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Enhancing safety through innovative 3D design technology

Safety in the engineering environment is increasingly being improved through the use of innovative 3D design.

The application of visual aids is contributing to the reduction of project construction and safety risks, while assisting engineers to comply with client and international standards.

Innovative intelligent 3D design software is enabling the production of higher quality and improved designs with significantly better accuracy. In addition, the imbedded metadata can efficiently deliver an accurate bill of materials.

Standards such as the NRS and SANS are now embedded into the symbols themselves to ensure high standards are utilised throughout the designs. The flexibility of the latest design software can be utilised to accommodate various customer needs with reference to templates used or material descriptions (see Figure 1).

As well as improving the quality of designs, the developments in 3D software are also proving to be the means to achieve significant gains in productivity, through the clever data link imbedded into the symbols, giving the symbol properties such as size, weight of material, grouping of voltages and current capacity, restriction of proximity of other equipment, associated pairing of other equipment and many more.

The potential for 3D design, combined with intelligent design software, is well illustrated by Aurecon’s highly efficient substation designs, which have come a long way from the old 2D designs for engineering works.

Figure 1

Figure 1 – Example of templates used

Future scenarios

A future scenario can clearly be envisaged with the high cost of fixing design mistakes or altering issues on site virtually eliminated proactively and cost-effectively. Engineers are starting to be able to visualise and analyse various options relatively inexpensively. Already, Aurecon has considerable experience with intelligent 3D software that allows efficient and innovative designs to be developed with various detailed options built in, at a lower cost than conventional 2D designs. These features include design options such as selectable choices of soil types for foundations.

3D evolution gathers pace


The 3D design concept has been available to the engineering sector for some time and the latest 3D laser scans (see Figure 2) can easily be manipulated into a 3D design model (see Figure 3). We are now utilising 3D models to move into the 3D printing arena with great printing possibilities that are affordable to everyone.

Visualising refurbishment

In future, the risk of a professional indemnity claim for engineering mistakes on a refurbishment project should be minimal if the power of 3D interactive modelling is employed. In advanced modelling, a proposed project can be rotated in any direction and individual elements can be switched on or off at will (see Figure 4).

With detail designs becoming more and more vivid, intricate and complex, it makes sense to utilise software that can graphically show mistakes in the design even before a single page of paper is printed. The 3D design also greatly enhances the understanding of refurbishment projects, where existing equipment needs to be removed and replaced with new equipment, and the relation between old and new can be easily displayed for all to grasp.

Examining the unseen

Confined spaces and safety zones add to the complexity of any design but the 3D design platform can highlight the engineering challenges and readily enables the engineer to mitigate safety risks identified within the visual model.

Analysing a design can begin with a 3D design file, which is mathematically sliced into 2D cross sections, showing the internal arrangement of the unseen portions of the design. This feature can be used to add value to the underground arrangements or optimise the rebar encased within the concrete foundations (Figure 5).

It also aids in the visualisation of the structural integrity and complexity of internal components, as well as the fabrication products needed to complete any part of the design.

Is there a limit on detail?

Aurecon’s experience has shown that for electrical related aspects of a substation design, there is almost an unlimited amount of detail that can be added into the 3D model. An array of features can be shown such as panel construction details, cable bends in trenches, electrical clearances, water tables in trenches (see Figure 8), equipment arrangements and conductor and clamp configurations, terrain elevations with underground drainage pipes and containment areas, lightning protection coverage and even visual aid for the step potential protection (see Figure 6).

Focus on the future

With the growth in computer technology, increasingly detailed 3D interactive designs can be displayed on a portable iPad, Tablet or laptop. Bringing this level of information onto a construction site adds immense value to any site inspection and enhances safety engineering. Any portion of the design can be evaluated at any given time through visual elements, facilitating discussion with non-technical departments and support functions.

Safety in design is futher enhanced through the establishing of electrical clearances in the initial symbol design. This feature is programed to selectively indicate the phase to phase electrical clearance parameters (see Figure 7) or the phase to earth clearance.

Figure 2
Figure 2 – 3D laser scan

Figure 3
Figure 3 – 3D model

Figure 4
Figure 4 – Advanced modelling

Figure 5
Figure 5 – Concrete foundations

Figure 6
Figure 6 – Conductor and clamp configurations

Figure 7
Figure 7 – Electrical clearances

Figure 8
Figure 8 – Water tables in trenches

The time is rapidly approaching when a 3D presentation will be standard for any engineering design request, and the norm will soon be to have a 3D printed model to display the design on an equally visual level of competence. The normal working clearances as set by the national/international standards can also be tested and visually shown through the utilisation of scaled human models in the design (see Figure 8). Spacing parameters associated with the different electrical voltages can now also be pre-programed into the foundation symbols to ensure the correct placement of the associated equipment.

The future of engineering design lies in providing clients with safe, innovative, cost-effective, quality designs. At Aurecon, we are applying our expertise to including all the safety factors and standards into sophisticated 3D software, while mentoring the young and upcoming engineers to master this technology. The aim is to effectively entrench the safe design concept into the hearts and minds of our future design leaders.

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