7 Technology Trends for EPC Companies
Engineering, Procurement & Construction (EPC) companies, also known as design-build companies are typically slow to adopt new technology for the fear (or hope) that it is a passing fad. But with the slump in oil prices, many companies are taking this time to see how the can improve and get ahead of the competition. We've outlined seven technology trends we've seen in the EPC world and how they impact the industry.
1. Mobile Apps
The EPC industry was relatively slow to adapt to mobile technology - remote jobsites with limited connectivity hinder adoption, but that is quickly changing. Many mobile apps, such as those created by InEight and Rhumbix, strive to increase productivity during the construction phase by allowing people doing the work to better communicate with people in the office, and visa versa. "Data" and "Productivity" are the big buzzwords here, with plenty of opportunity to use information gathered at site to increase performance and stay on schedule.
More than just expensive toys or military weaponry, drone technology is making a strong (and far less controversial) debut on EPC projects. Primarily used for site surveys, progress photos and media material drones can be seen hovering silently above many projects today. More cutting edge applications to look out for in the future are things like inspection drones for checking progress in tough to reach places and infrared drones that can survey for leaks during tightness testing and start-up.
3. Augmented Reality
It should come as no surprise that augmented reality made this list. As the lesser-known sibling of virtual reality, augmented reality has taken center stage recently with the release of Pokemon Go and with the proliferation of SnapChat's addictive filters. Augmented reality has a key advantage over virtual reality that makes it so appealing to the EPC industry: you are always aware of your surroundings. Even with a pair of augmented reality glasses on, you can still see everything in your field of vision and safely walk around. This would allow engineers on-site to view the 3D model a project is constructed, make design changes as necessary, get remote support from vendors while in the field. The list goes on - you can read about detailed use cases here.
During the construction phase, your project is only as good as your workforce, which is why the research spotlight has been turned to using wearables to track things like individual heart rate, temperature, air quality and movement. Real time feedback would allow superintendents to monitor if a crew is getting overheated, over exerted, or if the air is not optimal for strenuous work and address those needs before they become an incident or first aid. Sounds a little bit 'Big Brother'-ish? Well, it is and that may curtail growth with this trend.
5. 3D Printing
When most people think of 3D printing they think of something like MakerBot creating novel cellphone cases or maybe Xkelet 3D printing casts for broken limbs. For EPC you need to think much, much bigger. Several start-ups are pioneering 3D printing pipe spools and several have already demonstrated that you can 3D print concrete structures. Shell is already well ahead of the curve and is experimenting with printing replacement valves. Details such as cost-effectiveness and meeting API standards are not quite ironed out, but it's early days and definitely a space to watch (and invest in if you or someone you love is an EPC company).
The number of database and system administrators still employed by EPC companies routinely baffles tech savvy millennials. As companies and projects evolve to meet the higher demands of lower project budgets and high project costs we can expect to see leaner and more efficient database software that don't require a small army of administrators to run. There is serious room for improvement with electronic document management systems (EDMS), completions systems and procurement software. EDMS systems such as iDocs that put the document owner (such as the engineer) in charge of revisions, transmittal and reviews rather than handing it off to a document controller are gaining popularity. Completions database software such as WinPCS and Zenator have been around for decades - they are already helping projects cut down on paper pushing by using bar-coding and electronic forms. Finally we can hope to see smarter procurement systems that communicate the needs of engineering, construction, commissioning and start-up, quickly and efficiently, while also keeping supplier information current and accurate.
This trend is about what EPCs are designing and building, rather than how it's done. Wind farms and solar arrays have cropped up in the last few years, but they are far from being the bread and butter of EPC contracts. This probably won't drastically change in the next few years, but there will be more of them. These projects will require a different skill set to execute and familiarization with new technology.
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