One of the presentations at the Aramco Services Company Technical Exchange Meeting in Houston in early May was entitled “Improving the Value Chain for Valves through Standardization of Metadata.” In it the presenters—Sharon Bickford, project manager at FIATECH; Ken Hamilton, project manager at PIP; Rick Hoenerhoff, associate director at PIP; and John Fish, who works in the area of customer relationships & quality assurance for Ford, Bacon, and Davis, LLC —pointed out that the process for managing valves on a project has not changed in 40 years.
That's pretty slow considering that valves now make up a market that, by some estimates, is as high as $10 billion a year. If just 2% of that amount is wasted it accounts for $200 million annually. Standardization and automation, the presenters said, would help eliminate redundant activities, reduce both time and errors, and cut costs all around.
This would be accomplished through adoption of a Global Valve Cross-reference eCatalog (GVCC), Web-based sharing of vendor and technical data, industry standards for RFID valve tagging and streamlining of the valve value chain.
But who or what are PIP and FIATECH, and what is metadata, anyway? This article will answer these questions and explain where this effort is going.
What is PIP?
Sister organizations PIP and FIATECH are separately funded initiatives of the Construction Industry Institute (CII) at the University of Texas at Austin.
PIP (Process Industry Practices), founded in 1993, is a consortium of owner/operator and contractor member companies that works to harmonize their internal standards for design, procurement, construction and maintenance of process facilities.
It publishes those harmonized documents as “practices” in a number of disciplines: Civil/Structural/Architectural, Coatings/Insulation/Refractory, Document Management, Electrical, Machinery, P&ID, Piping, Process Control & Analyzers and Vessel. Two of these disciplines deal with valves: Piping, which includes stop valves of all types—gate valves, ball valves, needle valves, check valves and so on—and Process Control & Analyzers, which includes control valves. The latter, however, are not included in the effort described in this article.
PIP’s original objective, says Ken Hamilton, “was to try to develop some consensus ways of designing and constructing process facilities using the best practices and information of people in the industry.” As with many industries, he says, the people with the experience and expertise are getting older and retiring or otherwise moving on, and PIP wants to capture that knowledge while it’s still available.
While in some ways PIP’s practices can be treated as standards, they are not intended to replace existing standards from API or ANSI, but to supplement them and help in their interpretation. The practices are based on existing products on the market; the problem they address is that there is not enough consistency in the way manufacturers list those products, or owners and contractors specify them. “If you take a … 6-inch, 150-pound raised face carbon steel gate valve,” says Hamilton, “everybody calls that by a different number or different code or whatever, even though it’s the same; you put that thing on a table and everybody’s got a different way of specifying it and a different way of code that they use.”
PIP practices take all that valve description information and put it into catalogs in standardized form. For example, PIP practice PNSMV003 describes 52 different carbon steel gate valves in sizes from 1/2 to 2 inches to 48 inches, with different combinations of trims, flanges and so on. There are similar practices for valves made of bronze and iron, nickel and nickel alloy, plastic, plastic, stainless steel and so on.
Before these practices became available a user might specify a valve for a certain application by a particular manufacturer’s part number “or equivalent”—and what constitutes an equivalent might be left up in the air. But now, says Rick Hoenerhoff, “if you’re dealing with a PIP practice, you only have to read it one time and know what’s in there and then the [user] only has to specify any differences between what they want and the PIP … It’s much easier for a manufacturer to be able to quote and provide.”
What is FIATECH?
FIATECH founded in 2000, is an industry-led consortium that provides global leadership in identifying and accelerating the development, demonstration and deployment of fully integrated and automated technologies to deliver the highest business value throughout the life cycle of all types of capital projects.
The consortium consists of owners of large assets in the industrial, power and retail markets; providers of engineering, design and construction services; and technology providers.
“FIATECH is an implementation organization that looks at technologies and how they can best be applied to yield the greatest business benefit,” says Sharon Bickford. “At the moment FIATECH has 17 projects under way in seven areas including planning, design, procurement, construction, operations & maintenance, projects management & controls, workforce & training, and data management & information exchange. We look at all aspects of a capital project and we go out and develop, demonstrate and deploy technologies on job sites, document case studies and publish what we learn in the process. ”
What is metadata?
