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Digital Transformation

Cloud brings clarity to construction, supports environmental efforts

Construction & Maintenance sites are complex; contractors coming and going, trucks arriving, skips leaving. The risk is that they become a hi-vis blur – Track’em’s Azure based solution pulls everything into focus and that transparency saves time and money.

In one deployment the platform is also playing a part in helping save unique and vulnerable species such as the Flat-back Sea Turtle.

Lying 50 Km off the Pilbara coast of Western Australia, Barrow Island was designated a nature reserve in 1910 in recognition of its unique flora and fauna. Barrow Island is today also the site of one of the world’s largest natural gas projects, operated by Chevron.

Part of the conditions for the project are rigorous controls, particularly to ensure that materials brought to the island have minimal impact, while anything removed from the island needs to be dealt with in an environmentally responsible manner.

Gavin Miller is the executive chairman of Ertech, a civil construction contractor working with Chevron.

To minimise the impact of the gas project he explains the need to adhere to globally recognised standards to rein in environmental impacts and keep non indigenous species off the island.

Practically that means Ertech has to; “Manage its inventory of thousands of pieces of equipment – from trucks and plant and equipment down to waste containers.” With the construction phase complete Ertech has also been closely involved in restoring construction areas to their natural state, demolishing 800 temporary buildings and removing waste from the island while adhering to environmental and quarantine regulations.

Previously the company relied on siloed information systems and a sprawl of spreadsheets which was far from ideal.

Knowing that; “If we misplace any equipment it has the potential to shut down the entire natural gas plant and that can cost millions of dollars a day,” Miller sought a better solution in Track’em, an Azure based platform that uses IoT technologies, Power BI and Cosmos DB along with SSL encryption.

Azure insights

Track’em founder and CEO Kashif Saleem explains that the solution was built on Azure to track thousands of items in real time.

Track’em is an enterprise-level platform that tracks materials and other assets by using barcodes, GPS and radio-frequency identification. The solution provides real-time analytics and key performance indicators using Microsoft’s Power BI dashboard, enabling easy visibility of assets and quick and accurate management reporting.

The system can also be integrated with other enterprise resource planning and 3D modelling systems, making it flexible and nimble.

Track’em has also developed adjacent solutions such as Time’em, to track employee time, tasks and productivity; Store’em, designed for warehouse inventory management; and Track’em Live, a supply chain management tool for shipping.

Track’em has been designed to be simple to use and accessible anytime anywhere by people with smartphones, tablets and laptops. Thanks to the Azure cloud base the solution can also be configured to meet particular department or enterprise requirements.

“Azure gives us the flexibility to fire up a virtual machine or service in minutes not weeks – it helps to pivot when we need to and persevere when we need to,” says Saleem.

For Ertech and Gavin Miller it means; “I have the Track’em dashboard – this is where I can get a view of all our equipment on the island from large earth moving equipment such as excavators, rock-breakers and loaders to bulk items like hand tools on the island – even down to nuts and bolts.”

It provides Miller with visibility of the assets at each facility and who owns them, and can track equipment to the mainland to ensure landfill is used for disposal only when absolutely necessary.

According to Saleem the solution; “Can help save Ertech operational costs and avoid bottlenecks that can potentially shut down Chevron operations.”

Transparency assured

One unique aspect of the Barrow Island project is because of quarantine regulations, all equipment arrives in parts; shrink-wrapped to protect against contamination of the island ecosystem. Equipment is then put together on site.

Using hand held scanners and, when required, drones, to scan and track equipment with minimal environmental impact, Track’em identifies what parts have arrived and where they are located.

The company has also integrated the solution with Autodesk 3D modelling so that it can identify by colour code on the 3D model which parts needed for plant assembly are on island (green), in transit (amber), or yet to arrive (red). Miller says that without that visibility – difficult when parts arrive shrinkwrapped – construction can be delayed for weeks simply because it’s not clear what is missing until the assembly process begins.

Designed to run on virtual machines, Saleem migrated Track’em to Azure in 2014. The move was a game-changer, lowering operating costs and providing a much faster, more efficient, agile platform, Saleem says.

Being based on Azure also ensures the scale and trusted security that enterprises such as Ertech and Chevron depend upon.

It has also provided the geographic reach needed to support the business in even remote areas such as Barrow Island, and also underpin Track’em’s global ambitions, starting with the US.

“When I found out about Azure, I was almost doing cartwheels,” says Saleem. “It’s so quick to deploy and we can just do so much more with it. It was very helpful. I can’t say enough about Azure.”

He also sees potential for Track’em to expand into other industries, from defence to agriculture and government – though for the time being engineering, resources & construction is driving strong growth for the business.

For Craig Windram, a modelling and logistics engineer, who used Track’em while working on a large gas plant project in Western Australia the cloud based solution was also a game changer for him. The job included building a system of steel-frame modules with parts that were fabricated in Thailand, shipped to Australia and trucked to the job site. Track’em ensured that the parts reached the site, then tracked them as they moved from storage areas to implementation.

Windram estimates lost items can add as much as 20 percent to a project’s total costs, since they must often be repurchased or fabricated again.

“I can’t even tell you how much Track’em saved us on that job,” he says. “It made the job. Things would have been lost everywhere. They wouldn’t have known what would have been installed, what wouldn’t have been installed. Normally when something goes missing, we would get a request to buy a new one. But using Track’em, we would find the item.”

In concert Azure and Track’em bring a hi-vis approach to data, ensuring operational efficiency, compliance and minimal environmental impact.