Power company flips the 3-D switch

The engineers at Hydro-Québec are taking a new approach to designing power plants and trading in their 2-D AutoCAD tool for a product lifecycle management (PLM) tool that will let them design in 3-D.

Until recently, designing in 3-D using PLM systems was mainly the purview of mechanical manufacturing

industries such as the automotive and aerospace sectors.

Hydro-Québec is the first power plant to use IBM’s Catia V5 and Smarteam tools, according to Jean-Paul Rigg, director of generation engineering at Montréal-based Hydro-Québec.

Learning to design in 3-D has been challenging, he says.

But 3-D design has its distinct advantages, he says. It allows Hydro-Québec engineers to see the way different elements of the plant interface with each other, he says. The tools also help them calculate quantities.

Working in 3-D means much more time is spent up front figuring out design and concept criteria, Rigg says.

“”You have to put more brain power in at that stage. But afterwards, when the main concept’s established, the drafting and establishments of the model are much easier. And drafting is almost automatic at the end of the process.””

Catia had to be customized for Hydro-Québec’s needs.

“”Catia is not designed for power plant designs. So we had to establish our own working environment, which is all kinds of symbols and engineering rules integrated in the environment,”” he says.

“”We’re still working on that. As we’re doing more and more projects, the database will become more enriched.””

The company also hired new personnel who knew Catia.

Another advantage of switching from AutoCAD’s Autodesk to Catia and Smarteam is that the latter tool will eventually allow Hydro-Québec engineering consultants to work from their own offices. The power company likes to create the main concepts in-house and outsource the detailed engineering to consultants.

Hydro-Québec is currently using Smarteam within its internal framework, and is in the process of testing and implementing it for outside consultants.

“”Right now those consultants are sitting within our offices, but our goal is in the future, they could work from their offices on the model, which is resident on a server in Hydro-Québec.””

The new tools will also make it easier to maintain the power plant when it’s completed because all of the details and specs for the plant can be transferred to the operation maintenance staff, Rigg says.

This is a big advantage, says John MacKrell, a senior consultant with CIMdata in Ann Arbor, Mich.

A major undertaking

Controlling, validating and updating all of the information companies have around the design of a plant is a major undertaking, he says.

When implementing an upgrade on one type of equipment, for example, it’s difficult to ensure that each iteration of that equipment gets the update. This is where PLM systems come in handy, MacKrell says.

“”The big benefit is the operators, at the end of the game when the big buildings are built, end up with a whole set of data of how the plant was created and the equipment of the plant and the structure of the plant. The data are all linked together.””

Rigg thinks other power companies will soon be taking Hydro-Québec’s approach and switch to 3-D designing.

“”I think the market is ripe to make the transition. The tools are here.””

However, it might take some time for people to change their attitude towards 3-D designing, he says.

Architects and construction companies have historically designed in 2-D, MacKrell says. Some large companies are switching to 3-D because it better accommodates detailed and complex designs. But it might not be to everyone’s advantage to switch, he says.

“”It’s fairly clear to me that small architectural firms, designing houses, (and so on), don’t get as much advantage in doing 3-D as other large companies.””

When making the switch to 3-D, it’s important companies redesign the approach they take, he says.

“”One of the things companies have a terrible time with is modelling the data and all of the processes they use to work with the data. There’s a real tendency to model the process they use currently. We find companies should do a little bit of re-engineering of their processes. I don’t mean by that, that the computer system is doing all of the work. You have to model all the people — a lot of work has to be done up front.””

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