Application Programming Interfaces’ (API’s): The key to making ultra-efficient engineering digital workflows
An engineering analysis workflow is geared towards solving a specific engineering problem during the design or operation of an engineered system.
An example of a typical workflow during operations
Consider the release of flammable material from a relief valve or flare system on a refinery or process plant.
Such a release can present a hazard to workers or persons nearby in the form of a fire or explosion hazard if the material is ignited. It would be prudent to understand the potential impact zone (based on dispersion modelling) and use this information to act as a basis for decision making (e.g. preventing personnel from accessing the area, shutting down ignition sources etc.).
A workflow for this activity typically takes the form as shown in figure 1.
Some challenges with the typical approach include:
- Manual interfaces between steps – which can lead to errors from copying, pasting etc.
- The software applications are often specialist, multi-faceted and the user needs to:
- Install the program on the pc
- Learn how to use the program
- Understand what calculations to run, options to choose etc.
- Learn how to extract the specific data they need
- The entire process is very time consuming
- Often not exactly repeatable due to manual steps involved
Imagine a scenario, where all manual steps were eliminated and the entire workflow was executed automatically in a fraction of the time – an end to end “digital workflow”.
This state of affairs is possible with the use of “Application Programming Interfaces” otherwise known as API’s. API’s are not new technology, but advances in cloud computing have significantly increased the value they can offer as well as made them easier to deploy, consume and access.
Efficient/digital workflow using dedicated API’s and automatic interfaces
A more efficient workflow is shown in figure 2. This approach offers several benefits:
- Completely automatic
- Only the analysis that is needed is executed – no need for multi-faceted complex software applications
- Only the results that are needed are provided – no need to extract/transform data
- The targeted nature of the solution means that the cost can be significantly reduced
- The process is completely repeatable
Whilst this process offers a significant amount of benefits, it does pose some challenges. A key one is the reliance on the accuracy/veracity of the output of dispersion modelling API – as there is no human involved in the analytical step to verify the results from the API. A further concern relates to the integrity of the data being passed around – the input data to API etc. Concerns about the security of the data are also valid – can the (often business sensitive) data be hacked? Is my data safe?
These concerns are readily addressed. The API is more than just a calculator. It validates the inputs versus a database to confirm the inputs are plausible. The results are also cross referenced versus other data sources and results from previous similar analysis. Advanced encryption technology also significantly reduces the chances of hacking/theft. Authentication and Authorization technology also ensures that only the right people have access to such a system and are authorized to use it.
Make your workflow digital and more efficient
We are currently well advanced in the process of “carving out” all the various analytical models (discharge, dispersion, fire, explosion, toxic etc.) in our proprietary consequence analysis tool, Phast – into dedicated web enabled API’s for specific applications. For example, a dedicated dispersion modelling API. The scenario described above is just one of many possible use-cases.
If you are interested in building an efficient, custom digital workflow using any of our API’s, please get in touch. You are just a click away from making your workflows highly efficient and effective.