What makes a sustaining capital project program sustainable?
Given the economic landscape in Alberta over the past five years, the industry has seen a drop off in capital spending on major projects. The spotlight and available budgets from operator companies has shifted to smaller operations, maintenance, and sustaining capital projects. Wood, a global leader in the delivery of project management, engineering, consulting and technical services, has a strong track record of executing sustaining capital programs in the oilsands, and in other energy sectors in western Canada.
Wood project managers Jeff Thomson and Carlos Serrato have shared their own experience with the Canadian Heavy Oil Association on best execution practices for successful delivery of sustaining capital projects. Jeff has been executing large scale and sustaining capital projects for over 25 years in the downstream, mineable oilsands and in-situ oilsands segments. He has experience both as a project manager and a program director. Carlos Serrato is a dual-purpose project engineer and manager with over 17 years of experience in the in-situ oilsands, downstream and midstream segments.
Carlos and Jeff have teamed up and are currently leading Wood’s sustaining capital program, providing a one stop shop for lean execution and utilizing Wood’s Edmonton office, located in the heart of the Alberta Industrial Heartland, for execution.
What types of sustaining capital projects has Wood been involved with?
Jeff Thomson (JT) – Wood has been involved with everything from minor brownfield refurbishing, to material replacements due to corrosion and erosion concerns, to capacity expansions and debottlenecking projects. We are scaled to execute scopes as small as 10 hours to several thousand hours depending on the needs of our customers. Our job is to extend the life or improve the production of the facility at minimum cost and schedule impact. We have been working on projects in all stages of engineering, from concept and feasibility studies all the way into detailed engineering and construction support.
Carlos Serrato (CS) – We are executing sustaining capital work throughout all of our engineering disciplines, and we have project experience in the mineable oilsands, in-situ oilsands and downstream segments. Our work on downstream sustaining capital projects gives our staff who have previously worked on larger capital projects, an opportunity to bring that experience to downstream.
Do you think these sustaining projects have provided an improved platform for efficiency by the operator companies?
JT – Sustaining capital programs need to be flexible both in delivery and the scheduling and sequencing of projects, as things can change on a moment’s notice. Our customers are focused on capital efficiency, and there are times where larger projects will be put on the back burner while smaller projects can be brought in and dealt with quickly, so we need to be flexible and be able to react to that.
Where we can help is by delivering our projects as quickly and efficiently as possible to minimize cost. Our focus is on delivery with minimal overhead and functional support.
CS – For projects that are associated with turnarounds, any delay can be a huge cost for the company which makes the alignment and planning so important. How you are executing during a turnaround is what the project relies on. As an engineering company we need to keep our mindset on construction and how things are going to look and operate at the facility.
How do you engage with the customer on sustaining capital projects?
JT – For most of the projects, the customer knows what the problem is, but may not know how to fix it. Because we are embedded on site at the facility, we get early indications, and then work with our customers on the best path forward and carry the project all the way out from detailed engineering, field support and construction activities.
Sustaining capital work means you are working with the people in the field just as much as the people in the office. You are working with the operations and maintenance team to ensure the fix will satisfy the management’s needs and daily needs of people at the work front. Having a strong interface plan, and effective communication channels is key to making this all work.
CS – You become a partner of the project people at the facility. You are not just the engineering provider (EP) that is providing a service, but you’re part of the team at the facility and they are relying on you to help them know what is going on and how to solve the problems.
As the management team for the project what are your biggest responsibilities on a day to day basis?
JT – Project management spends a lot of time working with the customer to identify and work with projects that are coming down the pipeline, we are continuously looking for the right people in the right offices to execute the work. This is especially true on projects where the Wood subject matter experts (SME) are not local.
CS – We have a full overview of all the projects in flight, and those coming. With that perspective we are actively managing costs, resources, and schedules as is appropriate, and we are helping the team to deliver a solution that is cost effective and is optimized with construction costs in mind.
JT – A big requirement for managers of sustaining capital projects is to load level work, which is a combination of the local teams and any SMEs as needed. This is the backbone of the program and we support them and ensure the consistency of work going forward on an ongoing basis. The more sustaining capital work you have, across projects, assets or customers, the better way to feed this core team and keep the momentum focused and continuous on the projects.
How do you keep subject matter experts busy while keeping your execution lean?
JT – We’re not focused on keeping subject matter experts busy per se, rather our focus is on delivering the scope our customers want, and nothing more. When you need a subject matter expert, they are only needed for a short period of time. However; through our program-based approach, we engage our subject matter experts in an efficient way through use of multiple Wood offices that have their own unique and specialty services. These offices hold a small number of the best experts in their industry and they focus their efforts on supporting the entire company. We have several SME centers of excellence that flexibly jump to our projects when needed such as:
- Fired heaters
- Vibrations, dynamics and noise
- Hydrogen technology
- Downstream and refining experts
- Computational fluid dynamics
- Pipe sealant expertise for ageing assets
- Polypropylene and polyethylene
- Environmental and infrastructure
CS – In addition to our centers of excellences, we have local SMEs in metallurgy, welding, long pond asset expertise, rotating and static equipment and refineries. Our growing construction business has also lent incredible strength, having support from tenured constructability specialists is giving us a real edge as we can rely on them to provide input on this aspect that is so critical for these types of projects.
Have you seen the implementation of any innovative technologies, with the sustaining projects that Wood has executed?
CS – We do utilize innovation and technologies for our sustaining capital projects. We will be implementing electronic Construction Work Packages (CWPs) through our eWorkpack platform. We’ll be using 4D, which is 3D modeling with a timeframe combined with Primavera that will give a time lapse of the construction sequence and we are also trying to bring site cameras and tablets to have virtual site visits to reduce times on site, this application is called eXpert.
JT – Wood recently unveiled their collaboration laboratory called CoLab. This is both an innovation philosophy, an online community connecting our 60,000 brightest minds and a physical space which holds the latest technology in our industry for person-to-person collaboration. There has been interest in our CoLab activities with our customers and we plan to utilize all parts of CoLab to drive and implement innovation where applicable and achievable. An area we’ve already identified for CoLab is how to utilize Digital Twins on both ageing brownfield and greenfield facilities.
JT – Every project must be set for what it needs. What needs to change is level of functional support, reporting, alignment to complexity and budgets involved. We tailor the project and how we deliver the project to meet the needs of the client.