Cutting the downtime

Paul Boughton

A new plant design suite can help reduce wasted engineering hours, says Derry Vaughan

Although the oil and gas industry has not suffered as much as some sectors over the past few years, the quest for efficiencies and best practices - quite rightly - remains as intense as ever.  
This is especially the case when it comes to overheads such as the re-design or renovation of assets. Most operations of significant size have a rolling schedule of maintenance and refurbishment, but the rising cost of materials combined with missing tight deadlines can eat into a budget whatever the size of the programme.
Plus, while the current downturn in other parts of the economy has eased shortages of design skills in this area, in the UK there is still a tendency towards relying on contractors and freelancers to do the planning and design.  Meanwhile, there’s also a slow-burn time bomb in the background as it is predicted that globally up to half of current design engineers will be retiring over the next decade.
The goal, therefore, is to stick to a core team, avoid the need to keep adding extra bodies to help meet deadlines and keep wasted design time to a minimum.
However, until recently this has been easier said than done. Despite the conservative nature of the industry, software developers have found fertile ground in plant design. Consequently, it is one area where different software is used all over the globe.
But whereas there are a number of established vendors in this area who specialise in solutions which manage the complete plant lifecycle, many plant design engineers still use plain AutoCAD for some or all aspects of plant design. This is especially the case on small and medium-sized projects as well as on schematic designs.
The difficulty arises when these different software solutions are no longer supported or only work with earlier versions of AutoCAD rather than the latest release.

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Specialist, non-standard software has its place.  However, if 80 per cent or more of the engineers working on a plant project are freelancers – as is often the situation - then the bill for training can be excessive.
These are a few of the reasons that Autodesk  has just consolidated its commitment to plant design with the release of the Autodesk Plant Design Suite.   This includes AutoCAD Plant 3D and integrated AutoCAD P&ID software.  
It also incorporates a conversion programme which migrates data such as symbols, catalogues and specs to AutoCAD Plant 3D, so eliminating the need to spend months or so rebuilding libraries and minimising downtime during any changeover of software.
Autodesk may be a relative newcomer to the plant industry – however, it brings with it the experience of decades of investment into the research and development of software for product, building and infrastructure design which translates well into this environment. In particular this has taught its developers to focus on ease of use, not just to make it more popular with users but because, from a business perspective, any waste of engineering hours is unnecessary cost.
For example, in some other 3D applications it can be difficult and time consuming to extract the 2D drawings needed for construction, fabrication and other documentation purposes. Obviously the owners of the assets do not want to pay for the wasted hours, only the completed project so the more efficient the design tools, the less pressure there is on the budget.  Using the Autodesk plant products, the process is simple, quick and straightforward.
Likewise, when changes need to be made. Late changes can be the bain of a designer’s life, but it is more important to identify these changes rather than let the fabrication and construction proceed. It is a lot cheaper to make changes in the fabrication shop than it is on the construction site.  Some customers we asked said that they spend as much as 80 per cent of their project time making changes and then checking thousands of drawings to make sure these have been carried through.
On some of the most widely used competitive software solutions, if something has to be changed the engineer may have to re-model a significant number of pipeline routings or even the entire model, making the workflow very inefficient. Using the Autodesk plant products designers can easily make modifications to the 3D piping and layout models while ensuring connectivity of pipework. Additionally, differences between the 3D model and P&IDs are identified. Consequently, engineers don’t have to spend hours checking and coordinating.  
Because the software is built on the AutoCAD platform, it offers a familiar environment with tools and commands that are similar, if not the same as the original solution. Plus, this solution also solves the problems experienced when using niche products – as AutoCAD is a standard across most engineering sectors, trained professionals are far easier to find.
Importantly, Autodesk’s DWG file format is the trusted data interchange standard throughout the industry, making it far easier and more straightforward to share key, up-to-date data. If Autodesk Navisworks is used with Autodesk’s plant design products models from multiple CAD systems can be combined to enable the identification of clashes on the complete project model.
Unusually in this field of software, Autodesk uses a channel sales model, which provides an opportunity to build relationships with local specialists who are ready with support, maintenance and, importantly, training.  Many also offering consultancy, designed to help maximise an investment to the full.
It’s clear that there are efficiencies to be identified and made in the process of plant design. Adding Autodesk Plant Design suite to an existing AutoCAD workflow is an organic and practical way of achieving this.

Derry Vaughn is the Engineering Services Marketing Manager at Autodesk. For more information, visit

Fig. 1. and 2. Aerial views of a process plant, with DWG underlay and photorealistic views. AutoCAD P&ID, Autodesk Navisworks, and Autodesk 3ds Max software products were used in the design process.

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