Online Exclusive Q&A: The evolution of Digital Twins

During the 24th Annual ARC Industry Forum in Orlando, FL, Hydrocarbon Processing (HP) had the opportunity to meet with Anne-Marie Walters, Global Marketing Director at Bentley Systems to discuss the evolution of Digital Twins technology and how Bentley software is optimizing plant operations across various industries. 

HP: The concept of a digital twin is not new, but how is Bentley taking the next step in the evolution of digital twins? 

Anne-Marie: You're right, digital twins aren’t new, and most people think it's a combination of the operation technologies (OT) like sensors and IoT devices with systems that you use for business (IT). Bentley believes a digital twin also needs what we call engineering technology (ET). The convergence of OT and IT has been talked about for a long time. But, from a digital twins perspective, what is different is the ability to see in real time exactly what is going on in your plant in context and with a timeline of how the plant has changed over time.    In our world that's the up to date 3D model and all the drawings and information that people use to figure out what the machinery is made up of or what their plants are made up of. The ability to see real-time operations information combined with the work orders or what you should be doing, in that context of the 3D engineering environment, is what we mean by digital twin. Really, the key for Bentley is keeping that digital engineering environment up to date. One complaint we hear often, with respect to digital twins, are out-of-date drawings. Our users find it very difficult to keep that information up to date. For example, one of the organizations we work with said that it took six months to record those changes carried out during maintenance. So, what Bentley is bringing to digital twins is up-to-date engineering information with a current view of the plant. We do that by bringing 1D spreadsheets, 2D schematic drawings, and 3D models together and combining the data with, what our CEO would say, “breakthrough technology,” called reality modeling. Reality modeling captures the plant’s condition through photography, videos, and laser scans and turns these images into a 3D reality mesh. Imagine there are sensors and cameras at your plant capturing information and turning it into a 3D reality mesh to give you context and insight into operations. Another aspect to note is that time is also important when considering digital twins. Being able to see what has changed over time and to predict what might happen. Bentley refers to this as the fourth dimension, or 4D. That's what digital twins really mean.    

Bentley is taking digital twins and implementing them across various industries that have their own lifecycle needs and workflows to enable greater stakeholder engagement and support the decision-making process. Learning from other industries and enabling an open approach using iModel.js will greatly benefit the process industries.

HP: How can companies use the data generated by digital twins to optimize their operations?

Anne-Marie: A lot of organizations are looking to analyze all of their real-time information coming from their operations in terms of performance. And, they are looking to leverage that information and make sense of all the data they have. That information is critical for figuring out exactly what is going wrong or when they can intervene to direct their inspections or operations or maintenance activities so that it performs optimally or catch something before it breaks. Moreover, organizations are using digital twins to improve safety and situational training, and providing accurate and complete data to all stakeholders working remotely or on site, in an immersive environment. That's the dream for organizations using digital twins. It is to analyze massive amounts of information and make more informed decisions about how to operate and maintain the plant, and re-engineer the plant for improved performance. At a mature state of implementation, digital twins will provide a company with complete self-governance and total transparency and oversight.

HP: Can you talk a little about PlantSight software? What it is and how it is beneficial to the refining and petrochemical processing industries?

Anne-Marie: PlantSight is our digital twin solution for the process industry. We developed it jointly with Siemens. Siemens has a lot of expertise in the automation and the running of the Industrial Internet of Things. Bentley then brings the knowledge of plant design and engineering of processing plants. PlantSight is a portal solution that leverages the power of the cloud to bring things together. The intention is to present plant information to the people that need it so that they can make those decisions I mentioned previously. So, whether you're the owner of the asset, the operations manager, the maintenance worker, or the plant engineer who needs to make a change, you get information in the context that you need. It's not one size fits all for an organization. PlantSight is a portal solution, pulling data together specifically for the person who needs to see that data. They see exactly what they need, when they need it, to make the decisions. So how is it benefitting organizations? It depends on what they need. We have, for example, a number of engineering firms whose clients are demanding that they deliver a very accurate data deliverable, so their owners can start up operations after they know they have the right data. These EPC firms need to ensure they are delivering data that it is accurate, and that everything is perfectly lined up. A big challenge the refining and petrochemical industry face is knowing what information is not right or out of date and therefore knowing not to use that information to make a critical decision. By having their contractors deliver accurate, up-to-date information, they are benefiting from being confident that the right decisions are being made.  

