography. These types of solutions can automatically read the loaded information as it incorporates many industry standards (such as databases) and new technologies. Over 360,000 documents (at about 1,000 documents per hour) were loaded into the solution as a single source of information, with cross-referenced links to the original fi les.

The Hexagon PPM software creates associations using unique alias pattern matching, such as tag-to-document relationships, even when the tag name may not be perfect. Woodside could then navigate and view the documents via a web portal interface, as well as to analyze the information to determine the set of master versions.

Woodside could also execute field-based data capture using the Hexagon PPM solutions. The collection of accurate, as-built data is highly important for an existing brownfield asset. This would normally be a tedious and potentially dangerous process as the engineer would have to physically inspect the facility and collect such data. However, as SmartPlant Fusion can capture and organise high-definition surveying information, Woodside could use Leica Geosystems laser scanners to provide an accurate ‘as-exists’ view of the Ngujima-Yin FPSO. Woodside can then compare the ‘as-exists’ view with the ‘as-is’ engineering information to record the FPSO’s ‘as-built’ status accurately. SmartPlant Fusion reduced the amount of time required on-site for Woodside, which helps to reduce costs and improve personnel safety.


The first step towards digital transformation for the LNG industry can be taken by digitalising existing asset information and creating a digital twin of the existing facility. The creation, access and maintenance of the digital twin via a zero footprint web client is a major step forward for the LNG industry, but unlocking the value of the digital twin is depending on being able to exchange this information with other operations systems.

When done correctly, having a digital twin offers LNG operators in the Middle East an unpresented chance to increase productivity and profitability through leveraging the digital twin to transform and automate work processes during this time when spending is low but future investment is needed.


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