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3D visualisation: Modular magic

Digital assistance has helped to improve the time efficiency of construction work on Cianbro’s oil refinery modules in Maine. Report by Jo Stimpson.

Reinvention has been a cornerstone of Cianbro’s work for Motiva’s expansion of the Port Arthur crude oil refinery in Texas − one of the largest refineries in the United States. Cianbro was contracted to build 54 modules for the refinery, each five storeys high, 37m long and weighing 800t.

Based on the site of a disused paper mill, Cianbro’s construction facility in Brewer, Maine, revitalised the community when it opened, employing over 500 people and helping to regenerate the area.

The same ethos of reinvention has been put at the heart of Cianbro’s work thanks to the way it has embraced IT. Bentley’s ConstructSim was the software chosen for the project. Cianbro has used the programme to reinvigorate its practices in a number of different ways, making the work more productive, more cost-effective and more time-efficient.

“We could actually fly around it. It is a great help to the crews both in fabrication and installation.”

Cheryl Brackett, Cianbro

Speaking at Bentley’s recent Be Inspired symposium, Cianbro lead work package engineer Cheryl Brackett explained that many of the local workers were new to this type of project. It quickly became clear how superior the 3D modelling was to traditional project visualisations.

Many team members had never used isometric one-line drawings before, and depictions of complex pipework often left some ambiguity as to the direction of pipes, or which parts were on the same plane as others.

Brackett says ConstructSim’s 3D visualisations allowed her to turn sections of pipework around on screen, showing them from any angle. “We could actually fly around it,” she says. “It is a great help to the crews both in fabrication and installation.”

Time savings

IT also enabled Cianbro to save time. Work packages were devised quickly and easily, as sections of the project visualisation could be selected on screen and digitally added to a package.

A scorecard to sign off finished pieces could be produced automatically, as could a list of materials for the yard crew to pick up. Screenshots of the visualisations could be printed and supplied with the packages, helping the crew to visualise what it was building.

There were further time savings for engineers because the project visualisations could be exported directly into Microsoft Excel. Those files could then be placed on a server so project information could be accessed from anywhere in a simple format.

“Once we place it on the server, anyone can access it and filter it any way they want.”

Cheryl Brackett, Cianbro

Cianbro exploited this facility by giving certain tasks − such as ordering materials − to more junior team members, freeing up time for its engineers. “Once we place it on the server, anyone can access it and filter it any way they want,” says Brackett.

A status visualisation was also set up to record information directly from a productivity tracking database. This allowed planners to see at a glance how the work was progressing.

IT also helped Cianbro overcome some problems that were very specific to this project’s circumstances. The heavy Maine snowfall meant yard workers had trouble finding labels on parts − but ConstructSim screenshots showing the shapes of each part ensured they could deliver the right pieces quickly and correctly.

Meanwhile, the software helped Cianbro to plan which parts need to be strapped down when the modules are shipped by barge to their final destination at the Texas refinery.

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