During the evolution from manual drafting to computer-aided design (CAD) in the 1980s, many users were hesitant to introduce a new approach to their everyday work flow. Fast forward more than 30 years, and it’s hard to imagine a world without .dgns and .dwgs.

Now the power delivery world is at a similar crossroads as it transitions from 2-D modeling into a 3-D design environment. Although other industries have already taken that leap, many utility companies are reluctant to do so for a variety of reasons; training and overhead costs being the most paramount.

A handful of companies in the transmission and distribution (T&D) industry have embraced this technology and understand the long-term benefits of 3-D design. There’s always a learning curve associated with adopting a new technology, but the improvements in quality, efficiency and overall project profitability clearly outweigh the drawbacks. Let’s take a look at some of the benefits of 3-D design for substations:

In our experience with 3-D design, from a production standpoint, quality has improved dramatically through the use of this technology. 3-D designs are easier to visualize because they more closely represent the actual substation. When one model stores all the vector data needed, fewer drawing modifications are needed, and those changes are updated in real time across a multidisciplined project team.

Design specifications and bill of materials (BOM) can also be verified with more precision than a standard 2-D representation. The ability to visualize your design holistically from a variety of perspectives can prevent unnecessary and costly rework by identifying issues that might not be detected from a generic general arrangement plan or section cut.

Speed and Efficiency
Three-dimensional design helps reduce the overall detail and design time by decreasing redundancy between project team members, and it saves project printing costs as well. Ultimately, the benefits of 3-D can be summed up by the ability to accelerate deliverable dates. We’ve seen savings that range from 15 percent to 40 percent in detail/design time.

Integration with 2-D
It’s a common misperception that 3-D is exclusive and cannot be implemented within 2-D legacy drawings. Most CAD software is equipped to transition between 2-D and 3-D. There’s no need to redraw an entire substation that has already been drafted in 2-D. Model your new equipment or bay into an existing brownfield substation and place it just like you would a 2-D design.

These are just a few of the features that show the capabilities of CAD in a 3-D environment. Once you’ve decided to take the leap to 3-D, there’s so much more data and automation that can be embedded into a CAD drawing, including 3-D laser scanning, Building Information Modeling (BIM 3D-7D), dynamic linking between wiring diagrams/schematics and physical drawings (e.g., Bentley Substation.)

Given how quickly technology progresses, it’s likely that we’ll look back 10 years from now and wonder how we ever worked without 3-D CAD.

If you’d like to learn more about 3-D design or any of the other CAD tools currently or potentially available, connect with me on LinkedIn. I’ll be more than happy to chat about our experience and the exciting future we see from a CAD perspective.

Mark Tablante manages the computer-aided design (CAD) department within the Houston office’s Transmission & Distribution Group at Burns & McDonnell. An accomplished CAD operator, Mark has served as a project and client coordinator, detailer and designer, and CAD department manager for projects involving telecommunications assessments, power substations, and overhead and underground transmission lines.