Engineering document management: Paying Formula 1 money for Uber-ride tasks

Digital twin: An interactive, one-to-one scale digital replica of the asset and every component, system or piece of equipment within it, updated in real-time gives the asset owner a powerful monitoring tool and testbed.

By Steve Bruce August 30, 2021


Learning Objectives

  • Managing digital twin documents can be automated and save time and money for engineering companies.
  • Automating these tedious tasks frees up engineers to make better use of their skills.
  • Up-front costs of automated updates of digital twin documents off-set over time.

The gold standard for information management of a capital engineering project is embodied in the concept of a digital twin. A digital twin is an interactive, one-to-one scale digital replica of the asset and every component, system or piece of equipment within it, updated in real-time to give the asset owner a powerful monitoring tool and a formidable testbed for running what-if scenarios. Managing tags from assets and documents is a large part of that effort.

Would you pay Formula 1 champion Lewis Hamilton to be your Uber driver? Probably, if he would do it for an Uber driver’s rate – but probably not if you had to pay him the same per mile for a trip back as a lap around Silverstone Circuit.

Yet owners of capital engineering projects are essentially doing this every day when they fail to swerve avoidable, automatable engineering document management (EDM) tasks and instead assign qualified engineers to slog through them.

The average contractor day rate for a chartered engineer is £625 in 2021 ($860). In certain sectors, that will be higher, but it works as a reference point for this example.

Is that money worth spending on administrative tasks like extracting tags from documents? Granted, employed engineers may cost less than contractors, and it may not be the most senior engineers assigned these tasks, but it’s still akin to paying Formula 1 money for a taxi ride.

With project deadlines to meet, key performance indicators (KPIs) to hit and little time to explore new options, it’s easy to see why the old habits die hard. Yet, with a little strategy, planning and tech, you can stop overpaying for taxi rides and get the star racers back in the fast lane where they belong. Some tasks are prime candidates for automation, freeing up engineering resources to work on engineering challenges.

Tag management for digital twins

A full-scale digital twin produces a lot of information – and if it’s going to be in the digital twin where it belongs, something (or someone) must put it there. Imagine a single valve on an offshore oil and gas platform. That valve has been meticulously designed and engineered and would have been supplied with reams of technical documentation by the supplier to the EPC.

For the asset’s eventual owner or operator to have the relevant information ready and waiting within the digital representation of the project, those documents must first be parsed, and engineering tags extracted from them. Then, the relationships between those tags and documents must be mapped out and contextualized, so the information can be easily retrieved in any relevant context. Anything less, and the unfortunate maintenance engineer or inspector who comes to look at the valve in a year’s time will spend expensive days offshore chasing down documentation.

Tag management is therefore a critical task, but it is also a programmable and automatable one. Not only is the above process a fast way to lose a lot of money when done manually, it’s an even faster way to foment dissatisfaction for the unlucky engineers assigned the task. And if they are dissatisfied enough to leave for pastures new, then it becomes even more expensive to find and onboard a replacement.

In numbers: let’s assume a large capital project may have 100,000 to 200,000 documents attached to it, which may be associated with 50,000 to 100,000 tags. If each document takes 20 minutes to extract and validate tags, that’s somewhere between 33,000 to 66,000 hours spent. Let’s be generous and say that half of that time is spent by document controllers and only half by engineers, that’s still somewhere around 16,250 to 33,000 hours. Plugging in that £625 day rate and assuming an eight-hour day, that’s up to 4,125 days at a total of £2,578,125 (more than $3.5 million).

That’s certainly Formula 1 money for an Uber-ride task.

Engineering work package management, document control

As another example, consider construction work packages (CWPs) (though equally applicable are the likes of maintenance work packages, engineering work packages, site inspection or handover packages). A CWP defines a specific scope of work in detail, including drawings, procurement deliverables, specifications and vendor support. Most importantly, it includes a budget and schedule that can be compared with actual performance.

To be of any use in measuring adherence to budget and schedule, the CWP must be kept up to date even after it is issued into the field. Documents contained in the pack can continue to be revised and superseded with new documents being added as required. Traditionally, this is the manual task of document control for the construction lead, and in a complex engineering and construction project, there may be hundreds of CWPs being used in parallel.

This can involve significant maintenance, especially where paper copies of the packs have been created and are being held at site. The responsible party must be able to search or report against the system on a regular basis (daily/weekly) to ensure that the site-based copies are kept up-to-date.

The bulk of this work should be handled by document control, which is less costly than engineering talent (think rally driver wages rather than Formula 1 for this Uber-ride), but there will be an engineering cost, nonetheless. If we take the same hypothetical large capital project as above, we could easily expect avoidable engineering costs to reach six- or even seven-figure sums.

Realigning costs and value through automation

These tasks have all the hallmarks of automatable processes: repeatable and relatively straightforward but extremely data-heavy.

Take the CWP maintenance: as a simple starting point, the report to show the content that has changed in all CWPs can be run on a scheduled basis and sent to the appropriate parties, alerting them to the changes and allowing action to be taken. That can be automated.

The next step would be to have the system automatically update the packages overnight as a result of the content being changed. The new version of the documents within the packages can then be automatically transmitted to the appropriate parties to ensure they have access to the latest content.

Finally, an email notification can be sent to those parties to ensure they are aware of the change. If a manual step is required, such as a quality control check of the revised package, then a task can be automatically created and sent to the appropriate professional. The time (and therefore cost) savings could be astronomical.

Despite the novelty appeal, there’s no real justification for paying Lewis Hamilton Formula 1 wages he is accustomed to drive an Uber. It is equally absurd to continue paying qualified engineers to spend their time on tasks that, with today’s technology, are easily and profitably automatable. True, there is an upfront investment required to put the technology and new processes in place, but the returns are fast and significant – and it’s untenable to persist with the alternative.

Steve Bruce, product director, Idox. Edited by Chris Vavra, web content manager, Control Engineering, CFE Media and Technology,


Keywords: asset management, document management


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Author Bio: Steve Bruce, product director, Idox.