HP: How are EPC companies benefiting from the use of digital twins (or PlantSight)?

Anne-Marie: The clients of EPC firms are getting much more data savvy. They don't want a pile of drawings and documents from which they have to extract information and enter it manually into their operations and maintenance systems. They are asking, instead, for data deliverables so that they can take that data and push it straight into their own systems. For the EPC this means they need to be sure that they are delivering good data and that's when they're using PlantSight. In addition, PlantSight and digital twins offer the potential for EPCs to generate additional revenues streams. There are a number of EPCs planning to use PlantSight to manage and maintain the plant data throughout the life of the asset, beyond the EPC contract.

Anne-Marie: One of our users is Hatch, an EPC that is an innovative, early adopter of PlantSight. Hatch does work primarily in the mining industry, but they also perform work on a lot of processing plants. They are very advanced in their digital thinking and they are using PlantSight to give information to the client. One project they did recently in the Democratic Republic of the Congo was a sulfuric acid plant for a copper mine, and it is one of the largest mines in the world. The DRC is not exactly an advanced nation in terms of resources. So, they knew that they needed to precisely manage the logistics of this sulfuric acid plant to deliver the plant successfully to the owner-operator. Prior to the plant starting up, sulfuric acid had to be transported thousands of kilometers to the mine. It was a huge environmental risk with logistical challenges. As Hatch was building the sulfuric acid plant, they faced the same challenges getting the materials, such as steel and piping, to the site. So, from the very start of the project, they did everything digitally. And, doing that saved months on the construction schedule. Moreover, the time this plant took to get into full production set a record for Hatch and I think the industry. Normally, it takes about a year to 18 months for a plant to ramp up to full capacity. But for this project, which is all digital, it took only one week to ramp up from commissioning to full production.

HP: With more companies utilizing digital twin solutions, how does Bentley address cybersecurity with its clients?

Anne-Marie: All of our digital twin solutions, including PlantSight, are running on Microsoft Azure cloud technology. We are a gold development partner with Microsoft Azure. So, we rely, I would say, on Microsoft and their protection for cybersecurity. Microsoft has multiple layers of security, and we, as well, have our own layers of engineering knowledge and security within our own applications. Together, we have multiple protection layers.

HP: How can companies that take over a plant with no up-to-date engineering information  benefit from PlantSight?

Anne-Marie So, I will go back to what I was talking about earlier – what Bentley can add to the digital twin environment. We see this situation in many instances where 99% of plants out there were built 10-plus years ago. One of the biggest value adds we have, and one of the reasons why Siemens works with Bentley, is our reality modeling technology. When we brought this technology to market, through our acquisition of Acute 3D, interest in Bentley applications at Siemens skyrocketed. And that is because our reality modeling technology has the ability to turn any photography taken with almost any camera, into engineering accurate 3D models. We have even more sophisticated solutions now, particularly those that leverage machine learning, which are being used to accelerate the use of reality captured data. Imagine a system that can automatically recognize objects in the photograph and relate that to other data, and automatically detect issues simply from photography. Using reality modeling, you can sort through vast amounts of information to bring anomalies to your attention.

HP: Some plants are struggling with multiple sources of data in a changing environment, as in (AVEVA, PDMS/E3D/P&ID) or Hexagon (Smart3D, SmartPlant P&ID). What do you recommend for these companies?

Anne-Marie: 3D plant design technology has been around for 40 years or so and these companies have done a wonderful job streamlining the design and engineering of process plants. Before these systems existed, engineers built plastic models to work out how something would come together and how big it was and where to lay something out. Now with the availability of 3D plant design systems, you are building the plant within the computer. The problem is that these systems are very proprietary by the nature of the data that they have within them. It is kind of hard to extract that data and populate your maintenance system. It is very hard to keep the information in these systems up to date. A lot of plants, especially if they have been built in the last 10 years, have really good 3D models, but they struggle to keep them up to date or have them available so that other people can use that data. So, what I recommend for these companies is to keep those models and supplement them with something like reality models or Bentley's iModel technology, which is the core of what we have been doing for many years. We have made iModel technology available and have published it as an open source code. It is a completely open format for everyone to use. I would say look for 3D models, look to the future, look to see what formats you could convert them into or use them so that you can keep them up to date. With digital twins or PlantSight, you can add what is actually happening and supplement your 3D models to make this information widely available to operations and maintenance personnel, and anyone who needs to make decisions.

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