Collaborative future for plant design

Last year, Autodesk announced its Plant Design Suite 2012. Robert Shear, Autodesk's director of industry solutions (construction of plant) spoke with PACE, Manufacturers' Monthly's sister publication, about Autodesk's vision of the future of plant design.

Last year, Autodesk announced its Plant Design Suite 2012. Robert Shear, Autodesk’s director of industry solutions (construction of plant) spoke with PACE, Manufacturers’ Monthly’s sister publication, about Autodesk’s vision of the future of plant design.

According to Autodesk, process and power distribution are particularly strong markets currently, with projects being developed at a breakneck pace. The amount of work needed to be done is only tempered by a shortage of qualified people.

"Work is happening around the world, around the clock," Shear told PACE. "Every project is a fast-track project, with concurrent design and engineering, and sometimes concurrent design, engineering and construction."

The realities of globalisation have caught up with the plant design process – projects are bigger than ever before, and are executed across multiple time zones and multiple geographies.

However, Autodesk says the solutions on the market have been laggard when it comes to playing catch up with the market demands and technology.

"Even some of the newer solutions are…cripplingly complex," Shear said. "Some of them require ten-week training classes just to become proficient in the software."

"The technology is heavy weight, with large databases and large systems…which really have no place in this agile, dynamic world." Shear says Autodesk aims to improve collaboration, data sharing, useability, and the use of cloud, mobile and reality capture within the plant design market.

Collaboration

Depending on which version of the Autodesk Plant Design Suite 2012 a customer purchases, the suite generally include AutoCAD (for general drafting, design and layout), AutoCAD P&ID (piping and instrumentation design), AutoCAD Plant 3D (3D modelling and documentation of piping, with new isometrics features), Revit Structure and Structural Detailing.

In the Ultimate version, Autodesk Inventor is also included, for digital prototyping of plant equipment and skids. "By putting our products into a suite, not only does this facilitate much simpler deployment, but we also allow cross-product collaboration and data share," said Shear.

The idea is for all the component tasks involved in plant design to be done in the suite, then for the final package to be delivered through AutoCAD. But Autodesk is not restricting itself to data sharing within the suite. AutoCAD Isometrics, which is used to specify specialised piping for plants, will be one of the first to ascend to the cloud.

"Small companies, or companies that don’t have full design packages…can generate isometrics drawings for review, fabrication and mark-up on the hosted solution," Shear explained.

According to Autodesk, this move reflects the fundamental technology shift from the desktop to web and mobile, powered by the cloud. Plant design solutions will become more flexible and portable, while leveraging the processing power of host servers.

Mobile cloud is future

Autodesk is investing in mobile, web, cloud and reality capture technologies. Future versions of the Plant Design Suite will integrate reality capture and cloud technologies. Users will be able to take images of plants or equipment with a camera phone, and upload them to the cloud, where the pictures will be turned into a 3D models.

"You will be able to walk up to a plant with your iPad and get real-time information regarding the design and cross-correlate that with what you see," Shear said. Customers will also be able to chat in products with other users in order to improve remote collaboration.

Shear says useability is a large part of Autodesk’s culture, and is built into the products during development. As a result, the Autodesk Plant Design Suite 2012 has an easy-to-use interface backed by an organic approach to training and help, with users encouraged to use online resources and share ideas and learning with the community.

Tomislav Golubovic, Plant Solutions Engineer at Autodesk, cited the example of one customer who, after a demonstration of the suite, downloaded a copy of the software, and learned to model pipes and build catalogues and specs by looking at online help and YouTube videos.

"This generation of designers expect a Google-like experience, where they can search for things when they need it and get what they need, rather than go through formal training," Shear said. Of course, formal training is still available through Autodesk or from its resellers. Autodesk is also developing a full curriculum for use by TAFEs.

Australian engagement

Autodesk has had a long history in Australia, but Shear says the company is now looking to get re-engaged with the ANZ region. In order to support local standards, specs and catalogues, Autodesk provides country- or industry-specific content packs for its software. These are available for free download online.

While Autodesk has optimised its products for plant designs centred around oil and gas, petrochemical, chemical, and power generation, it is now broadening its offerings.  It is particularly extending its reach into areas where there is a lot of Australian demand, such as the mining, water and wastewater sectors.

Better fit

Industrial software has long been regarded as clunky, isolated and hard to use. With the latest version of the Autodesk Plant Design Suite, the spotlight has been thrown on intuitive useability and improved collaboration.

Autodesk is successfully leveraging the relevant trends from the general computing industry, such as mobile, data sharing and the cloud, to enable plant design stakeholders to respond to today’s challenges. At the same time, it is broadening the capabilities of its solutions to ensure a better fit with the Australian market demands.

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