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Automating design drastically reduces the chances of errors

August 27, 2019

By Arnold Fry, P.E.

The second of three articles regarding use of Building Information Modeling to more efficiently plan, design and construct utility facilities and infrastructure.

View other articles from this series:
Article 1 – Building Information Modeling has potential to improve every aspect of the asset lifecycle

The term Building Information Modeling design is often used interchangeably with “3D modeling” in the physical design of substations, transmission and distribution lines and generation stations. But the BIM process also enables a valuable set of tools for 2D protection-and-control design, construction, operation and maintenance.The efficiencies gained by automating manual design tasks means projects are completed in a fraction of the time.

The BIM process turns the manual manipulation of design data into an intelligent design process, eliminates multiple data entry and drastically reduces the opportunity for errors. The benefits of moving from a historical design practice to a BIM workflow are numerous. The BIM process automates many routine tasks, allowing designers to focus on the more important aspects of a design. The efficiencies gained by automating manual design tasks means projects are completed in a fraction of the time, allowing clients to accomplish more projects in a fiscal year.

The formerly manual and time-consuming quality assurance process is tremendously reduced by using the software and BIM workflow to validate design and eliminate errors. For example, the protection-and-control software database tracks relay contact usage and availability. If a contact already has been used within the design, the software will alert the designer of an attempt to use the contact again. This workflow prevents errors before they happen.

The intelligent 3D modeling software has similar built-in features for eliminating errors in the physical design process. The parts built in the 3D software are created with precise tolerances that do not allow them to fit into the overall model if it is the wrong size. If the part does not fit in the model, then it will not fit on the construction site.

Catching these errors in the design phase of a project not only saves design time, but essentially eliminates construction delays and costly change orders caused by such errors. Since construction labor is one of the costliest components of the project, eliminating errors in construction has a tremendous result on the capital cost of the project.

Conventional design practices make it difficult to enforce standards. Standardization of parts, assemblies, work methods, etc., has been proved to reduce costs and material handling complexity. Eliminating as many unique parts as possible reduces the overall cost of the project. Purchasing and warehousing unique parts not only increases costs but also takes more time and greatly affects project schedules.

Adding data throughout the lifecycle of an asset is one of the greatest benefits of adopting a BIM workflow. Every aspect of a lifecycle either generates data or consumes data, which ends up stored in various systems. The project team may search for needed information from many sources:

These are just a few examples. There are countless data and reference materials useful to those working  throughout the lifecycle of the asset. Making this information available at the moment they need it is more efficient and ensures accuracy. BIM data exists in each segment of the lifecycle that can be useful in other segments.

Throughout the lifecycle of an asset, the Building Information Model represents a single source of truth about the asset.

Throughout the lifecycle of an asset, the Building Information Model represents a single source of truth about the asset.

Conducting physical design through an intelligent modeling workflow tremendously affects the quality and cost effectiveness of a project. A 3D model acts as a digital twin of the actual asset and becomes the single source of truth for all aspects of its design.

Designers create virtual parts to represent the actual piece that will be installed in the field and then place these parts into the model. The designer can validate that the part fits the application, and a bill of materials is automatically updated with the number used, description, stock numbers, manufacturer information or any other information needed in the lifecycle of the asset.

After the model is completed, designers can generate digitally linked design drawings for use in field construction. They generate these drawings from the single source of truth, the model. The drawings represent items that were placed into the model. If a change needs to be made to a portion of the model, which is now represented on multiple drawings, the designer makes one single change to the model. Then all drawings, bill of materials, visualizations, etc., are automatically updated to reflect the change made to the model.

Designers can connect an intelligent design package for protection and control to the physical model. This connection ensures the two designs stay in sync. If a change is made to a component in the design package that affects the physical design, the software automatically generates a notification. Conversely, changes in the physical design will notify the protection and control designers of the change.

Engineering calculations fit perfectly into the intelligent design workflow. Designers can perform bus calculations to determine if high-strength insulators are needed for the project. Corona calculations and lightning protection also are easily made using an intelligent model and the BIM workflow.

The intelligent model also is the single source of truth for capturing the as-designed and as-built state of the asset, which will be maintained through the in-service life of the asset. Any necessary changes made in the field can be incorporated into the intelligent model to reflect what was actually constructed. Designers can then review these changes to incorporate any lessons learned to enhance the design process for the next project. The team can then generate the final as-built documentation for the document of record in the record retention program.

A point cloud output from LiDAR, or active laser scanning, can be used to help create a 3D model of an existing set of assets.

A point cloud output from LiDAR, or active laser scanning, can be used to help create a 3D model of an existing set of assets.

A BIM process for existing assets accommodates any need for modifications to these brownfield assets. Advances in laser scanning with high-definition digital photogrammetry have greatly enhanced the workflows for BIM design on existing assets. A scan of an existing asset can be brought into the intelligent design tools as a starting point for the new design in the form of a 3D model. The scanned model is not intelligent but can be used to create an intelligent model when new intelligent components are added. The same BIM tools used in a greenfield project are then available for the hybrid brownfield workflow.

Next in this series, I will discuss how BIM can help create lifelike representation models valuable for many uses from gaining public approvals to maintenance tasks.

About the AuthorArnold Fry of POWER Engineers

Arnold Fry is a senior project engineer in POWER’s BIM Substation Department. He spent 18 years with Duke Energy where he was manager of the Transmission System Standards Department, which focused on substation, protection and control, transmission line and design tool standards. He was responsible for the initial creation and development of what became the Substation Design Suite software in conjunction with Autodesk and Automation Force.

Want to learn more? Contact Arnold to learn more about how POWER can support your transition to BIM for substation design.