Monday, November 14, 2011: 05:59:38 PM



An innovative software bridged knowledge-gap for workers during a refinery construction in Maine. We take a look at how this software worked its magic

When a 100-year-old pulp and paper mill in Brewer, Maine closed down, Brewer’s economic prospects looked bleak. While some saw a blighted brownfield and economic hardship, Cianbro Constructors—in partnership with South Brewer Development, LLC—saw a community revitalisation opportunity and redeveloped the abandoned paper mill into the $110 mn, state-of-the-art Eastern Manufacturing Facility. The best part of the mill’s renovation is the innovative software that played a key role in the facility’s success.

From Pulp to Profit
The goal was to prefabricate 54 modules for the Motiva Refinery in Port Arthur, Texas, as part of the 3,25,000 barrel-per-day crude expansion project. Cianbro trained Maine locals as pipe fitters and welders, and hired additional workers for a total workforce of 500. “During a time when the economy is doing poorly, to be able to open up an abandoned site, and train and hire these many people, rejuvenated the area,” informs Cheryl Brackett – Lead Work Package Engineer, Cianbro. “The community really felt a sense of ownership—every time a barge goes down the river, people line up on the banks to cheer it on,” she adds.

The barges that Brackett refers to are those that carry up to seven modules at a time for assembly in Texas. The Cianbro modules are a relatively small part of an expansion that will turn Motiva Enterprises’ Port Arthur Refinery into the largest refinery in the US; but the numbers involved in the project are staggering—for example, about 965 km of pipe will be installed. Cianbro’s role is to build and ship the 54 prefabricated modules, totalling 9,000 t of steel and 2,00,000 lineal ft of pipe. The modules average 40 ft-by-40 ft in cross section, are about 120 ft long, and weigh up to 700 t each. They are extremely intricate and must fit together precisely on site. Tolerances are tight—structural steel must be within a quarter-inch of plan, and piping must be within an eighth-inch.

A Smarter Software
Most of the workers employed at the new facility are Maine locals, who had never seen a refinery before. Moreover, the fabrication team had never dealt with the commonly-delivered fabrication drawings of isometrics for pipe-work. Cianbro used ConstructSim and its 3D visualisation capabilities to show the workers what they are building, overall by module and down to the detail for each piece of pipe and structure. The software also helps Cianbro plan, sequence, execute and monitor all the construction activities from within the data-rich plant model, and enables it to visually communicate the massive scope of this project at all levels—from the media, engineers and production team, to the construction crews themselves. Moreover, the visuals were instrumental in getting buy-in from local communities and educating the public about the project.

Ms Brackett notes that Cianbro engineers initially underestimated ConstructSim’s capacities. “In the beginning, we saw it primarily as a visual tool,” she says, “but as we evolved, we began to realise how much information was really available. For example, we can get all the information we need about the pipe in a module-length, weight, dimensions, paint colours, material lists, you name it—and export it to an Excel spreadsheet. Or, we can run a query and get a list of every single valve and valve type. Compiling that kind of information by hand would have taken forever!”

Cianbro is building two main subassemblies for the refinery—the cat feed and the hydrocracker. The modelling for these is divided into two main components, namely structural steel and piping. So, Ms Brackett and other work package engineers receive four weekly model dumps from Jacobs Engineering who provided technical assistance in the project and for the planning of the model, with all the updated information needed for that week’s work. ConstructSim is used to develop visualisations, scaffold location, work status, scheduling, tonnage and materials lists, and the other paper documentation used by ironworkers, welders and pipe fitters.

As a work package engineer, it is Ms Brackett’s responsibility to work with the model from Jacobs Engineering and develop the information that construction crews need in order to work on modules. “It is like a model airplane kit,” she explains. “We are working with a lot of newly-trained people, and isometrics can be hard for them to read. But 3D visualisations have worked very well for us.” Materials lists are indexed by model-generated codes and the facility yard inventory is indexed by the same codes, so workers can present the list and be sure they are receiving everything they

Planning Perfection
ConstructSim is also used to plan construction phases. For example, riggers regularly meet with Ms Brackett to work with the plant model and figure out when they will need cranes to lift heavy assemblies into place and how much lifting power is needed. Weights of components and assemblies are instantly available in ConstructSim, and alternate construction sequences can be tested for efficiency. Since the modules are about the height of five-storey buildings, the use of efficient construction sequences can dramatically reduce labour costs.

Efficiency is also important due to Maine’s sometimes extreme weather. “We have had temperatures as low as minus 26 degrees,” adds Ms Brackett. “When that happens, crews can only work outside for half-an-hour stretches, so we have to make the most of that time.” A separate tool—SpoolGen is used to plan more detailed work. For example, if a long section of pipe is being assembled, SpoolGen is used to plan individual pipe cuts and welds.

When 700 t modules are being shipped across 2,500 miles, there is no second chance to get things right; not surprisingly, quality assurance and control is practiced obsessively at the Eastern Manufacturing facility. But checking an assembly as complex as refinery modules to tight tolerances is challenging. So, Cianbro is using high-definition laser scanning to complete 3D as-built models of finished modules; these asbuilts can then be directly compared to the design model. This is state-of-the-art quality control, and many times more useful and efficient than previous as-built survey techniques. Quality assurance and control teams check work packages before they go to the field and inspect all work as it is completed. Weld X-rays are ordered as needed, and the teams check for compliance with design specifications such as weld type, paint colour and dimensions. Score cards, which are generated by ConstructSim and checked off by crews as the work is completed, are used to manage schedules and keep track of who worked on what.

Reaping Rewards
The hard work has paid off. Before the Eastern Manufacturing Facility opened for business, most of its workers had never even seen a refinery—now, they have built one. With a newly-trained and experienced workforce, a new facility, and the proven ability to apply innovative software with practical results, the prospects for Cianbro’s Eastern Manufacturing Facility are very promising. Modular construction is no longer limited to refineries—the same skills that were instrumental in the assembly the Port Arthur Refinery can be put to work in building chemical factories, nuclear power plants, trains and other vital infrastructure. Ironically, the day may come when this former paper and pulp mill is used to assemble paper and pulp mills all over the world.

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