Digitization has become an integral part of power transmission construction projects. While tech-enabled initiatives have become critical components that improve construction speed and efficiency, tying technology back to business value still remains unrealized.
The electricity sector faces many unique challenges that differ from country to country. Within vast nations such as India, regional challenges place an additional burden on grids and storage. Every region and every state demand robust grids that deliver flexible operation of power systems. But this is easier said than done.
New construction projects are necessary to help India strengthen its growth. However, overcoming existing problems of delays, overruns, defects, and conflicts is just as vital as the integration of advanced technology. Power transmission projects generally span hundreds of kilometers over multiple locations in a linear manner. This makes real-time tracking of issues an almost insurmountable challenge.
Multiple sub-contractors working across the line need to share timely updates to prevent one faulty tower from having a cascading effect on the entire project. Traditionally, coordination has been done manually. This has made it near impossible for general contractors to adhere to committed timelines and schedules while guaranteeing quality. A lack of visibility and transparency has also prevented best practices based on past performance from being applied in future projects.
Challenges facing power transmission projects
The most common challenges facing projects in the power transmission space have been around for years and have often become ingrained in culture, mindsets, and ways of working. For instance, it has become acceptable for ineffective resource deployment to lead to delays in project timelines. Project managers willingly account for time spent by contractors resolving manpower and resource allocation issues. True improvement will be seen when adhering to timelines become the norm, rather than the exception.
Often, misaligned procurement processes slow down all other project deliverables. A mis-coordination leading to a one percent shortage of parts can lead to a ‘whiplash effect’ delay of 3-6 months in project commissioning. This is a disproportionate outcome that perhaps no other industry witnesses. It leads to greater time spent resolving issues that could have been prevented with effective planning and resource allocation. While project owners pay fixed amounts, contractors and sub-contractors face rising cost and working capital pressure as delays continue and margins fall. This is detrimental to entire projects on a regional and national scale.
Another challenge is the lack of visibility into work front availability, right of way and crossing status. This undermines the efficiency of the best laid plans and leaves project managers and construction companies at a disadvantage. If proper coordination between different parties such as civic bodies and equipment stakeholders is not enforced, engineering, procurement, and execution teams cannot complete their tasks effectively.
In many cases, outdated reporting methods such as spreadsheets are used. This leads to different versions of documents and no single source of truth. A mechanism for centralised visibility into tasks is imperative for holistic project success and improvement. Many still rely on paper-based systems to track safety, quality, and other metrics. Outdated reporting formats lead to long billing and reconciliation cycles, leading to poor cashflow management.
How holistic technology suites overcome project constraints
Technology suites deployed for transmission line projects have the ability to bring teams together and boost productivity through one centralised platform. By removing traditional dependence on manual reporting, project management tools can transform the power transmission industry.
It is important that the technology landscape is one where different silos of information can be interconnected, enabling data flows between systems through readily available application programming interfaces (APIs). This makes it possible to leverage the considerable investments already made in mature and established platforms such as enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems along with the latest and greatest in digital field and analytics technologies. This synthesis reduces billing turnaround times and enables setting up a single source of truth.
Just as how digital workflows are enhancing the finance, software development, manufacturing and other sectors, the power transmission sector also stands to benefit. By removing data limitations, technology-driven systems give industry players the ability to respond to changing regulations and project and market scenarios in real-time.
The goals of monitoring productivity and performance of contractors can be overcome through digital project management. A degree of control, privacy, and transparency that was previously unheard of has the potential to transform each step of the project lifecycle into a profitable one.
For transmission line construction projects in particular, location-based tracking of issues reduces manual intervention and alerts relevant personnel nearby to provide assistance. The time and cost savings this delivers is priceless.
Essentially, the ability to capture and relay project information across all stages and grant access to relevant personnel helps meet project deadlines. As each moving part is monitored and tracked, its value is realised and unlocked at the appropriate time. Safety audits contain non-conformance reports so that power transmission can continue uninterrupted and grid stability can be guaranteed at every stage. Some project management dashboards provide frequent information on right of way issues, crossing clearances, work front availability, and other technical clearances that speed up the project and prevent delays. For modern power infrastructure projects to succeed, digital project management has now become a non-negotiable.
(The author is Mr. Ravi Mundoli – Director, Product Management, nPulse, Bentley Systems and the views expressed in this article are his own)