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Consider 'lean' engineering model to fast-track mega projects

12.01.2012  |  Bennett, S.,  AVEVA Solutions Ltd., Cambridge, UK

Lean construction can raise competitiveness for an EPC business, thereby increasing its profitability and improving its delivery success rate and brand image.

Keywords: [construction] [turnarounds] [project managment] [engineering] [CAD] [blueprints]

Go to any large capital expenditure construction site the world over, and discuss issues of inefficiency, and then expect to be inundated with information about the processes being applied to manage this issue. The highest priority for the constructor is maximizing profit and meeting deadlines. Pressure to deliver the construction project on time can sometimes create apparently unavoidable inefficiencies.

Efforts to maximize efficiency, increase productivity and reduce waste are executed inline with agreed processes. However, onsite subcontractors may not share the same ideals, or even be motivated to do so only due to terms of their work agreements. This collectively results in an uncoordinated approach to improving site efficiency.

Moreover, no singular vision or philosophy for managing and reducing waste and maximizing efficiency is applied to the whole project. Local solutions are applied but are not bound by any guiding philosophy or framework, which extends outside of each team to include the whole project ecosystem. Result: This fragmented approach can only ever provide a modicum of success. All of these issues existed in the automobile industry at the end of the 19th century, where craft manufacturing (producing one-offs) was the only route for vehicle production.


The move to mass production was a fundamental change for the automobile industry as Henry Ford pioneered techniques such as conveyors to control output, and gauge standardization for mass part production as part of the drive to produce huge volumes of cars. The 1950s saw the dawn of a new philosophy for manufacturing introduced by Eiji Toyoda, then owner of Toyota Motor Cars. This new approach, dubbed “lean production,” focuses on doing more with less. The aim was to double production using half the resources. This lean philosophy is founded on three key principles:

  1. Respect people. Briefly stated, empowerment should be at all levels of the organization from senior management all the way to the workers on the shop floor. Employess are accountable for their work and being empowered to improve the efficiency of the working practices. Unified adoption of this philosophy is essential to its success
  2. Eliminate non-value-add activity—remove waste. Adopting a zero tolerance to waste, whether it is material, waiting for material in transit or material in storage, means having a minimum or no inventory of parts with no stockpiling.
  3. Maximize the efficiency of value-add activity. Use continual improvement for the efficiency of producing parts. Value-add activity is defined as work, which is done on a part, such as bending a pipe or cutting sheet steel.

All of the values for lean production are aspirations for engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) projects that yield more efficiency, more accuracy, better quality and profitable delivery ahead of schedule. So why not adopt this approach?


Significant pressures are applied to EPC companies to complete the project under extremely short timescale, with high levels of scrutiny, compliance to standards on ever larger and more complex engineering problems to solve. The EPC business is presented with some distinct challenges in adopting the lean-production philosophy:

No environment for a unified adoption of the philosophy

These large-scale projects are made up of a diverse multicultural management team with distinct methods of working—developed to give them competitiveness—and a diverse set of business models.

Fragmentation of the stakeholders provides a significant hurdle to adopting a unified vision and philosophy for the project execution. Each contractor is paid based on timely delivery of information, materials or other measurable milestones to the next internal customer. Conversely, each contractor is often penalized for late delivery. This reinforces behavior where each contractor assumes a single-minded focus on providing deliverables for the next internal customer only.

One-off projects

Each project has different requirements. They are met with different technologies and engineering, and are located in different parts of the world and delivered by diverse teams of engineers. Most projects exhibit a degree of uniqueness, which would best suit a craft production model, although not entirely. These projects offer very little opportunity for repeatable construction processes to occur. Plant business has to manage much longer cycle times, where the design, fabrication and construction of any part of the final asset can take many months to complete. This provides very little opportunity for the continual improvement on fabrication, assembly and installation at the site.


With the introduction of affordable laser scanning and mobile and cloud computing, there is significant disruption to the market; it will prove to be the kick-start for a new era under lean construction adoption.

