Seizing digital opportunities to increase project control in natural resources projects

Eric Wilson


Staying competitive is essential for natural resources companies to sustain and thrive in uncertainty. Whilst the concept of a digital twin is not new, the advancement of technology is enabling digital transformation and the ability to drive informed decision making.

What is a digital twin?

A digital twin is the foundation of a digital transformation. In the built environment, it is a computerised (or digital) version of a physical asset that contains sensors that collect data to represent real-time information. This can be used to optimise production, detect equipment problems before failures occur and uncover new opportunities for process improvement. For the natural resources industries, this technology has huge benefits in terms of maximising productivity, increasing operational efficiencies, maintaining equipment reliability and increasingly, complying with new or updated environmental regulations.

Rising to the digital twin challenge

Our experience suggests there are many inhibitors for natural resources projects to start their digital transformation, and the most efficient process to deliver the digital twin, is not always adopted.

For existing facilities, the lack of a single source of accurate asset information may simply just not exist. Another challenge is keeping track of all the maintenance data in one single source to allow for analytics that support preventative measures and minimise equipment breakdowns.

A significant obstacle to digital transformation is the lack of accuracy and structure of existing facility information.

For recently constructed assets, a 3D model may exist, but the information may not be up to date, based on unforeseen quantity growth or modifications made during construction. This creates challenges for asset management teams, often resulting in an expensive and time-consuming facility remeasurement, or when future modifications or enhancements are required, extra time is required during the planning, engineering and design stages.

In these situations, asset owners have to rely heavily on the experience of existing personnel, who understand the facility and can assist in planning future modifications. While this works, it presents a significant risk for owners when the experienced personnel leave the business.

Implementing a successful digital twin strategy from the outset

In our previous article, Realising savings: five key points for successful digital implementation, we discussed the importance of clearly communicating a project’s building information modelling (BIM) or digital engineering (DE) requirements early to maximise success. This is an optimal starting point but when model requirements have not been previously stipulated, our clients consistently face challenges around the transparency of project information and data. This in turn impacts the ability to exercise project control during construction and to manage the asset once operational. The challenges we come across include:

  • Incomplete data/ attributes in the 3D model
  • Design allowances and quantity growth not visible at the 30/60/90 design review
  • Lack of clarity on the areas, disciplines and costs affected by quantity and weight growth
  • Design model format is not suitable for tracking progress during construction
  • Model information requirements are not detailed sufficiently to manage the asset once operational

These challenges can lead to huge variations, causing significant time and cost overruns during front end engineering and design (FEED) and construction. The consequences of this include:

  • Inability to negotiate major contracts with confidence
  • Risk and uncertainty
  • Exposure to delay and claims
  • Inability to manage quantity growth during construction, potentially resulting in significant cost escalation
  • No single source of asset information to enable the digital twin technology, support hand over and commissioning of the asset, and future project development.

Creating the environment for digital transformation

Owners and operators of major projects and programmes have the opportunity to make the digital transformation process more efficient by taking a model-focused approach. In doing so they reduce the risk of scope growth during detailed design, increase project control during construction, and reduce the risk of claims and delays.

A model-led approach to achieving your digital twin

Alongside the key points outlined in our previous article, the first step, and best recommended approach to digital transformation is the development of a good and intelligent 3D model of the facility’s design which must reflect the physical reality and its associated engineering data. Having this easily accessible and single source of asset information will provide the basis for a successful digital transformation.

We recognised the opportunity to improve the digital transformation of natural resources projects by increasing understanding of project quantities, and how they change, as a project progresses through design, engineering and construction.

An integral part of our cost and commercial management services for major capital projects in the natural resources sector is the deployment of QuanTTum, our value-added quantity, weight and cost assurance service.

Consistently implemented worldwide on major CAPEX projects, QuanTTum provides a step-change for our clients to visualise quantities and track them as design advances. By providing traceability for each and every line item from the design to the bill of quantities, QuanTTum provides the clarity and confidence our client’s need to have robust conversations on scope, cost, risk and schedule with their FEED contractor(s).

Throughout the execute phase, QuanTTum provides the capability to digitally capture progress at the fabrication yard or on site, and visually represent this on the model. This accurate digital asset based on the actual design data, quantities and costs can be used to support future project development and as the basis for the asset’s digital twin.

Embracing the digital transformation process early on and taking a model-focused approach is enabling natural resources companies to increase efficiency, improve performance on their projects, and boost profitability throughout engineering design and construction. The insight gained from an intelligent 3D model will also provide asset and operational excellence teams the capability to continue with the asset’s digital twin journey, with the ultimate opportunity to deliver gains in performance and profitability.

For further information contact:

Eric Wilson

t: +1 713 457 9406