Data integration gets big push

Three major operating companies announced, in mid-January, that they plan to foster the development of a consistent chemical-industry data integration strategy. Dow, Midland, Mich., DuPont, Wilmington, Del., and Shell Global Solutions, Houston, see the move as a way to improve productivity of capital projects and facilities.

The goal is to enable a company’s own engineering, operations and maintenance staff to work more effectively among themselves and with outside contractors and equipment vendors.
The three companies will be working with several consortia active in data integration: FIATECH, Austin, Texas; POSC Caesar, Baerum, Norway; and USPI-NL, Amersfoort, the Netherlands. A number of U.S. and European operating, construction and software companies <em dash>—<em dash> including Aker Kvaerner, Aspen Technology, Aveva, Bechtel, Bentley Systems, ePlantData, Fluor, Intergraph and Noumenon <em dash>— support the effort. 

The move reflects a growing consensus within the chemical industry that proprietary or single-company solutions are not cost effective. “There has been a lot of finger-pointing on interoperability issues, a lot of talk but not much movement,” notes Nicolle Testa, Washington, D.C.-based assistant director of operations and business development for FIATECH. “What is significant is that 15 major companies are moving in the same direction,” says Jehu Burton, interoperability project manager for DuPont. “Companies will finally work together.”

Better end-to-end data integration and information management could lead to productivity improvements of 20% to 30% in engineering, operations and maintenance activities, according to studies, through data reuse, greater access to accurate information, and automating of manual handoffs including significant feeds to enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems.

A standard approach

The linchpin of the strategy is to spread deployment of the ISO 15926 standard for data integration, particularly by adding chemical-industry-specific entries to its common Reference Data Library (RDL) to make it more usable by chemical companies. The RDL defines standard equipment classifications and equipment-naming conventions, and thus eases the sharing of equipment information.

The ISO standard has been in the works for 10 years and some projects are using it today, Burton notes. However, it has been considered European and not widely accepted in the U.S., says Testa.
One reason for the slow uptake, explains Burton, is that RDL entries have been dominated by oil companies and information on equipment used at chemical plants is relatively sparse. Getting the RDL populated with such data is a key thrust of the present initiative. The result will be a “work in progress” database that provides a real-time repository of information.

Burton adds that the standard now has been proven by oil and gas companies, and recent developments in computer technology have made its wider use truly feasible.

DuPont hosted a workshop last August that brought together a critical mass of experts and kick-started efforts to bring industry together behind ISO 15926, says Burton. Testa agrees that industry interest in the standard now is growing.

DuPont, for one, plans to use the standard on pilot projects, probably starting this summer, says Burton. The idea is add details to the database on the actual equipment being used.

One reason such data is lacking, notes Burton, is that 80% of such information is created by equipment suppliers and they haven’t had a strong incentive to feed data into the design process. So, vendors must be brought on board. DuPont will require any supplier involved in its pilot projects to provide data for the RDL, he says.

“The standard has the potential to spread rapidly. The biggest sticking point is the vendors. Operating companies mandating use of the standard will get things moving,” says Burton. “It may become the standard way of handling data by the end of the year.”

Software developers welcome the effort, he adds. “They have been saying ‘Tell us which standard and we’ll implement it.’ But there has been no coalescence around a common standard until the August workshop.”

Following the workshop, FIATECH, which is a consortium of operating companies, contractors and software vendors, launched a project called “Accelerating Deployment of Life Cycle Integration Technologies Using ISO 15926.” Among other goals, it aims to harmonize the consortium’s previous work with the standard to populate the RDL, hopefully by the end of the year, says Testa.

The major benefit of its project, says FIATECH, will be the dissemination of know-how on handling the maintenance of centralized core RDLs. Right now, notes the group, only a handful of people have the specialized knowledge.

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