Metadata is sometimes defined as data about data. Look at it this way: your computer contains a great many files of different types: Word documents, PDF documents, JPEG picture files, executable .exe files and so on. If you’re using Windows you can right-click on a file name, then scroll down to Properties, and see some very basic metadata about that file: its name, its type, what application opens it, its location and the dates when it was created, modified and most recently accessed. That’s simple metadata, but there are much more sophisticated types of metadata. An important point about metadata is that it uses standard languages and terminology, and is handled in defined ways. Metadata lies at the heart of any database system.
What PIP and FIATECH are doing with metadata
One of the drawbacks of the Process Industry Practices is that while they’re available as electronic files, they are PDFs of Word documents, not searchable databases. To use them someone has to go through line by line to match up a given make and model of valve with a given PIP practice. And often there are enough differences in terminology among manufacturers and users to leave things open to interpretation. All of this may be why adoption by industry is not as widespread as PIP would like.
What’s needed is some way to compare things electronically, which is where metadata comes in. FIATECH and PIP have embarked on a project to create a Global Valve Cross-reference eCatalog (GVCC) that’s intended to allow Web-based sharing of vendor and technical data. Proponents say it can cut four weeks from the procurement cycle.
When the GVCC project began, says Bickford, the intent was “to create an electronic catalog that includes all of the valves from the existing PIP valve catalog. And then, taking it a step further, developing a piece of software to compare the various valves to each other as well as catalog a list of manufacturers’ valves and possibly even an owner’s library.” Many owners of facilities in the oil & gas industry, she explains, have facilities they have acquired over the years that tend to have their own legacy specifications and data libraries. If all that data could be put in standardized form it would be much easier for companies to make needed valve replacements; they would be able to find matches based on materials, usage, class and so forth.
For that to happen, Bickford goes on, different software—“design software, procurement software, construction & scheduling software, and then operation and maintenance”—will have to speak the same language. “When you’re talking about one valve,” she says, “all those various software programs need to talk about that same valve in the same way.”
FIATECH estimates that the GVCC will result in “an estimated 95% reduction in labor cost and schedule for the technical verification activity associated with valve quotes and purchases.” It will also reduce errors and rework, and may eventually make it possible to automatically exchange valve weight and geometry data to 3D CAD and asset management systems.
The first step was to take the written PIP valve catalog and put it into an electronic format. But that turned out to be more challenging than anticipated, Bickford continues, “because once everybody dug into it they realized that there wasn’t any standardization used when the catalog was first built.” To make the information useful involved putting everything in standard XML form so it could be accessed in a uniform way. This has been done, says Bickford, “So now stainless steel isn’t ss or S Steel or SS, or various variations of that… now it’s all the same.”
FIATECH and PIP are currently working to get as many companies signed up for the next phase of the GVCC effort as possible. “There were 25 owners, contractors and a couple of software people and manufacturers’ suppliers in that initial group,” says Hamilton. Project sponsors currently (as of Jan. 28, 2010) receive Ver. 3.04 of the software package, which includes the Valve Data Editor, the PIP Valve Catalog in cfiXML, the Valve Matcher and support services. All of this is supposed to give sponsors “the capability to rapidly and automatically cross-match their internal valve catalogs and technical specifications with their business collaboration partners via a common cross-match to an electronic version of the PIP Valve Catalog.”
But this isn’t the end of the process, because the goal is full commercialization: a Web-based version of the software (rather than the current standalone version) with a reporting facility, user bulletin board, update service and a subscription service for non-sponsor companies. This will allow users to access all the information from anywhere.
FIATECH will not be producing that final version, says Bickford. “FIATECH is not in the business of developing software,” she explains. “You have to have the resources to be able to continually keep that Web service up to date and have the capability to keep up with licenses and the selling of the software,” she says. “And as a consortium that is part of the University of Texas, we just don't have those types of resources.” So once it’s developed, FIATECH will turn the project over to a software company to do that final step.
FIATECH has one other major effort underway involving valve metadata; this one involves RFID valve tagging and will be the subject of an article in the Winter 2011 issue of Valve Magazine.