The Benefits of 3D Modeling in Substation Design & Construction

"Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works." – Steve Jobs

If you could instantly reduce your design and engineering time – by as much as 61% –  wouldn’t you? That’s the finding in one study that exhaustively compared hours required in commercial projects when you using 3D modeling versus 2D (i.e., AutoCAD) drawings. And the benefits of 3D modelling, including for electrical substation design and construction, just get better from there. Here’s how.

Improved accuracy means fewer fixes and change orders.

3D modeling starts with the same information used in AutoCAD drawings to represent the flat surfaces of the objects being engineered; it then adds volumetric and connective data to the same basic, joining the faces, edges and points of flat surfaces together to form a complete representation of a three-dimensional object. That object makes it possible to model real characteristics. Further, the software platforms used for 3D modeling automate many of the accuracy checks and prevent documentation errors from propagating. “3D software allows us to take a substation from conceptual phase to design phase with little to no error,” says Frank Camus, Vice President of Engineering & Design for DIS-TRAN Packaged Substations. This improves efficiency.

  • Replicate the effect of external forces, like cable sag and wind deflection.
  • Enforce “clearance spheres” to ensure proper electrical clearances are being maintained.
  • 3D modeling demands more accurate inputs than AutoCAD, otherwise generating an error.

Faster design and construction reduces lead times.

The study mentioned above examined a series of commercial building projects and compared the design time required to produce necessary drawings via 2D and 3D design methodologies. They found that “the measured improvement in productivity for these activities ranged between 21% and 61%.” DIS-TRAN has found similar results in our own work. Camus says lead times are shortened by 20%. Chris Ducote is  DIS-TRAN Packaged Substations’ Inventor Developer Manager. He says 3D modeling allows DIS-TRAN enables DIS-TRAN to take substation design to the next level. “Once we get the standard design completed for the customer, we can copy the design from Vault. It eliminates a lot of the re-work for us. We can take an entire design, or just part of a design, copy it into a new project, and build on it from there,” he explains. This keeps DIS-TRAN’s substation designers from having to continuously start from the very beginning of a project over and over.

  • Complicated calculations and analysis can be performed with one click.
  • 3D models can be used to generate an automatic parts list or bill of material.
  • Changes can be integrated and validated instantly, with fewer manual checks required.

More user-friendly models makes field work and installation easier.

3D models can communicate more information to fabricators and field workers than 2D drawings. For example, consider training cables. With 2D drawings, an engineer can only indicate the length needed and test to ensure clearance; it’s up to the field installers to fit the cables appropriately. With 3D modelling, however, it’s possible to communicate how to train the cables in advance, so they arrive on-site prepared. 3D modelling also underpins DIS-TRAN’s prefab bus (PFB) product, which can be installed in a fraction of the time of a typical bus. DIS-TRAN also uses 3D modelling to illustrate to its customers their project’s installation process step-by-step, allowing for a clear understanding on how both lead and installation times are shortened.