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Press Report

Digital twins in the service of safety

7. March 2021

| appeared in d1g1tal AGENDA | 1/2021

CAXperts UniversalPlantViewer brings the whole value of digital twins to BASF’s operations in Antwerp.

As they are used in various forms, mostly with the inten-tion of modeling a plant section including its piping and equipment, digital twins are not new to the process in-dustry (1). Their importance has increased considerably over the years with the advent of Industry 4.0 initia- tives. Unlike design models and their intrinsic schematic character, a digital twin enriched with additional infor-mation outside the engineering provides a very faithful representation of the real environment, for instance to study interactions between humans and machines. How- ever, realistic scenarios can only be planned based on a digital twin in advance if all relevant 2D and 3D data are combined in a smart way: 2D data as expression for functional dependences and 3D models to provide refe-rence for spatial orientation.

In respect of operational issues, digital twins have been developed to achieve consistent improvement in efficiency, minimize failure rates, and open up new business opportunities. Another application field is enhancing the safety of process plant operators and maintenance technicians by means of digital-based risk assessments (2).

So much for the theory. But what practical experience can be reported? “Here at BASF Antwerp, we are run-ning a project called ‘Antwerp 4.0’ which, of course, is a subproject aligned with the global ‘BASF 4.0’ initiative. Within Antwerp 4.0, several workstreams are defined.

One of these is called ‘Digital Ope-rations’, and this is where our team has the lead. We are focusing on minimizing operational risk in per-mit management respectively do-cument management. Universal-PlantViewer (UPV) from CAXperts is a crucial part of this,” explains Geert De Maesschalck, Expert Digi-tal Operations with BASF, in an in-terview with our editors. As Mr De Maesschalck points out, a big part of this program is dedicated to di-gital twin scenarios in combination with UPV.

How far away are they from the vision of a digital twin? What really do you understand regard to that image of a plant? Simple enough questions, but not that easy to an-swer because of the site’s long his-tory. More than 50 years ago, BASF set up shop in a strategic location in the port of Antwerp, a logistical heart of Europe. Over time, this site grew into BASF’s largest inte-grated production site in Belgium. “In terms of digitalization, we have four different levels with regard to the facilities – from beginners up to champions. For plants erected forty or more years ago, no 3D models at all are available – all the informa- tion is stored in filing cabinets full of paper,” says Mr De Maesschalck. You can find 3D models at different levels of maturity for newer plants, such as those manufacturing Savi-va, which is built just five years ago. Saviva based on BASF’s droplet po-lymerization technology has been developed to provide outstanding absorption performance characte-rized by high capacity for superior leakage protection, long-term dry-ness and low rewet (3). “The Saviva plant is represented in a full as-de-signed 3D model and digital P&IDs, making it close to a ‘digital cham- pion’,” the expert says. The other fa-cilities reflect a broad spectrum of available digital data.

“Here in Antwerp, we generally differentiate between two types of digital twin: One is a digital representation that you can try to interact with. The other one stands for different workstreams of our digitalization strategy in terms of modeling what’s inside a plant when it is modernized. With the use of UPV, we are focusing on the interaction of humans with machines and other equipment, mainly to derive a total risk profile. More- over, UPV’s deployment should enhance the efficiency of our maintenance process, our daily operation pro-cess, but also our engineering,” says Vincent Janssens, Mr De Maesschalck’s supervisor, clearly setting out priorities, before adding: “One of the biggest issues is always finding the right balance of effort compared to outcome in respect of different digital twin initiatives.”

UniversalPlantViewer making intelligence visible

BASF is always looking for autonomous processes, but at the same time always keeps an eye on their feasibility. The good news: Use cases with UPV are increasing. But why introduce a new CAD viewer? Mr De Maesschalck answers: “The choice of UPV has been made solely on the basis that the use of CAD systems like PDMS, SmartPlant P&ID, or other design tools is too complex and its functions overly advanced for our operating per-sonnel. Since they are involved in a lot of other tasks, it’s not their main role to learn how to handle a CAD system effectively.” The digitalization expert also points out that,besides the easy-to-use capabilities, crucial for BASF was how UPV is able to visualize the ‘intelligence’ of the CAD application, e.g. linked meta data within Smartplant P&IDs. “We want software that is as intui- tive as Autodesk Navisworks but that is also able to pro-cess technical details rather than just graphic informa- tion. Otherwise, you cannot benefit from the knowledge captured in the engineering data in operations,” Mr De Maesschalck warns.

