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Operating in water 945 metres deep in the Gulf of Mexico, the Olympus platform weighs as much as 300 fully loaded Boeing jumbo jets. But its construction required the precision of a Swiss watch.

Building major projects usually involves teams of engineers and technical specialists working with a vast array of information stored in separate software programmes. Making sure the thousands of components needed for construction are delivered at exactly the right time can be tough.

Tugs move the Olympus platform out into the Gulf of Mexico, where it has been producing since February 2014

Tugs move the Olympus platform out into the Gulf of Mexico, where it has been producing since February 2014

Computer-generated model of the Olympus platform

Computer-generated model of the Olympus platform

For Olympus, Shell took a new approach. Designers first used sophisticated 3D computer modelling to build the platform on screen.  Then they added a fourth dimension – efficient real-time planning – to the model.

The computerised crystal ball that 4D offers helps deal with potential problems in the complex construction phase long before they occur, improving safety and helping us start production from Olympus six months early.

“Linking our 3D model to the schedule let me solve issues with supplies in a few minutes when it used to take days or weeks,” said Tim Rogers, Mechanical Engineer.

“We can look into the future and therefore plan work even more safely.”

The fifth dimension

Real-life module installation and how it was modelled graphically

Real-life module installation and how it was modelled graphically

Teams are crossing into the fifth dimension on projects that Shell is developing now. So-called 5D connects real-time procurement data to the 4D model to ensure all components are available when work crews need them. The work can then be planned more effectively and progress easily tracked onscreen.

Other Shell projects are now benefiting from this technology.  For example, in the construction of Prelude FLNG, the world’s first floating liquefied natural gas facility which is as long as four soccer fields, engineers can better plan the installation of major sections.

The Prelude FLNG facility under construction in South Korea

The Prelude FLNG facility under construction in South Korea

Martin Swaine, Shell 4D Programme Manager, believes the multi-dimensional approach significantly improves the delivery of projects.

“It gives construction engineers a clear view on progress and enables them to take more informed decisions on the tasks ahead,” he said.

Shell is working on new software techniques to streamline energy projects, moving through design and construction into everyday operations.

New systems will allow us to share data seamlessly with our contractors and suppliers, from the earliest stages of a project until the end of its life. It will improve the quality and timing of decisions, reducing unnecessary cost and effort.

Watch a film to see how we are improving efficiency and safety with new modelling techniques.