Electricity does not bring to mind 3D design or 3D scanning, at least not to me, but I was amazed during and after my visit to Nashville Electric in Tennessee to see the various ways this organization is using 3D technology. Sure, I’m bullish on all things 3D, but often we do not realize the degree to which 3D design helps almost every aspect of building and construction. Nashville Electric showed me the light. Apologies, pun intended.
Terri Humel, Principal Associate Engineer for Substation Design, Nashville Electric Company invited the 3DRV to come visit one of their substation facilities and the corporate headquarters. We spent the day laser scanning one of the substations with a FARO Focus 3D scanner and then going back the next day to do some ReCap photogrammetry on an interior panel.
Just a quick definition: A substation is the location where the power company (as in your electric utility provider) transforms all of that high voltage electricity into what you get at your home, please forgive the oversimplification). You see these substations all over the USA, fenced in with signs that say “warning High Voltage” to keep you from even thinking about wandering around.
Back to the 3D discussion: Most utility companies use 3D computer aided drafting (aka CAD) technology to build their substations. Nashville Electric Service (NES) is like other utility companies in its embrace of 3D CAD programs like AutoCAD. But where it gets interesting is they decided to take their 3D process further: Creating a 3D Parts Library to allow them to do more digital prototyping. They can 3D visualize how assemblies and subassemblies come together and avoid expensive clashes between parts.
Creating a More Intelligent Model
Prior to the parts library they created (and are still creating), the “parts” which are called “blocks” and those blocks were not very precise. NES began enhancing the blocks with additional specification and material information supported by a model-based process. They redrew steel structural pieces used in substations to ensure a higher degree of precision. At the same time, they tied those engineering standards within the solution and integrated it with its procurement process (think Bill of Materials – BOM).
Generating a bill of materials in any industry is tedious, but this new model based approach allows them make that process more accurate as well. To create these new models, they built on their existing AutoCAD expertise by integrating Autodesk Inventor. Inventor enhances 3D mechanical design by allowing designers to work with digital models and a rules-based design process.
Like many of the companies we have met across the USA, the time-savings allows NES to make better decisions and to explore new scenarios – thanks to a faster design process. The big bonus to all that faster process? Design process improvements are saving them as much as fifty (50) percent in time, thus increasing productivity. More evidence that 3D technology changes just about every process and company it touches.
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