Across the world, the outbreak of Covid-19 and the subsequent country-wide lockdowns have seen hundreds of our colleagues decamp from offices and work from home, sometimes with only a few hours’ notice.
But for our engineers, home working wasn’t as simple as grabbing their laptops. They require sophisticated software for 3D modelling, which is typically held on powerful desktop computers and connects to nearby data servers.
Petrofac’s digital and IT teams had already started evaluating a more flexible cloud-based engineering hub that would encompass 3D modelling software, but Covid-19 forced them to implement this new way of working in a matter of days to avoid delays to projects that were in the critical engineering phase.
Petrofacts hears from those involved about the scale of the challenge, the long-term benefits of the hub, and how our engineering teams have been coping with a new way of working.
The outbreak of Covid-19 meant our digital and IT teams had to come up with a new way of working for our engineers – fast
HOW WE WORK
WORDS CHRISTINA McPHERSON
PUBLISHED JUNE 2020
“In order to run complex, resource-demanding 3D modelling and engineering tools, you need very expensive, high-grade desktop computers – and in the office, you need to have a high-spec server hosting the data for the applications. You are reliant on your in-office hardware and if multiple offices are working on the same model, you need to replicate the same set up in all locations across the world. This means it’s not very flexible and there are challenges with accessibility, synchronisation of data and speed. It can be a very complex endeavour.
“The new approach simply allows our engineers to work anytime, anywhere. They can use any device, log into the cloud, wherever they are, and work on the 3D models. The time to set up a project is reduced – the turnaround of the traditional project set-up is measured in months. The second benefit is reduced costs in the long run, as you don’t need to invest in new hardware with each project or office space for more employees. And, the third is flexibility – for example, you can work on the same model with your JV partners or if you don’t have enough people in Mumbai, engineers in Chennai or Delhi can jump in and help out. The new system will also make it easier when we have peaks in demand for contractors to work on the same models.”
The Petrofac Engineering Hub provides end-to-end integration of conceptual, FEED and detailed design. Hosted in the cloud, the environment handles all process simulation and engineering (1D, 2D and 3D) from one single data hub.
“The Covid-19 situation was unprecedented. We only had two days in most cases to respond to the lockdowns and in the Delhi office we didn’t even get that. We had 12 to 14 projects at various stages of engineering. Four or five projects in Chennai were at the closing stages and due to complete engineering in June. So, we had to ensure the downstream functions such as construction weren’t inconvenienced.
“The first priority was making sure our people were safe. Once we shifted all the machines to engineers’ homes, we asked them to bear with us while the hub was set up. Considering the unprecedented scale of events, we found ourselves under prepared to work from home en masse at short notice, compounded by lockdown restrictions. During this period to bring the workforce online, there was a series of communications between the teams and the Head of Departments to enable the teams to understand the challenges and respond to the demand. The team on the ground responded very well and within a few days we were working from home at more than 90% capacity. The restrictions have come from the infrastructure – for example, an engineer might be in parts of the city that had inadequate bandwidth for a certain application. Going forward we will concentrate on augmenting the IT infrastructure to make it work more seamlessly. Overall, we are now much better prepared for any business continuity issues. We have proven to ourselves we can respond to issues quickly.”
“On 15 March we received a message that we should prepare for all users to work from home and just five days later the local government in Mumbai asked businesses to close their offices. We immediately asked our General Managers to consider delivering people’s machines to their homes. Two days later we had made the cloud environment ready for 200+ 3D modellers, and over the next week we loaded all the users in phases, as well as 15-plus active projects using 3D modelling. As this was the first time we had implemented this particular solution, we loaded the users in batches and made the environment stable for full strength in a short time.
“The major challenges were making the environment ready in a short period; ensuring the right hardware at our Azure datacentre, and implementing the graphics-dependent virtual desktops quickly and balancing the user loads; setting up database replications to our on-premises host databases to Azure databases; and shifting users’ machines to home as quickly as possible and ensuring the right bandwidth at their end. With great teamwork, and support from our Azure cloud support team, local IT teams and end users, it would not have been possible. We also set up Daily Hypercare calls from day one, so we can immediately listen and address engineers’ concerns quickly and on a daily basis.
