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Approach matters for successful pipeline project planning

Bringing together all aspects of planning can make a big difference in ensuring efficiency throughout the process

Integrated planning through the life of a pipeline construction project can improve efficiency.
Integrated planning through the life of a pipeline construction project can improve efficiency.

Pipeline projects often tend to be large and very complex when it comes to planning and execution. With advancements in technology and data management, these major projects get even more complicated – and traditional approaches to planning only slow the process down more when they’re applied.

Consideration of all phases and aspects of a construction project can help consolidate many of the challenges that arise in the planning process. For one engineering and construction contracting firm, that overarching approach to building new pipelines can lead to better collaboration and a more successful finished product.

“In this economic environment, a lot of clients are going back to their service providers and trying to get a better deal in terms of contract and pricing… one of the challenges we run into there is that they want to try and maintain the same structure of how to execute the project,” said Kevin Olson, department manager, pipelines with Fluor. “The larger question the industry may want to look at is whether the current structure on how they execute the job is appropriate to get the best overall value for the project.”

Collaboration across departments more effective

In many large infrastructure projects such as pipelines, each stage of construction is separated from each other through the entire process. That can lead to difficulties in communication between the contractors handling those portions of the work, and cause trouble down the road due to lack of clarity or simple inefficiencies.

“Engineering is often siloed away from procurement… and construction is typically siloed away from engineering,” Olson said. “Trying to get those groups better integrated in how they work together right from the very start of the project could result in more collaboration and a better final result – which may come back to the type of contracting arrangement, looking at how they share the risk bills and the value in terms of the final project.”

If engineering, construction and other segments are all administered in separate contracts it becomes difficult for each of the management teams in those segments to view the project as a whole from start to finish. That disconnect can lead to problems in management through the life cycle of the project.

“We find that our successful projects are the ones in which we take our construction folks, the end users of the engineering data, for example, and put them into the project in the early stages of the project, so they can start to shape and organize the project the way it needs to be executed in the field,” said Berni Molz, vice-president and general manager of Fluor’s construction and fabrication division. “If we don’t set that up early on, it’s really hard to build it back in later on. As a result of this, the information is cleaner and the construction is more efficient.”

The growing amount of data collected and put into construction projects is another facet to be considered by planners deciding on their approach to issuing contracts. Pipelines are especially data-intensive, and that level of detail must be considered across the board, according to Olson.

“A pipeline is a large exercise – you design it, you have geohazard issues, geotechnical data, survey information, and other data right from the beginning,” he said. “As the project carries along to construction, you get all that additional input and eventually have to hand it over to an owner to operate – they must take into account integrity management, how the data should be set up right from the start.”

Much of the data that comes in can now be processed automatically through a variety of tools, Olson noted.

“Geomatics is often thought of as the people who generate maps, but there are a lot of tools and expertise those folks are using that allow you to take a lot of base data and automate the engineering process,” Olson said. “The clients care that they get an alignment sheet, and they want the hard paper in their hand. But, there’s a lot going on now in terms of internet portals, digitizing your engineering drawings, and visualizing them on a Google-type interface where you can actually click on and see the drawings visually linked to the location on the pipeline route.”

Data sharing across multiple silos on a contract is likely to mean that some information is missed, lost or otherwise unavailable to the other segments. It is far easier to have a project-wide approach to data sharing that allows for synergies to be found and used to the benefit of everyone working on the project, Olson noted.

“At the end of the day, the asset is fully manageable by the time it’s completed,” Olson said. “We need to be sure the entire pipeline’s integrity, the full cycle of the asset is considered right from the beginning of the project.”

From a contractor’s perspective, getting that message across to the industry is difficult. Traditional contracting schedules often call for specific ways of sectioning out work – and methods of using that sectioning to try and squeeze service providers for better deals, Olson said. Things are starting to change, though, as word spreads about successful projects using an integrated process.

“Clients are starting to get more willing to look over the fence and see what’s working for other people – we need to encourage them and help them to look at things that are working,” Molz said. “If you can show someone something that works, they’re much more likely to move in that direction.”

Integration across the project has proven effective for numerous projects, Olson noted. One example of a successful project was constructing a pipeline for a mining company – a company that knew nothing about pipeline construction.

“They got the engineering consultant to construct their procurement, everyone was co-located at the very start, and they used geomatics as the centre of the wheel of the whole thing,” he said. “Construction can go in and feed in their information… a lot of their information is specific to how they plan to execute the job. Then that is overlaid with engineering data on the pipeline alignment, the types of pipes that are going in different locations, and so forth.”

In a situation like that, all of the phases and staff work in synergy with one another, compared to an engineering-only design separated from the construction phase. The data structure was also set up from the start, ensuring that revisions were controlled and the data being used was up to date and correct.

“You can consider things from an operator’s perspective in terms of integrity and operations management, and set it up at the very beginning. The client takes the approach of ‘Here is the budget, I need a pipeline from here to here,’” Olson said.

“Instead of putting it in a box and saying, ‘You guys are responsible for engineering only, you guys are construction only,’ you have the two sets working together right from the beginning. The end result was a very strong alignment between everyone in the project to make sure it was going to work.” OGPN

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