The Japan DX Awards initiative is a contest held to help find and share examples of efforts by local governments and private companies to accelerate the advancement of digital transformation in Japan. We are pleased to present PlantStream Inc. as one example from the Small and Medium Scale Corporations category of the contest, held on June 21, 2022.
PlantStream Inc. is a joint venture between major contractor Chiyoda Corporation and startup company Arent Inc. They are taking on the challenge of DX in the plant design industry, which is a highly demanding business with heavy workloads.
We are pleased to offer some background on their efforts and the results they have achieved.
PlantStream Inc. Overview
■Corporate Name: PlantStream Inc.
■Business Description: Development and sale of automated spatial design system PlantStream
■Established: July 1, 2020
■Official Website: https://plantstream3d.com/en/
Transforming the Business Model of Large Corporations via the Digitalization of Plant Design
What image comes to mind when you hear the words “plant” or “pipes”? Oil and chemical plants have tall towers, storage tanks, and a myriad of pipes. They look like gigantic, convoluted hunks of steel from the outside. Imagine, for example, the industrial complexes found in the Keihin Industrial Zone or Yokkaichi.
In refineries like the one in this photo, crude oil imported from the Middle East by tankers flows through all sorts of equipment, undergoing chemical reactions before its final transformation into kerosene or gasoline products. To use the human body as an analogy, our organs are the equipment, while the countless blood vessels that connect them are the pipes. The pipes of a plant, like our blood vessels, are very ordinary, but they are of the utmost importance.
A single plant may require thousands of pipes, and an industrial complex may need tens or even hundreds of thousands of them. Their start and end points are determined by the flow of materials, so that one tank here connects to a pump over there, and so on. The fact that pipes can be routed in three dimensions leads to an infinite number of possible configurations, regardless of whatever design limitations are present.
Piping design is the process of adjusting and routing thousands of such pipes so that they do not collide with each other.
It is by far the most time-consuming aspect of designing a plant. In the plant industry, we even have a saying. “Whoever controls the piping design controls the success of the project.” We’d like to share some examples of digital transformation, showing how the digitalization of such a niche field has revolutionized the business model of major firms.
Plant Design Requires Significant Human Resources and Enormous Workloads
Piping work is extremely strenuous. Overtime on top of overtime has become the norm.
Prior to the establishment of PlantStream, its CEO was engaged in design work for Chiyoda Corporation, a major contractor. But his own experiences and desire to balance work life and family life led him to take up the challenge of improving the efficiency of piping design work.
His desire to enable piping engineers and designers to lead more normal lives was what led him to begin developing the PlantStream software.
Let’s talk about some of the challenges facing the plant engineering industry.
Since the mid-90s, the manufacturing industry has increased its productivity thanks to the introduction of robots and increased automation. On the other hand, productivity in the construction industry has stagnated, as methods have not changed at all.
Large plant construction is often plagued by a variety of problems, including schedule delays and cost overruns. This has resulted in some companies suffering huge losses. While this is the result of a variety of factors such as material procurement and construction issues, the time required for design work, which is the foundation of any project, is known to be one of the most pressing issues facing the industry.
When designing plant piping, skilled engineers create 3D designs and make piping adjustments in accordance with design rules and their own experience and know-how. At present, this work is very analog in nature. Large energy plants require hundreds of thousands of hours of design work. It would take more than 10 years for someone to complete the work alone.
The image below only represents a very small portion of a plant’s design model. This intricate layout is created entirely by hand. In reality, there are sites dozens of times larger than this, requiring a team of hundreds of designers, each responsible for their own task or area, to meet the delivery schedule.
Safety, maintenance, and conservation requirements have also intensified recently, further increasing the burden on piping design work. Construction sites are extremely busy, with delays also causing problems.
Developing the One and Only Software Solution That Delivers Both Speed and Accuracy
This is why we wanted to employ digital technology to solve the industry’s problems by revolutionizing the current analog manpower-driven approach to design execution. We wanted to create a world in which designers and engineers are freed from repetitive tasks and thereby able to focus on more creative work.
We have developed an industry-specific SaaS for the plant engineering industry called PlantStream®️, a true next-generation CAD system. This product has three key features.
① Digitization of the extensive knowledge of skilled engineers
We have achieved the algorithmic automation of human operations.
Through automation, pipe routing (design) that previously took approximately two hours per pipe now only takes one minute for a thousand pipes using PlantStream®.
It is the only software in the world equipped with the speed and accuracy to serve as a solution to the declining workforce.
② Contributing to industry-wide DX
Other companies in the same field have started using our software, contributing to the digital transformation of the entire industry.
③ Collaboration and joint investment with a startup
PlantStream Inc. is a joint venture between major contractor Chiyoda Corporation and startup company Arent Inc. The Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry has been promoting equal partnerships between startups and established companies for several years now, and we continue to serve as an example at the forefront of this trend.
Helping Japan to Once Again Become a Global Technological Leader
We would now like to share some of PlantStream’s achievements and future prospects.
① Drastic reduction in plant engineering man-hours and reformation of working practices
Users of our software have already reported significant reductions in the number of man-hours they spend on design work. Conventional plant design methods require a waterfall-style workflow starting with process design, equipment design, and then 3D design, in that order. PlantStream®︎ now enables the seamless execution of these steps simultaneously.
② Collaboration among industry players
Until now, the work of buyers (plant owners) and those who receive the orders (contractors) has been completely divided. Their operations were black boxes that neither side fully grasped. When a problem arose, the contractors took full responsibility and faced the threat of significant losses.
But now, PlantStream®︎ makes it easy for anyone, anywhere to create 3D models. This allows plant owners to participate in the design work as well, meaning everyone can execute the project from the same vantage point. A world in which different parties can share the risks and costs and cooperate with each other as early as possible. That is the kind of world we hope to create.
③ Contributing to SDGs
Refining iron emits enormous amounts of CO2. By optimizing designs, it is possible to reduce the amount of iron used and thus contribute to SDGs.
We sold 30 licenses in the year following the launch of our software in April of 2021. Our ARR (Annual Recurring Revenue — the fixed sales revenue we earn each year) is now at 150 million yen.
We serve as a pioneering example of how to successfully market software overseas, helping Japan to once again become a global technological leader.