Offshore wind design

Core skills
to optimise the working lives of EPCI projects

EPCI projects are changing. They once focussed on low manufacturing and installation costs. Now a continuous injecting of deep design and engineering skills is maximising both commercial value and project life. And that itself calls for new skills

( Text content written by Twenty6 for Luke Fussell, LIC Energy )

Core skills to optimise the working lives of EPCI projects

EPCI projects are changing. They once focussed on low manufacturing and installation costs. Now a continuous injecting of deep design and engineering skills is maximising both commercial value and project life. And that itself calls for new skills.

From a static to a dynamic working-model

EPCI (Engineering, Procurement, Construction and Installation) is bringing many positive competitive synergies to an otherwise moribund tendering process. As an alternative to simply bidding for work through documents – and often very separate and uncoordinated packages – EPCI is emerging as a much more efficient process.

Essentially, it looks at collaboration rather than conflict, while still keeping healthy competition onboard. The idea in theory is to take projects from the drawing board, through conventional fabrication and installation, on to a full-optimised and flexible full-project life span.

But to do that well in practice means having vital skills onboard at crucial stages to guarantee continuous best practice, forward planning, continuity – and no all too convenient shortcuts. This is precisely what LIC is providing as an expert in-house client partner on two major offshore French wind farm development projects.

In both cases, the fabrications are jackets. However, one will be sited on hard rock, the other on chalk, making the geotechnics challenging at both locations.

Skills at the sharp end

The new way of working that we are introducing at LIC can perhaps best be described as ensuring that there is always a particularly sharp lead in the pencil at critical moments! The key is professional teamwork. By acting as the client’s specialist engineer, our real mission is to help supply power to the grid for, say, 30 years, rather than simply bidding for the short-term design work ourselves.

This is a very different focus. By stepping over the fence to the client side, we are able to apply our years of specialised design expertise at exactly the right points and times to de-risk the EPCI process.

On the face of it, our role is to help our client review design bids. But it goes much further. We are pioneering a relatively new approach that calls for a great deal of inter-disciplinary communication and synergy. However, the rewards are well worth it. The reality is that EPCI contracts potentially offer very significant benefits over what went before. The key is good management.

The devil in the technical detail

How is this done? By considering fabrication and installation details – with input at the design stage from teams that actually do that kind of work – we can reach new levels of efficiency both in theory and practice. But success does rely on a clear commitment from the get-go.

At LIC, with many years of challenging and innovative offshore design and problem-solving experience under our team belt, we see this as a basic tenet of our professional offer. In principle, as well as for good commercial and operational reasons, we make a point of maintaining this crucial commitment and focus throughout the review process – a factor not missed by our current client!

Portfolio skills

Integrating our successful historic design work with continuously-updated hands-on fabrication and installation experience allows us to offer high standards of support in areas as diverse as: – the development of Basis of Design documents; iterative loads assessments with the turbine manufacturers; geotechnical assessments; structural design methodology; certification planning; innovation and value engineering; and fabrication methodology.

To help us judge all bids both impartially and consistently, we have also developed a series of detailed assessment criteria for each of the above categories. These ensure that important issues are captured in each bid. So that all bidders have an opportunity really show what they can do well, where particular bids fall short, detailed clarification questions are asked of those specific bidders. This gives them a chance to improve their initial offering ahead of a second round of reviews.

In practice

Explaining how the bid review works is important. It is actually part of what is called a ‘Competition by Design’ process where rather than selecting one single bidder at the end of the tender process, three are picked who then all work on the first FEED (Front-End Engineering Design) phase. The aim is to keep each bidder competitive to generate the most cost-effective foundation for our client.

This holistic approach includes the design’s steel weight, plus installation and maintenance costs. At the end of the first FEED phase, the two best bidders go forward to a second FEED design phase. Finally, a single bidder is selected to go through to detailed design.

Overcoming difficulties

The drawbacks of the conventional contracting model are that owners/developers traditionally hire separate designers, fabricators, contractors and so on. Over a project’s lifetime, this number can expand intermittently to include experts in geotechnical assessment, metocean studies, plus specific design aspects such as the corrosion protection system.

The result can be a series of disadvantages. Having separate contracts is costly. It is also complicated for the developer, even if it makes life simple for individual contractors. There is a risk of fostering a ‘silo’ mentality – it becomes easy for each team to imagine that it is operating in isolation from the rest of the process. Costly redesigning and expensive schedule delays can follow, especially where individual designers submit details that are either tricky to manufacture or impossible to install.

These barriers are not insurmountable, as experience has shown. However, as governments look for ways to reduce or eliminate subsidies in what they now see as a mature market, there are new strategic pressures to eliminate avoidable costs. Tinkering with details is not cost-effective.

The answer over recent years has been greater use of the EPCI process, whereby a single consortium is contracted to do everything. Fine so far. It is likely that consortium members are the same people as before. What has changed is the management process and centre of responsibility.

Instead of developers now micro-managing interactions between the partners, individual partners are responsible for working together efficiently. This should lead to a new emphasis in their own best interests on maximising synergies, as opposed to trying to mess around with, say, trivial order variations to win a temporary advantage.

Making it work

Achieving this is not as simple as it may sound. There is a real issue about trust in a fiercely competitive industry where everyone wants to keep a tight grip of their intellectual property.

A successful answer seems to be that long-term relationships between all parties work best because trust develops over time. Natural synergies grow as different companies gauge each other’s strengths and capabilities, often positioning themselves well to plug gaps or weaknesses.

Communication is a big winner too. Picking up the phone to call someone you already know and have met many times is easier than dialling a stranger.

Overcoming lesser problems

There are still drawbacks of course. For example, developers may like some partners but not others – good designers v expensive contractors. We have faced this difficulty before at LIC and the pressures of resolving it. As the increasing use of collaborative working models shows, it is often up to contractor groups to jointly police their members and include agreements for individual partners to withdraw and be replaced if their performance is not acceptable.

But EPCI seems to be the direction in which the market is heading. We believe that it is important to recognise the benefits and opportunities inherent in going with the flow, providing there is the essential commitment.

In this we are very happy to take a leadership role.