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Lessons Learned in Plant Data Management

Matt Lane

Over the past 23 years, Hagerman & Company has performed 1300+ successful data management projects for our customers. A large number of those have been in the plant and facilities area within process-oriented industries such as utilities, pipelines, primary metals, chemicals, oil and gas, pulp and paper, food and beverage, pharmaceuticals, etc. We have learned many lessons that can help others be more successful in managing, controlling and sharing plant information such as drawings, general documents, projects, asset information and much more.

Here are a few of the lessons we have learned:

Know and agree on your goals and challenges

When looking at possible solutions, it is important to not get too enamored with any systems’ “features” too quickly. It is important to first sit down and discuss what are the main goals and challenges that you are trying to meet as a company, a department or a group of departments.

These goals and challenges could be:

  • Ensuring that plant maintenance and operations staffs can find the correct documentation quickly and accurately
  • Reducing plant downtime
  • Improving plant safety and/or maintaining licenses to operate
  • Improving collaboration with outside parties such as engineering and construction firms
  • Cutting project completion and handover times
  • Improving internal management and control of engineering drawings and other files

Follow the money

If you are investing money and employee time in purchasing and implementing a system, you should make sure that whatever you do will have the most positive financial impact on your company. As a result, your lists of goals and challenges should be reviewed and analyzed in order to pick the ones that have the most financial impact. You will then be in a position to select the solution that bests meets your goals.

Don’t let the desire for “perfection” block needed improvement

Many plants have mountains of drawings, documents and data that need to be reviewed, cleaned and organized in a system. For many companies, this task is so overwhelming that they end up doing nothing and no improvements are made. While it should be a long term goal to have a perfectly documented plant even just getting your imperfect data into a system has many advantages including:

  • Improved search and retrieval with integrated text and titleblock content indexing
  • Integrated viewing of CAD (and other) files for all plant users without the need for CAD software
  • Control of check in/check out to prevent the creation of any additional conflicting changes and overwriting of documents
  • Automatic ability to not just browse folders to find files but also use current folder and file names in forms-based property searches
  • Quick ability to scan for duplicate files and to prevent the creation of additional duplicate files
  • Improved security so that rights to edit, move, rename, delete, view, print, markup and more can all be granularly controlled by user, department, filetype, folder location, etc.
  • Integrated workflow so that all future changes are properly reviewed and approved

All of the above can be achieved simply by installing and configuring the data management software and then importing all of your documents as-is. Even without “perfection”, most systems easily provide a tremendous return on investment just based on the above items.

Have a plan to meet longer term ultimate goals

Even with all of the above immediate benefits, companies should not stop there but instead keep working until they have fully accurate, organized and easily searchable as-built documents for all of their plant assets and operating documents. Before proceeding with any project, it is important to:

  • Select a system that allows you to meet your ultimate goals
  • Have a long term implementation plan in place to get there
  • Configure your data management system so that additional “bad data” can’t be created in the future by using features such as:
    • Implementing proper document security, check in/check out controls and review/approval workflows
    • Setting up “required’ document properties and limiting user input to drop down lists where appropriate
    • Creating automated connections to other in-house databases and systems as needed to prevent duplicate and possibly conflicting data entry

Train, train, train

Most large plants and facilities have tens or hundreds of potential system users who may need access on a 24/7 basis. As a result, it is imperative to have a proper upfront training program for existing staff and an ongoing training program for new hires in place so that all team members can find the information they need anytime, easily and with confidence so that they can work safely and productively.

These items just represent a few of the “lessons learned” that we have obtained over our years of experience and hundreds of projects. Hopefully, our experience can be of benefit to you and your organization in the future!