Lessons from the 2017 SDS Consortium

"Software is a great combination between artistry and engineering.” – Bill Gates, Founder of Microsoft

3D is a big deal at DIS-TRAN: we’ve been using three-dimensional modeling for substation design and construction for several years, and we just launched our new 3D Tech Solutions (a selection of tools and educational resources to help you create 3D substation models in new and innovative ways). So, it was only natural that we would attend and present at this year’s SDS Consortium event; and DIS-TRAN personnel Chris Ducote (Autodesk Inventor Development Manager), Shawn Budden (Inventor Developer) and Joey Baker (our President) walked away with some great insight into the use of 3D designs in our industry. Here are four of the major lessons they learned.

1: Customizing 3D to substation design specifically is a big deal … and a big problem.

One of the big struggles facing new users, according to Ducote, is that 3D modeling hasn’t traditionally been used for substation design. “Out of the box, 3D programs can do a lot of cool things,” he says, “but our industry and the way it works is so specific, we have to do a little bit of customization with software to get it to be what we need.”

It turns out that this is a big struggle for a lot of players, complicated by the fact that there’s no documentation out there on how to design a substation in Inventor.

2: But there’s definitely a hunger for the advanced functionality available in 3D modeling.

Ducote says many other attendees would say, "Oh, I wish Inventor would do this. That way, we wouldn't have to worry about this double‑checking and having to rework everything." His response: “You can! We can show you how." That’s partly why DIS-TRAN presented “on the content center functionality in 3D software, and how to develop a library of content.” Ducote says that access to such a library greatly speeds up projects and helps users to take full advantage of 3D modeling functionality.

3: In fact, Inventor can do way more than most users even realize.

Another thing DIS-TRAN learned: most of the companies that do the electrical and civil design on substations are using multiple programs. They might use Inventor for the basic physical layout or electrical design, but then they're using AutoCAD, Advance Steel or Revit for the civil designs for the actual structural steel. They don’t realize that Inventor can do all of that and more, and they end up having to train their teams on multiple disciplines in multiple programs.

4: But the most critical thing: we must always ask, “What’s the value?”

A lot of companies seem to have locked onto the “pretty” parts of 3D modeling to the exclusion of practicality. They show off all of these animations and renderings, which do look very impressive, but then they struggle with drilling down into the functional benefits of 3D. What does the user get out of it? “That's one of the things we learned,” says Ducote. “It’s important to help train and provide a process for clients and colleagues to get beyond the pretty picture to the usable, actionable, helpful output, like getting those accurate purchasing bills of material out of the software.”