“One of the main benefits of the hub in the long term is reducing costs – each engineering centre across the world has multiple database and application servers but the cloud centralises these. Onboarding a new user onto the old system would take a lot of time, but they can use the hub immediately. Extending the system to our third-party and JV partners as the need arises, and working collaboratively in the central database is now easy.”
man-hours a day
projects using different software tools
“Around 19 March we decided to move our entire Completions and CMMS groups to work from home on hearing about the spread of the pandemic across various cities. We also split the rest of the employees into two equal groups to attend the office on alternate days and address social distancing; we started off on 21 March with the first batch. However, we couldn’t pursue this further due to the nationwide curfew the next day, which was followed by a lockdown.
“We had less than two days to move desktops and monitors to individuals’ residences (prior to the commencement of lockdown from 6:00pm on 24 March). Our admin and IT teams joined hands and did an excellent job of shifting 400+ desktops to employees’ homes. We also provided 100+ laptops to others.
“Our projects were moved into the cloud by the IT team within another couple of days, facilitating the continuation of work without further interruption. We were handling three projects at a critical stage and were very close to completion – the move into the cloud hub was of great help in closing the balance of the works. It would have been a different challenge had we been in the middle of a project.
“Our employees are so committed and could gear up to expectations very quickly. One of our employees could not get connectivity at his home, so he mounted the entire machine in his car and drove a mile to a pumping station where he could get WiFi! Most of us are working from home for the first time and there are external challenges – limitations with internet bandwidth, power disruptions, lack of UPS, and many don’t have proper desks, chairs or air conditioning at home. We did a survey with employees and around 30% said they would like to come back to the office – many were colleagues who needed hard copies of drawings to check, 3D modellers and those associated with layout-related works. But as a team we have managed the situation very well so far and achieved what we wanted to on all our projects.”
The engineering offices affected:
Muscat and Salalah
“We had been trying to encourage our people to work from home in different circumstances before the lockdown – but it was more an exception than a rule. We believed there were many activities that couldn’t be done at home. Therefore, we were very cautious about it, however coronavirus turned everything on its head.
“Our productivity fell at the start of lockdown. Hardware was an issue, so we did a lot of work initially to provide people with their desktop computers. It was quite an exercise – many of our colleagues stay in Delhi, a different state to where our office is located and the border was closed, so we had to use a courier agency.
“The second problem – once they had the hardware – was how do they work. Accessing 3D modelling at home was something we never thought could be done. The hub turned everything around and once other teething issues were resolved, we have gradually reached close to full productivity on our ongoing projects, more quickly than we had believed possible.
“Cloud engineering and Microsoft Teams have really brought us together – it’s like a virtual office where everyone can interact. The hub has opened up so many avenues. We were unable to outsource a lot of work before, as it is very difficult to share a model, but we will now have more flexibility here. Engineers in Delhi and Sharjah, engineers working from home, clients around the world – everyone can now collaborate and review models on the cloud.”
“Enabling graphic-intensive engineering tools for remote operation is an important milestone that was achieved when it mattered. As we say necessity is the mother of all inventions. The core team, which involved colleagues from my team, IT and the engineering disciplines, saw the lockdowns coming and set the work in motion to develop and deliver the cloud solution. There was close coordination between the General Managers, Head of Departments and our project management teams. The Covid-19 outbreak was an opportunity to take the long view and give our engineers more flexibility. It was accomplished through intense planning, hypercare and dedicated round-the-clock efforts of the teams involved. Our Joint Venture partners have also benefited from the hub and there was minimal downtime for everyone between working in the office to working from home.”
“We were able to provide a scalable platform that can be extended to hundreds of users and provide superior performance. This is cutting-edge technology that consumes only a fraction of the resources normally required to power engineering applications. We are very excited about the quick adoption and transformation of Petrofac in line with the most progressive companies in the O&G chain. Switching to the cloud on such a large scale, and taking advantage of the system’s unprecedented mobility, is something that the industry has never witnessed before.”