Laser data everywhere

The market is enjoying a greater degree of affordable laser scanning for large-scale construction sites. Laser data capture is often used to record the as-built environments for brownfield projects. But, more frequently now, it is used for collecting construction information during greenfield projects. It has never been easier to justify the use of laser data capture for both brownfield and greenfield projects. But, laser scanning should become a routine activity for the fabricators and constructors. By recording the real geometry of the fabricated part or the spool or construction details, and the sending this information back to the design office, it provides a platform for more rapid rework of the designs.

Mobile access

It is widely claimed that as much as 30% of construction workers’ time is wasted waiting for information and decisions to be made. This is often a consequence of the serial nature of requests, changes and clarifications from the prime contractor and the client. Lack of availability of key staff and a less-than-optimal process can be the main cause of delays.

The availability of up-to-date design information to these construction personnel will help them to make more informed decisions and also assist them to validate information received in drawing about the construction. Information can quickly become outdated during a rapid project execution phase. In return, these devices will also provide a method for the construction team to share information with the fabrication teams and, ultimately, take it back to the design team. Constructors will be able to provide status updates for the items on site, and to also share laser data with the design team.

Automatic pipe and steel fabrication drawings

Designs created within 3D models are sent to the fabricator who, in turn, repeats a great deal of this work by creating non-intelligent 2D drafts of the 3D model and then detailed fabrication drawings for the design. This introduces unnecessary wastage into the process and an opportunity for errors to be introduced. The opportunity to streamline the process between layout design and detailed design, with a view to providing accurate fabrication drawings straight from the model reduces waste and wasted time. With the recent acquisition of new CAD software, the production of accurate fabrication drawings directly from the 3D design model is as easy as the click of a button.


The move to “lean” is unquestionably a significant challenge, but is it one with huge benefits. A lean construction approach can add a greater degree of competitiveness to the EPC business, increasing its profitability, improving its delivery success rate and, consequently its brand image (Fig. 1).

  Fig. 1.  Vision for plant design based on
  traditional and lean construction methods.

Adopting this approach requires wholesale support from the senior management team to the fabrication shop floor through to the site constructor to be successful. As we move toward the future of plant design, new plant design product will provide key capabilities to encourage and enable the adoption of a lean approach to the project execution. Allowing each internal customer in the project the ability to share up-to-date information and provide feedback to their previous internal customer will help to accelerate the collaboration required for successful concurrent design, fabrication and construction.

As laser scanning, mobile computing and cloud computing become more accessible and affordable to EPC companies we will see a new rate of adoption of these techniques to improve the project execution efficiency. Owners can help to accelerate the adoption of lean approaches to construction if they are able to present a contracting environment that is conducive to a unified philosophy of shared benefits, efficiency improvements and culture. HP

The author

Simon Bennett is a senior product business manager with AVEVA. With a background in civil engineering, he has over 12 years of experience as a software product manager, having worked for a number of commercial off-the-shelf and enterprise software companies. Mr. Benett has managed product software to serve customers in the financial, airline, power, law enforcement and military sectors. He joined AVEVA in 2008, where his product management experience allowed him to play an important role in organizing the Enterprise product portfolio’s marketing and strategy. More recently, he has driven the launch strategy and marketing for AVEVA’s new generation of plant design, AVEVA E3D.

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Keith E Bowers

Mr Bennett illuminates the potential for cost and schedule improvements in mega projects. Many of the techniques mentioned have been in routine use for decades. For instance, automatic direct piping spool take-offs from 3-D design models and fully automated spool fabrication has been a Bechtel/Shaw standard work practice forwell over a decade. Spool field re-work has been driven to near zero for both green and brown-field projects. Use of well developed FEED programs has dramaically reduced 'changes' in detailed engineering, procurement, and construction. Bechtel in particular has been a strong advocate and user of highly integrated project teams, including empowerd and working representatives from each and every 'participant' in the work process, including early in the pre-FEED project development. 'Alignmenr' of all parties-from Owners to raw material suppliers at earliest possible moment in project concept develpoment can dramatically reduce inefficiencies throughout the asset lifecycle.

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