On the Road to Revolutionizing 3D Plant Design

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Industry News
On the Road to Revolutionizing 3D Plant Design
By Susan Smith

3D plant design software has a reputation for having a steep learning curve, being expensive, complex and requiring costly infrastructure. Software companies address that challenge from different perspectives, and Autodesk is among them, capitalizing on the fact that AutoCAD is used on so many plant and process projects already.

AutoCAD Plant 3D 2010 was announced at the SPE Offshore Europe Oil & Gas Conference & Exhibition 2009 recently, now Autodesk’s flagship product in the plant space. Built on AutoCAD, the product will bring model-based design to plant projects. The idea behind Plant 3D 2010 is that it will provide a more cost effective software, maximizing user’s familiarity with AutoCAD.



Autodesk’s contention is that existing 3D plant solutions take time to learn, and possibly require more infrastructure in place. A Daratech survey of 2D vs. 3D software indicated that it takes 140 days for a user to become proficient in 3D software, a deterrent for companies who don’t have the time or manpower to devote to that education. The understanding seems to be that 3D systems are “too complex and heavy to manipulate.” Further, many firms are worried that once the employee learns the software, they may move on to another firm.

Because so many users in plant and process are already well versed in AutoCAD, according to Autodesk – 89 percent, it’s not difficult for them to pick up 3D Plant 2010, according to Robert Shear, senior industry manager, Industry Process & Power for Autodesk.

AutoCAD P&ID was the first product Autodesk launched in the process and power space four years ago. The company considers process and power “a significant area of growth” even with the customer base of AutoCAD and Navisworks.

The value of 3D plant design software is known to users and to respondents to the Daratech survey. When asked how 3D plant software had changed their business, comments included:, “1) 3D modeling reduces field interferences by 85 percent, Data rich models provide a deeper understanding of material needs much sooner in the project, (3) Data mining the models improves facility maintenance for the plant’s entire life-cycle.”

“3D is key for our as-built procedures, based on 3D-Scan.”

“Better clash checking between disciplines”

“On-the-job [site] mistakes and material ordering mistakes are fewer because the
majority of the plant is modeled in 3D by all disciplines, and clash detection is used.”

“These folks really want to use 3D but it has been out of reach, maybe because of cost, or because they don’t have an organization that can support complex databases,” said Shear.

Those interested can download Plant 3D and try it. In terms of learning curve, Shear said, those familiar with AutoCAD “aren’t learning a new software or command structure, they’re just learning the new features they need to do their job.”

When asked about AutoCAD Plant 3D compatibility with other 3D plant products, Shear pointed out that the bulk of the market are Brownfield projects, so there are existing drawings and models to refer to which are probably in DWG format. “Most likely the client is going to ask for their deliverables in DWG,” said Shear, whether the project was developed in another product or not.

“We don’t explicitly have interoperability with Plant 3D with the other 3D design packages out there but obviously it supports DWG,” he added.

Navisworks offers more compatibility: Navisworks has the ability to bring in the model from the other vendors aggregated into a single 3D representation. It allows the user to do clash detection, walkthroughs and safety analysis.

20-40 customers are currently beta testing Plant 3D 2010. An example is Veolia Water Solutions & Technologies, global water and wastewater treatment experts headquartered in Singapore, is using AutoCAD Plant 3D Beta 3 on a bid for a water treatment plant project. According to Veolia CAD Manager Alan Chew, “I'm already impressed with AutoCAD Plant 3D’s ease of use; I downloaded the software and started designing the project the very next day.”

Plant 3D has been architected to be ISO 15926-ready, and the XM Plant Schema is emerging for that, but according to Shear, the rest of the protocol and standard is quite immature. Customers aren’t asking for it yet, but as that standard matures, Plant 3D will be able to quite easily implement it.

While Plant 3D is AutoCAD at its core, it is similar to AutoCAD Architecture and is “purpose-built,” which is described as having many facets to be able to support large scale 3D projects, Shear said its 3D rendering engine and other technologies are all “100 percent AutoCAD” which is an “evolving platform.” There is a beta architecture underneath that allows Plant 3D to handle large models with millions of parts, which is new to AutoCAD.

In conjunction with this announcement, Autodesk launched a new community for plant designers and engineers on AutoCAD Exchange called AutoCAD Exchange Plant

“The genius in this product is the fact it is based on AutoCAD,” said Shear. “let’s go for where the user base is and make a very practical, productive product. The other fact is that the product managers really understood that the fact that change is constant in a project, especially these days where timeframes are compressed and information changes minute by minute. The product has been designed to adapt to those changes, which happen every day all the time.”

Top News of the Week

During a recent seminar at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C., Bentley Systems, Incorporated and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) made it clear that robust energy simulation tools are the key to creating high performance buildings that:

  • More closely match their predicted performance;
  • Reduce energy consumption and CO2 emissions;
  • Increase occupant comfort, health, and safety;
  • Help provide building owners with real returns, including lower operating costs.

Bentley’s Hevacomp Simulator V8i software takes full advantage of the U.S. DOE’s industry-standard EnergyPlus simulation engine to provide highly accurate building energy analysis and design.

Autodesk, Inc., and Parallels, a worldwide provider of virtualization and automation software, announced that they have signed an agreement to make Parallels Desktop for Mac Autodesk's preferred Mac virtualization software.

Autodesk will now support use of AutoCAD software, AutoCAD LT software, Autodesk Inventor Professional software, Autodesk 3ds Max software, Autodesk 3ds Max Design software and the Autodesk Revit software platform for BIM on Mac OS X via Parallels Desktop. Autodesk added official support for these products on the Mac via Boot Camp earlier this year.

In a continuing effort to provide high quality products, Autodesk has released AutoCAD Civil 2010 Update 2, which fixes or addresses a variety of issues discovered by customers and by Autodesk's internal testing team.

Acquisitions, Alliances, Agreements

Vico Software and Newforma have announced a partnership to jointly develop product integration between their 5D-BIM and PIM solutions. The partnership will utilize, as its strategic basis, the agcXML schema for open data exchange between Vico Office and Newforma Project Center to execute requests for information (RFIs) and to coordinate the change management process.

GRAITEC, a developer for analysis and detailing software announces a new strategic distribution agreement with MATRIX , a software company headquartered in the Netherlands. The partnership agreement signed between the two companies entitles MATRIX to promote, distribute and support the Advance Suite product line in the Netherlands and in the Dutch speaking part of Belgium.

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