Insights on Environment, Health, Safety & Sustainability, Operational Risk and Product Stewardship

The Skeptic’s Guide to ORM Digital Twin

January 16th, 2020
Scott Lehmann
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Unless you’ve been sleeping under a rock for the past couple of years, you couldn’t help but hear about “digital twins.” And lately there has also been more talk about more specialized digital twins such as Operational Risk Management Digital Twins.

Digital twins are the future, and the future is now. Their promise and potential are possibly unrivaled by anything except artificial intelligence (but that’s for another post). With every hyped article, vendor marketing piece and technology prediction we read, there’s seeming endless reasons to jump on the bandwagon. Otherwise, as we’re told, our company is going to be “disrupted,” and we might even become the next Nokia or Blockbuster if we don’t. Hey, there’s still one Blockbuster store doing business in Australia, right?

But maybe we should be looking at this from the opposite and a somewhat-more-skeptical perspective that strips away all the hype and asks a few basic questions.

Let’s address these questions one at a time to better understand how an ORM Digital Twin can practically and tangibly improve operations.

What is an ORM Digital Twin?

An ORM Digital Twin is like all digital twins in that it is a virtual, digital counterpart of a real object, which enables other software, systems and operators to interact with it rather directly while bypassing the real object.

A digital twin must include:

An ORM Digital Twin specifically provides a single, shared view of the operational reality to know what’s happening, where it’s happening, when it’s happening and what’s driving the risk so you can understand the trade-offs and make better operational decisions to proactively manage risk and activity.

Why should you care?

If you think about it, the Operational Risk landscape on our assets changes as fast as the operational reality, which likely happen on a daily basis. Since the day the asset became operational or the last Process Hazard Analysis (PHA) or periodic safety review was completed, its process safety risk exposure began to change. The real world of operations is neither simple nor static. When our well-designed and well-specified processes and equipment enter service, things begin to change.

Our assets age. We intervene to maintain them. And change happens  on our assets.

Whether it’s because of impairments to equipment running outside their normal operating parameters, operations activities such as equipment startups, shutdowns or even the hazards we introduce into the plant as a result of maintenance and/or permitted activity, such as doing hot work, breaking containment or isolating a piece of equipment or even deferring safety critical maintenance and inspections.

All of these and more come together day in and day out to affect the process safety risk of our assets. Unavoidably, these risks are often managed in different parts of the organization. With siloed information, the dots are not connected and often decisions are made without the full context.

Not getting it right can have real consequences, including systemic operational inefficiencies related to extended idle time for crew and contractors, safety incidents and regulatory  fines as well as unplanned downtime.

How can an ORM Digital Twin help your organization?

Ultimately it comes down to how an ORM Digital Twin can provide the right insight to the right people at the right time so they can make the right decisions and here are a few that are common to most organizations in hazardous industries.  

Proactive Risk Mitigation & Management: If operators and their supervisors can better understand how the state of the plant might affect the job they’re about to do and how it might affect the state of the plant, they can make better operational decisions that proactively mitigate risk. Imagine an external vessel inspection that needs to be done in a specific area of a plant where there are plant conditions outside normal operating parameters.

An ORM Digital Twin can provide an operator and/or a supervisor with dynamic visualizations of how the planned activity and equipment impairments come together to affect risk in an area of the plant. They can see a potential risk pathway developing, which means that the likelihood of a fire or explosion hazard is potentially increasing. As a result, they can make better, more-informed decisions about how to proactively mitigate and manage the risk impact of live activity in a live process plant or even defer the work.

Ensure the Schedule Is Executable: Typically, the schedule that operations receives from the maintenance management system isn’t executable “as is” because it needs to be balanced against all the other activities, the safety dependencies needed to do the job, plant conditions, location hazards and risk on the live plant. An ORM Digital Twin can provide the operations supervisor with dynamic visualization of all of the live and planned activity as well as the equipment impairments in time and space and with regard to cumulative risk to better balance risk against productivity. This allows the operator to get more of the right things done safely and efficiently. That can be accomplished by:

Improve Maintenance Prioritization: An ORM Digital Twin can help improve maintenance prioritization, its effectiveness and, ultimately, its asset uptime.  By providing better context around the Major Hazard risk impact of the maintenance backlog and how it may be forcing Operations to expend extra effort to “work around” the consequences organizations can move beyond “who shouts the loudest” and what the “the shiny stuff” priorities are and ensure risk becomes a key factor in decision-making.

An ORM Digital Twin makes Major Accident Hazard risk exposure visible, prominent and available in real time. You can practically and tangibly connect Process Safety Management to operations. The operator, with a wrench in hand about to open a vessel, can now understand how the that state of the plant could affect the job about to be completed and how that job could affect the state of the plant. Ultimately an ORM Digital Twin is more than just cool technology; it’s a decision support tool that allows workers to better understand the trade-offs we can make to ensure proactive risk mitigation is an integral part of safe and effective operations.

Learn more about Digital Twin in this new Verdantix report.

Scott Lehmann

Scott Lehmann is responsible for defining the market-driven direction, roadmap, vertical segmentation and delivery for Sphera’s Operational Risk solutions. He has more than 25 years of enterprise software experience in the U.S. and Europe with small, midsize and large companies as well as his own venture-backed startup. His focus is on empowering organizations to unlock the potential of digital transformation through forward-thinking software solutions to enable the journey to digital operations.

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