contact us
POV

Automation Opportunities Build in the EPC Industry

Birad-Bhatt-sq
by Birad Bhatt
iStock-680398964-Design-Factory

Robotic process automation (RPA) has the potential to streamline business operations for organizations in a big way. Among those that stand to benefit the most are engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) companies that perform large-scale projects for infrastructure development, oil and gas production, or exploration and mining projects. Given the complex engineering design work, large-scale planning for procurement, and micro-management and scheduling for on-site activities for EPC organizations, the potential to improve business processes with RPA is dramatic.

Houston, Texas, the energy hub of the country, is home to some of the biggest names in the EPC industry, reflecting the presence of energy giants and a plentiful supply of engineering talent from local universities. Examples of engineering companies that have their home offices in Houston include CB&I, Jacobs, Bechtel, Fluor and Worley Parsons.

A typical EPC project involves sophisticated feasibility studies, in-depth technology reviews, regulatory assessments, project finance reviews and complex budgeting. EPC contracting then typically moves along the following eight tracks: project scoping, design and equipment listing, vendor selection, requirements definition, pricing, purchase-order management, testing, and traffic and logistics.  

While the type and sequence of any individual activity may seem routine to people familiar with project management, the scale required for large energy or infrastructure-related projects makes it challenging. Each activity – from project scoping to logistics – has dedicated teams equipped with specialized systems to manage their day-to-day functions. Within these day-to-day functions, each team performs a series of repetitive checks to ensure the work they are processing and forwarding stays on track and adheres to the master plan.

Engineering a simple pump, for example, involves as many as 20 checkpoints that each need to be reviewed and recorded at least four times as the project moves from equipment listing to site installation. Traditionally, each recording must be converted into a specific format and entered manually into the system used by that team, validated with the spec sheet, reconciled against upstream departments, indexed and archived. An outage or delay at any one stage can cause disruptions to the entire project plan, which can result in the loss of hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars in project revenue.

Managing EPC projects well requires managing the flow of data from one function to another, through manual work processes and from one system to another – an endeavor that is time-consuming and prone to error. Automating mundane and repetitive tasks related to this data flow with RPA can offer huge savings. Because RPA software bots can perform high-volume, repeatable tasks previously done by a human, they offer a significant opportunity to streamline and improve the efficiency of EPC work tasks.  

The chart below lists the EPC project functions, how they are typically handled today and how they can benefit from automation.

Activity

Description

Examples of Current Systems / Software Used

Automation Opportunity

Project Scoping

Listing and categorizing client requirements across work streams

Manual

Checking documents for data validity

Design and Equipment Listing

Proposing core engineering design and building a list of hard and soft resources required for the project

Aspen, SmartPlant, eQube

Standardizing format and change management

Vendor Selection

Evaluating machinery and equipment across different vendors

SharePoint, Infoworks Doc Management System

Reconciling data points across different systems

MRP / Specifications / Datasheets

Preparing the final shopping list after technical evaluation of equipment; circulating detailed spec sheets to ensure the materials meet or exceed the engineering design requirements

MS Office, Penta, Databroker

Checking spec sheets for completeness and updates

Pricing

Managing RFQ, tenders and bid evaluation

Manual

Streamlining comparative analysis required for bid evaluation

Purchase Order Management

Finalizing contracts and releasing purchase orders to selected vendors

SAP, PeopleSoft, JD Edwards, various other ERP platforms

Auditing invoices and supporting dispute management

Quality Control and Testing

Testing equipment and materials per the specifications provided

Manual

Streamlining quality control of “swivel chair” processes

Traffic and Logistics

Coordinating material movement to site location or storage facility depending on the project progress and schedule

Descartes, C2C Material Management, Other milestone tracking platforms

Managing tariffs and lanes

 

RPA solutions on the market today are platform-agnostic and flexible enough to adapt to system and process changes. Once a solution is deployed, it can work autonomously, handling and processing data, generating output, initiating new actions and communicating with other systems.

EPC companies that deploy RPA can reduce manual data-entry errors, shrink processing times and repurpose human resources from tedious mechanical routines to more analytical and highly valued roles. RPA often is designed and implemented in less time than conventional software and system implementations. And enterprises are finding that, after the initial cost to purchase and implement, the RPA software investment quickly pays for itself. Contact me to learn more.

About the author

Birad Bhatt is an industry professional with global experience and a proven track record in the field of business consulting and project management. With an eye for detail and penchant for process orientation, he has been a part of many transformation projects and solution development initiatives. His business education, open and honest communication style and strong work ethic makes him a valuable addition to the team.

Related content