The increased availability of consistent pipeline designs is revolutionizing the industry. Design standardization, or repeatable design, for pipeline facilities connects the stakeholders, objectives and scopes of projects to efficiently capture and enhance schedule, cost and value. Given the desire for smart investment decisions across public and private infrastructure systems, the use of design standardization is a test to see if teams can move past traditional methods and toward a safer, more effective approach.

Understanding Design Standardization

Design standardization uses standard “blocks” of grouped equipment, piping and instrumentation in varying arrangements for a program of similar projects. The design of these blocks can be determined and locked early in the program, and then arranged to meet space requirements and site conditions without changing the contents of the blocks from site to site.

Standardization means all pump stations operate the same, each valve responds the same way, and fabrication of major equipment and commodities can be done early in controlled manufacturing environments. This repeatable design is especially appreciated by operations compliance officers because issues with quality assurance and quality control (QA/QC) are dealt with and component integrity is maintained.

Comprehensive planning with active engagement of stakeholders throughout the project is essential for successful design standardization. Through a seven-step process, stakeholders can review and consider the design, construction and location of blocks, and log lessons learned to help with change management.

The Seven Steps of Design Standardization

  1. Understand possible variations: In this step, select project stakeholders evaluate possible variations in their infrastructure needs, including pipe diameter, size and quantity of equipment and geographic locations. This process helps identify where standardization could work, especially for portions of a project with at least two repeatable systems. If it is determined that repeatable design is not the right fit, a traditional custom design approach can be used.

  2. Align stakeholders: Once a full owner review of iterations based on possible variations is accomplished, feedback and buy-in from all stakeholder groups is needed to allow 100% of the block customization to happen before the site design phase. Late input can increase project costs and schedules, so this process stresses early and frequent alignment of stakeholders to properly define the standardization aspects.

  3. Identify blocks: Based on the variations and feedback, the project team and stakeholders decide which pieces of equipment or piping layouts can be standardized. This process evaluates all engineering systems to consider where blocks should start and stop, as well as how to handle numbering, naming and tagging of blocks and components.

  4. Block design and review: This stage incorporates comments from stakeholders to create and lock in a block design plan, which cannot be modified during the projects.

  5. Site-specific design: The arrangement of blocks is set based on topography, geography, tie-in locations, proximity to other equipment and maintenance access.

  6. Lessons learned: The project team and stakeholders should discuss lessons learned after all procurement and construction contracts are settled, after startup and commissioning, and/or after one year in service.

  7. Management of change process: The final step uses the lessons learned to adjust step 4 — block design and review — as needed, applying process improvements to future sites and deployment methods.

As energy demand continues to rise alongside anticipated infrastructure spending, innovative methods like design standardization offer proven cost and schedule savings for the pipeline industry, as well as unification for safety and quality improvements.


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Ryan Hiestand, MBA, is a project manager for oil and gas terminals and pipelines initiatives at Burns & McDonnell.