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Incorporating innovative, multi-dimension 3D design technology into substation design

A 3D substation design example

Working smarter rather than harder and longer is the key to staying at the top of an increasingly sophisticated and competitive engineering design market.

Nowhere is this better illustrated than in the use of 3D design technology for electrical substations, claims Barry Grib, Project Manager at Aurecon.

“In the space of a few years, this exciting design tool has progressed from creating novel, 3D pictures to providing a rapid means of developing, specifying and costing a design package down to the last nut and bolt. Aurecon is committed to remaining at the cutting edge of this technology in order to maintain its track record for innovation and customer service.”

Exceeding client expectations

Instead of swamping customers with large amounts of drawings and specification sheets, they can now be shown one single model which embodies all of the equipment, fully specified with respect to dimensions and working clearances to meet the required standards.

What’s more, the desired degree of detail can be revealed with the click of a single button or the touch of a screen.

“For example, information on cable works, trench depths, cable spacing, backfilling, danger tape and crossing of other services, including drainage and oil pipes, can now clearly be indicated below ground level,” explains Grid.

He adds that “More advanced features also enable design aspects such as the lightning protection arc from the various steelworks and lightning masts in the substations to be displayed. The substation model can also be turned in different directions to help ensure all equipment is covered by the protection.”

All of these designs can be exported to PDF documents to be discussed with the client, enabling enhanced client interaction and a better understanding of the design by all parties.

Accuracy and cost-effectiveness

Other benefits of the use of 3D design technology for electrical substations include:

  • Enhanced accuracy through the increased exposure and reviews of every portion of the design
  • Design refinements can be made to the manufacturing drawings for steelworks using accurate, detailed 3D models. This will ensure parts fit together 
  • The detailed 3D design can be used to generate drawing numbers as well as all the relevant manufacturing drawings needed for the manufacture of parts 
  • The program can generate the detailed bill of quantities set to the particular client’s specifications and document needs
  • Detailed templates can be set up according to the client’s needs, including number ranges or sequences. This will then be generated each time a new project is designed for the same client, adding to the consistency and quality expected by the client


“Project scope changes entail only one model to be updated and the impact on all levels and sections can easily be reviewed and assessed for immediate implementation.

"Furthermore, material quantities can readily be linked live to accurately give a bill of materials for the project, while the use of only one model also minimises duplication errors,” says Grib.

The correct quantities and manufacturing drawings can be issued with every design, customised for the project.

Parts can be designed and linked to specific manufacturers and part numbers for every item needed.

At any stage of the design, associated material and labour lists can be generated and accurate costing can be done with relative ease.

Enhanced productivity

“3D design has significant efficiencies linked to it,” believes Grid.

He adds: “The initial setting up and establishment of the models can be time consuming, however once the plant is modelled, its replication is almost a cut and paste exercise.

In addition, integrated services are all on one model, removing significant risk from multi-disciplinary engineering services. For example, transformer oil drainage pipes are modelled together with cable trenches for the primary or control plant on one 3D drawing.”

Safe design is important and the software allows for programmable restrictions to ensure the required electrical clearances are not compromised, and similarly underground cables crossing at the same level can be detected and rectified, thereby avoiding costly design modifications and adjustments during the construction phase.

Integrated terrestrial laser scanning

By integrating a terrestrial laser scan of an existing substation, plant or network, a combined model showing the existing and refurbished or expanded plant can be displayed in 3D.

This allows for extremely accurate design of legacy plant upgrades where existing drawings may be inaccurate or non-existent.

There can be a significant risk mitigation where electrical clearances are a risk issue and constructability is difficult.

Similarly for greenfield sites, a digital terrain model (DTM) is incorporated into the design from the start.

Integrated manufacturing catalogues

“Realising the maximum benefits of 3D substation design requires the active participation of manufacturers and equipment suppliers,” cautions Grib.

Some steel manufacturers and even high voltage equipment manufacturers are showing willingness to contribute to the software development and are supplying detailed drawings to be incorporated into the Aurecon design blocks.

The spin-off for them is that their trademarks and catalogue numbers can be linked into the items designed, and they can be given a ‘heads-up’ on future orders with a detailed list of their material used in the design.

The way ahead

Aurecon has several years of experience in 3D substation design and is constantly pushing the boundaries and working closely with the software supplies to realise the true value of efficiency, accuracy and enhanced safety that can be derived from its usage.

“Innovative 3D design is spearheading a future generation of substation designs which benefit clients by providing reliable, high-quality designs that can be produced speedily and cost-effectively,” concludes Grib.

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