Play of colors

There is no question that UPV does this excellently, as both interlocutors assure our editors. The use cases cur-rently focus on the use of 2D data, “because our key document for operation is the P&ID.” One application based on UPV is about coloring. “Let’s assume a specific fluid runs through an ensemble of pipes, steam, hydro-gen, or whatever. In UPV, we can colorize all the affected pipes with just one click of a button,” says Mr De Maes-schalck enthusiastically. Mr Janssens puts this success into perspective: “Typically what happens is that when a young operator comes into one of our facilities for the first time, he goes on a tour with a printed P&ID in his hands and starts marking up with a pen those lines in it that correspond to the pipes he identifies in reality. This procedure can be now automated in terms of coloring. For this use case there are filter layers and other search capabilities embedded in UPV. You can select items in the schematic and have them depicted in the 3D model where available. This kind of training material makes it easy to get to know the facility. And it’s really fun! You can view all the equipment in the 2D/3D documentati-on that you pass on your inspection tour.” It sounds a bit low tech but it is very useful in the operations and main-tenance world, as Mr Janssens assures us. And indeed, the staff’s acceptance is very high.

Bridging the gap between generations – digitalization at your fingertips

Younger colleagues are instantly enthusiastic about the deployment of UPV, you just have to work with mobile devices. “The older people first try to figure out why they should be bothering with it in the first place. This generation is much more rational, searching for the use-fulness behind it. In contrast, the younger ones tend to approach the matter emotionally. Without any shyness, they become experienced with UPV, appreciating both its look and feel. You need to explain to the older people why it is important,” says Mr Janssens, sharing his ex-perience in dealing with cross-generation usage of the viewer. Clearly, in both age groups there are those that take one approach and those that take the other: baby boomers wearing smartwatches and trying to adopt new technologies in their work-life balance. And among the digital natives there are always those who tend to look for the challenges in a new technology. In any case, as the supervisor points out: “We really take care to minimize the change process. We try to introduce new UPV-based use cases without changing the work pro-cesses, otherwise it is too much for the staff.” In these disruptive times, people are still willing to embrace change, but only to a certain extent – step-by-step approaches should dictate all digitalization efforts.

Safer at work

Another cluster of use cases is the aforementioned risk assessment. Permits fall into the category of risk assessment, in a dedicated structured way. There are members of the staff who initiate an activity. They have counterparts on the maintenance side who take over the order and assign the corresponding measures exe-cuted by the technicians. The work could be handed over to third party contractors, too.

During the preparation phase, the responsible per-son used to mark up all the necessary procedures in a se-parate document, e.g. for pending pump maintenance. Subsequently, in this document, the permit would be recorded something like this: All liquid must be drained out, then the pressure must be released, followed by further instructions. This used to be purely paper- based, but now “we are bringing together the world of the P&IDs and the world of the permits: With a click on the different elements in the P&ID needed for the pre-paration of a maintenance task, these objects are for-med as entity and handed over to execution. Merging this information with physical objects in the field and depicting it in UPV reduces any risk quite tremendous-ly,” emphasizes Mr Janssens.

Later on, after pre-work checking and measures in the field have been completed, UPV ensures that the serviced system is returned to its original state by show-ing corresponding instructions. For example, a hint pops up that it is important not to forget to close a valve again. “We have integrated the power of our Smart-Plant P&ID database at functional locations and imple-mented mechanisms to make sure that everything is set back to normal when the job is done. UPV guides the technician to all the positions involved in the task,” Mr Janssens explains.

The permit request comes out of the SAP system, including the whole maintenance tree, and is loaded into the permit management software. All the elements that belong to a permit are selected in UPV. So, there is a hand-shake operation between these two software packages.

Inspiration from both sides

What has been the experience with CAXperts as the provider of the amazing UniversalPlantViewer tech-nology and as a travel companion on the digitalization journey? Geert De Maesschalck is really excited: “Our collaboration has been great! Right from the beginning when I started working on our digitalization program, we have been in close contact with the vendor. UPV is not a finished tool kit where ‘you buy use cases and then try to apply them to your processes’. The partnership with CAXperts has been more oriented to co-develop-ment. By sharing our own experiences in CAXperts’ program, we can enable other clients to benefit, too. And vice versa, to some extent, we can influence their roadmap to match our needs.” The comments of Mr De Maesschalck’s boss confirm this view: “They are willing to listen to us, and to carefully consider use cases we are looking at. UniversalPlantViewer is an invaluable aid to leverage the whole potential of the digital twin to serve our personnel in operations.” (bv)