Advanced Work Packaging: one solution to productivity issues on mega projects

Labor productivity continues to be a major concern for project performance, at least 50% of industry participants said in a Petrochemical Update Poll.

Productivity is an important part of capital efficiency. Photo: Fluor

Retirement of experienced workers, inexperienced new workers, inability to attract and train new crafts, and poor planning are some of the main reasons given for productivity challenges, players said at Petrochemical Update’s Downstream Engineering, Construction and Maintenance Conference in New Orleans.

The most promising technology solution areas to improve productivity, according to those polled, include implementing Advanced Work Packaging (AWP) and Constraint Analysis, Field Mobility Apps, Onsite Materials Management or Track and Trace Programs, and a Completions or Commissioning Database.

Advanced Work Packaging

The AWP process came up repeatedly at the Conference as a solution contractors and owners are using to improve productivity.

Since the first wave of construction projects, the AWP process has grown in popularity in North America as a way for owners and contractors to handle the construction boom environment in which schedules, budgets and labor are increasingly tighter.

Olfa Hamdi of The Advanced Work Packaging Institute has been documenting through case studies and expert interviews AWP benefits as part of her academic research work and thesis published at University of Texas Austin entitled "Advanced Work Packaging (AWP): from project definition through site execution.“

"The most notable benefit from AWP implementation is field execution acceleration and accuracy which translates in schedule savings," Hamdi said. "Cost savings have been observed but they do depend on the level of maturity of AWP implementation."

"There is an initial front end cost to it, but savings achieved down the road are way worth it," she added.

Indirect benefits observed and documented by the AWP Institute are improved front end alignment and more predictability to the overall project value.

The Institute has documented up to 25% savings of total installed costs and up to 15% field productivity increase.

ExxonMobil and Shell are two owners using AWP for mega projects.

Start with the end

AWP originated in Canada in 2013 about the same time the North American construction industry was booming in the petrochemical sector.

This newly discovered solution was a result of a joint study via the Construction Owners Association of Alberta and the University of Texas at Austin.

Improvements in field productivity using AWP have reached 37% increase in tool time. Evidence of AWP implementation benefits also include over 25% savings in chemical project construction and engineering costs, according to the AWP Institute.

Using AWP for front-end planning, owners are able to increase productivity and increase profitability, industry partipants said.

Image source: The Advanced Work Packaging Institute

AWP is a work process framework based on thinking with the end in mind. It is designed to allow engineering planning to be driven by construction sequencing.

“I think there are some key things with Advanced Work Packaging, that people need to consider,” said William Lewis, Senior Manager and Projects Coordinator at SABIC, while speaking in a panel at the Conference. “You must start early in the process, you need to get back to the FEED.”

When building AWP, it is important to think with the end in mind and build from there, Lewis said.

“In the end, you will be going to turnover conditioning activities, so you need to work that back to your construction packages, and back to your design packages, so it all must flow,” he said.

“I have seen a lot of cases where they try to use a form of Advanced Work Packaging, and don’t bring all the factors to the table, and that is just a recipe for failure," Lewis added.

Owner Implementation

The best way to implement a successful AWP program is to start at the owner level, Lewis said.

Owner involvement is more important to change than many realize, Lewis said.

“If you think back a couple decades, when we went into the safety venture, it took the owner driving safety to actually make a difference,” he said. “If you want to improve productivity, the owner has to play a major role in it. The owner will have to mandate it and encourage it to make that change.”

Scope Definition

The most common thing owners fail to do early in the project cycle is sufficiently define the project to support a successful FEED, according to a Petrochemical Update Poll conducted at the Conference.

“Productivity is a piece of capital efficiency and takes a number of steps. I don’t think there is any one thing that is the answer, but there are a couple of important things that can be done,” said Jim Collins, President of Business Development for Global Refining, Chemical, Petrochemical and Midstream at AMEC Foster Wheeler.

Collins was speaking in a Panel at the Conference.

“I want to focus very much on the front end, get the definition of scope right, get the plans right, get the right input from the owner side, and put the right construction planning in place at the front end,” Collins said. “Change really drives a lot of inefficiencies. It’s not just a cost impact, it is a productivity impact.”

Assessing all of the potential alternatives and identifying and planning for major risks were also listed high on everyone’s list as common things owners fail to do early in the project life cycle.

“One of the things for the owners to look at is contractor involvement very early in the planning of how the project will be, and construction and put that in the feed and build up from it,” Collins said. “In the field, there are many activities really complemented by AWP, but that’s only good as scope allows.”

Man hours and AWP

Many owners and EPC firms have initiated skills training and recruiting programs to get craft labor up to speed, but it will take some time before the crafts are experienced.

“With all the projects ongoing and the ones, we are seeing on the pipeline, this challenge is not something that is going to change real quick,” Lewis said. “A lot of people are making investments in training and education, which is something that we definitely need to do, but it is not going to happen overnight.”

In the interim, Lewis suggests moving man hours off site, coming up with an offsite fabrication or modularization plan and working that into the AWP programs.

“We need to look at the module yards, fabrication facilities, pipe shops, steel shops and make sure they have a good process for completing the work, scheduling and planning it and getting it out on time, and keeping that schedule on time and in compliance,” Lewis said.

By Heather Doyle