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Digitalization & Modularization Are Changing The Game For Chemical, LNG, and Nuclear Construction

Recent developments in LNG, chemical, and nuclear construction mark both an exciting and challenging time for EPCs. Hexagon PPM is here to help construction industry leaders navigate the transition to digitalization and secure the digital technologies necessary for meeting the rigorous demands of modern-day energy infrastructure construction projects. Get in touch with us to learn more about how you can make the transition to digitalization today. In recent years, the energy industry has been aptly lauded for its ability to swiftly adapt to change. Embracing the wave of digitalization sweeping over the industry, major energy players have leveraged key digital innovations such as smart grids, artificial intelligence, and ambient energy-harvesting technology to boost energy efficiency and cost savings for suppliers and consumers alike.

In contrast, construction has remained starkly resistant to technological advancements. The pace at which construction has implemented digital technologies to fuel innovation traditionally lags significantly behind its energy counterparts. But game-changing innovations in the chemical, liquified natural gas, and nuclear construction industries have sparked a recent shift in the narrative. Could innovation in the construction industry finally be catching up to energy?

As the construction of new energy infrastructure continues to build momentum (consider that the U.S. just recently became the world’s largest exporter of LNG , topping Qatar and Australian exports by a hair), EPCs are wising up to the potential of spearheading these projects with the help of digital technologies and modularization.

Digitalization Is Driving Improvements Across Energy Construction

Digitalization is the engine driving several key advances in energy infrastructure construction. Virtual reality is a prime example of a relatively new digital technology that plays an increased role in nuclear construction, particularly as it relates to training workers.

Virtual reality tools enhance the training process and keep workers safer. For example, periodic inspections and maintenance of turbine generators on nuclear power plants are necessary. However, training employees to inspect and maintain those generators can be a relatively risky, time-consuming, and expensive affair. Enter virtual reality, which makes it possible to train employees remotely without ever having to step into the job site. From the assembly, dismantling, and repair of turbines, a virtual environment helps technicians to go through various steps of training and see all the parts working together before actually entering a potentially hazardous situation.

What’s more, preparing for accidents and emergencies that could occur at a nuclear power plant is required by law worldwide. Training in a virtual environment not only saves owners time and resources, but also keeps workers safe while testing the correct operation of emergency mitigation practices.

Artificial intelligence is another key digital innovation that’s changing the game for energy construction. The use of artificial intelligence creates more efficient workflows that drive down costs and contribute to quicker engineering and design processes. This comes especially in handy during the construction of LNG and chemical plants.

Artificial intelligence algorithms boast capabilities like integrating 3D laser scans with plot plans. Traditionally, plot plans are generated manually, requiring a team of surveyors to measure a facility’s static and non-static assets by hand. The work involves significant health and safety risks; working at enormous heights increases the risks of slip and fall accidents that no facility can ever afford. 3D laser scanning made possible by artificial intelligence technology can mitigate those risks and create more accurate and more precise 2D plot plans from 3D scan data.

Probably the most pertinent benefit to digitalization across all construction verticals is that it saves owners both time and money. Initial investment in digital technologies may be steep, but the time and resources saved through their implementation ultimately yields a higher ROI.

Cost and schedule overruns are an unfortunate reality for the construction sector. Digital technologies mitigate these challenges by providing significant improvements and automation to workflows. The McKinsey Global Institute predicts that construction companies that invest in digitization while embracing new materials and automation could see up to a 60% jump in overall productivity. Digitalization alone can result in productivity gains of around 15%, and cost reductions from between 4 to 6%.

These numbers aren’t just hypotheticals. Construction companies utilizing digital tools and innovations today are seeing gains that their analog counterparts sorely miss out on. A contractor surveyed by McKinsey saved more than 20 hours of staff time per week, cut down the time to generate reports by 75 percent, and sped up document transmittals by 90 percent through the use of a single digital platform for bidding, tendering, and contract management.

Changes to work paradigms brought on by the pandemic have also greatly increased the need for remote collaboration tools. Digitalization empowers collaboration across departments and between various stakeholders, no matter where they’re located, an increasingly important capability in the age of a global pandemic.

Modularization Accelerates Construction Workflows

Alongside digital innovations, EPCs are increasingly relying on modularization to facilitate the efficient construction of energy infrastructure. Modular construction — the process in which components of a building or other asset are constructed off-site under controlled plant conditions — is usually faster, more efficient, and more affordable than traditional construction methods, and it comes especially in handy when constructing energy infrastructure components.

One key benefit of modularization is that it’s a highly repeatable process. Components like a small nuclear reactor, for example, are designed once, manufactured offsite and then shipped and installed on-site. That means all the workers need to do is place the reactor in its correct position and bolt it in. As energy facilities expand across the world, EPCs are increasingly relying on modularization to save on both time and costs.

Modularization also makes training processes more efficient. Consider that a modular nuclear reactor design may be implemented across several power plants. Once an employee is trained to conduct maintenance on one, that employee is able to work on the subsequent reactors because they’re all identical. That said, modularization also makes it possible to leapfrog over maintenance altogether, improving operations and maintenance efficiency. A reactor that’s been in operation past its original design life may be an unlikely candidate for refueling, given the risks and costs associated. Thanks to modularization, workers can simply replace that old reactor with a new modular reactor, cutting down on both maintenance and construction costs.

Looking Ahead: The Future of Digitalization And Energy Construction

The pace of digital innovation shows no signs of slowing, and EPCs will have to keep in time with it to remain competitive bidders for nuclear, chemical, and LNG sector jobs.

Looking ahead, there’s no doubt that an increased emphasis on remote collaboration tools will play a role in the continuing digitalization of the construction industry. Digital twin technology will continue to advance and add to the construction industry’s remote collaboration capabilities, enabling workers to remotely monitor all real-time data and even fix equipment from tens of thousands of feet away to prevent potential disasters.

What’s more, as the energy industry continues to expand, so will the construction sector’s need to adapt to greater demand. Safety and efficiency facilitated by advanced digital technologies will continue to be a top priority for nuclear and chemical facilities. LNG exports and infrastructure advances continue to make significant headway in the U.S., especially in response to meeting demand in energy-starved Europe . The LNG market alone is poised to balloon to almost $200 billion in the next five years. As a result, construction companies will need to continue forging ahead with modularization strategies and digital tools that promote the safe, streamlined, and efficient facilitation of LNG projects.

Last Words

The future is fast approaching. Some would even argue that it’s already arrived at our doorstep. Digital innovations like virtual reality, artificial intelligence, and remote collaboration tools — technologies that seemed far-fetched and futuristic just a few years ago — now exist to create safer and more efficient workflows for construction companies working on energy infrastructure projects. Modularization, though it’s been leveraged in energy construction for years, will continue to make advances as the need for energy infrastructure expands worldwide.