Any engineer designing equipment for the oil and gas industry will know how their work has been transformed over the past decade.
First, it has moved from the drawing board to the desktop where 2D drafting has been automated using AutoCAD or similar software. More recently, 3D solid modelling has made its mark. Now, CAD experts are predicting a third stage in the evolution. Behind the 3D CAD model lies a powerful database that can be used as a valuable commodity if managed correctly. When data is well looked after – that is, it is accurate, constantly enhanced and contains all the right intelligence – it can be re-used across the enterprise and throughout the entire production process with significant benefits.
The oil and gas industry has been pioneering in its take up of 3D software. About 50 per cent of companies in this sector are designing this way – compared with a global figure of 14percent.
Talking to our many customers in this area, I’ve come to the conclusion that this is because 3D digital design offers improved accuracy, greater flexibility and is suited to visualising large assemblies.
When complex assemblies incorporate thousands of parts, accuracy can have a huge impact on the time and cost of bringing a new product to market. 3D models offer huge advances in error checking and design consistency. In part, this is possible because 3D design applications capture the product parts' association to one another and show users how those parts interact. Also, the software updates all associated 2D drawings, parts lists and assembly components automatically – where 2D designs might require days or weeks of modification.
This ‘rippling’ of changes throughout all associated parts, assemblies, presentations and drawings comes into its own when checking for adherence to quality, compliance or health and safety guidelines. Using 3D design software such as Autodesk Inventor Series you can test design, check for interferences in a virtual environment and resolve issues without expensive prototypes.
Its parametric technology makes it easier to experiment with ‘what-if’ scenarios enabling users to test possibilities within certain parameters. For example, the effect of certain stresses and weight loading.
Subsea engineering and construction contractor Technip Offshore UK Ltd (part of the global engineering and construction group, Technip) has recently been testing the power of Autodesk Inventor Series to work with huge datasets of around 4600 parts. Technip Offshore UK, based in Aberdeen, uses Inventor to model its pipelay vessels and other equipment installed on the seabed. The UK drawing office has been using Inventor for around two years.
According to Alistair Stephen, drawing office manager, before using Inventor the company designed in AutoCAD. They found that they needed to see their designs in 3D, but using the drafting software this way was taking far too long.
“It was proving to be difficult and time consuming to get our complex designs completed and so we adopted Inventor,” he recalls.
“Now Inventor is coping well with this exceptional amount of data.Without it our model production would be a lot less efficient, and definitely more costly. In fact, it would have been difficult to model these large assemblies in a commercially viable way.
“As far as their size, we recognise that we are pushing the boundaries. We’re working directly with Autodesk product developers in the US, mainly to ensure our hardware can handle the sheer volume of data.”
Now Technip has been trialling Autodesk’s work-in-progress data management solution, Autodesk Vault, to help them manage and share all the information created. They are currently using it on three projects and so far it’s working well,” says Stephen.
“Up until now all our data has been managed manually. The way we number it is fairly precise and the sheer size and complexity of the information contained in a large model, together with the interaction between all the different parts, make it more difficult and time consuming to keep track of it all. It was obvious that a data management system would be needed to minimise duplication and to track the sheer number of components.
Stephen had been investigating data management systems for some time. “But because many of our internal and external stakeholders use different number systems, it was difficult to get something that fitted in with company policy and the way we worked.
“Then we identified Vault and it seemed like the best solution. Vault is the foundation of Autodesk's new data management solution. It provides a single, secure repository for design data so that engineers and draughtsmen can easily find, reference and re-use it.”
Now that 3D design software has matured and is becoming increasingly mainstream, companies across the industry are facing similar challenges. Their assemblies may not be so huge, but they still need to be able to re-use and parametrically adapt their data to gain the competitive advantage needed to succeed.
When manufacturers build bridges between their isolated pools of data, they eliminate the need to keep recreating data. When they invest in data management, data that has been created at the very first stages in the design process can be constantly updated, but still kept secure. It can even be seamlessly transferred to ERP and MRP systems via ProductStream.
Accelerating competition combined with rigorous health and safety and environmental restrictions in the oil and gas industry make it even more important for businesses in this sector to get the best value out of what they do best – design and innovate.
Colin Watson is with Imass Design Solutions, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK. www.ids-cad-software.co.uk"