Smart engineering with digital twin technology

The smart use of data is becoming increasingly pivotal to Babcock’s engineering business, coupled with extensive engineering knowledge and technical expertise to support complex projects

A large part of finding solutions to Babcock’s customers’ challenges relies on developing a digital twin to improve operations, increase efficiency and provide predictive maintenance alerts before problems occur in real time.   

Smart engineering with digital twin technology

By creating a digital twin, Babcock is able to gain instant insight into how to troubleshoot problems before they arise, using knowledge obtained from a simulated digital model. Solutions can then be safely implementing in real-life systems, while simultaneously reducing risk and improving efficiencies.

Manager R&D Engineering, Indrian Govender, says that the technology associated with a digital twin enables its engineers to make faster, better informed decisions while ensuring sound asset management and integrity.

It also opens clear lines of communication and facilitates collaboration between stakeholders by sharing the data on platforms that can be easily accessed by the customer. “Digital twins bring us closer to our customers as we share our technologically gained input and enable them to make informed decisions,” says Govender.

He explains that this is particularly true in the power industry where often data is not fully available or of poor quality. Digital models fill the gaps by creating a simulated twin of a physical asset that is continually updated using real-time data. “Using our deep system engineering understanding of the assets we manage, we are able to extract the precise data to create a digital twin model,” says Govender.

While digital solutions are increasingly part of Babcock’s projects, Govender highlights the ongoing need for skilled engineers who are capable of using digital technology to make the right decisions. To this end, Babcock trains existing engineers in specialised digital technology skills, supported by a research and development division that works on digital twins. “We leverage Babcock’s engineering expertise for specialised capabilities as we all have a deep system engineering understanding of the assets we manage,” comments Govender.

Babcock has already successfully utilised digital twinning on a number of critical projects. Most recently, the company relied on 3D scanning and digital twin modelling to implement one of the first nitrogen oxide (NOx) abatement projects in the country. The complex project required a modern approach to engineering that integrated various engineering disciplines. Babcock used its in-house 3D scanning and modelling capabilities to facilitate and optimise the design phase, while all stakeholders, from the customer and engineers through to operators and safety officers, were able to review the process safely, often without requiring on-site presence.

Earlier this year, Babcock applied digital twinning to repair a ruptured mainstream piping system at a major power station. 3D scanning was used to assess the extent of the damage to the piping and associated structure, as well as determine how to safely synchronise it back into the power grid. On this project time was of the essence, and by using specialised software Babcock was able to digitise the real-world architecture by capturing existing plant conditions and complex geometry, quickly identifying large sections of pipework and structures which had been displaced during the rupture.

Another previous project that drew on digital twin technology was the replacement of a vital 1 100 kPa desuperheater at a steam plant, again under intense time constraints. Two previous attempts by other organisations had been unsuccessful, and Babcock was tasked with completing the project within five months. Installation had to be completed within 11 days. Babcock attributes much of its fast turn-around time to the system design, aided by its in-house 3D scanning and modelling capacity to deliver accurate results.

Babcock’s sophisticated digital twin models provide unique opportunities of re-assessing the original line design, using state-of-the-art engineering methods. Any measurable form of data can be extracted and combined with Babcock’s 3D scanning technologies, engineering analysis and design software, and electronic, control and instrumentation components to develop a digital twin model. These provide predictive and innovative maintenance solutions leading to improvements in efficiency and maintainability of plant assets, and ultimately improved availability and cost of the assets for the client.

Babcock’s engineering business has multidisciplinary capability comprising process, mechanical, piping, EC&I, welding and R&D disciplines, supported by project and system engineering, data management and drawing office departments. These operate individually or as an engineering design group, covering both simple and complex projects.

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