The third dimension is always important in engineering when the optimal utilisation of the given space or its adaptation is involved. Whether in large halls, in vehicles or in the cabinet: the tangible, physical route of pipes, complete cable trays, wiring harnesses, or individual wires must be exactly calculated and reliably documented for manufacturing. However, the associated connections can be found in the 2D design. For consistent plant engineering, Aucotec AG and Unitec Informationssysteme GmbH have developed a communications platform that connects the 2D design to the three-dimensional world in a neutral manner, independent of the manufacturer.
Whether it's in the development of cable harnesses for mobile systems, for I&C and P&ID planning of process plants or in mechanical engineering: the platform networks all common 3D modelling systems with the 2D solutions of AUCOTEC's cooperative software, Engineering Base (EB). As the developer of the basic technology for the open communication platform and as a 3D expert, UNITEC is also able to integrate other systems and disciplines. EB's cooperative engineering capabilities have been significantly enhanced by the collaboration. Couplings to AutoCAD Plant 3D, AutoCAD 2D/3D, Inventor, NavisWorks, Creo, Revit, Intergraph Smart 3D, Aveva PDMS and Solid Edge have already been implemented in practice.
Taking the strain off highly qualified engineers
In practice, there is hardly any automated data transfer of 2D data to the 3D systems. Excel is often used to transfer data, and drawings are transmitted, for example, in PDF or DWG format with red entries. This means that the data must be entered again in the other system. Changes must also be added manually. This results in a high possibility of errors and continual, time-consuming adjustments. Real data integrity can be achieved between the two worlds only at a very high cost.
"With our communications platform, customers not only have an overview of the two disciplines, but also bi-directional access to it", explains Frank Mayland, Managing Director at Unitec, and adds: "I like to answer the question regarding the target group for this solution with another question in turn: 'Are you still adding manually or are you already 'engineering'?' Seriously, the design changes that sometimes highly qualified engineers have to laboriously maintain manually in lists, drawings or 3D models are still far more common, but are ultimately a more expensive daily routine. The solution has huge potential for all plant designers who look outside the box and are tired of duplication."
All components that are defined once in EB are adopted in the 3D representation and integrated there. Conversely, everything that was developed in 3D can be used for further processing in EB. Thus the type of objects involved is irrelevant. The link works in every form of plant construction with all imaginable objects because the desired object classes can be easily defined by an appropriate link configuration in the neutral interface or communications platform (as they are known at Aucotec and Unitec). Thus, for example, cabinets as well as motors can be controlled and edited from both the 2D and 3D systems.
Free choice of the optimum
The new open communications platform is compatible with the various high-end systems of both engineering worlds. This facilitates choosing the most suitable system with the highest level of professionalism for the individual disciplines. As Uwe Vogt, Executive Officer at Aucotec, says: “The new open platform will connect the cooperatively established, consistent Engineering Base with any desired prime solution of the 3D world. Thus all those involved in the development process of a plant work directly with the information of other disciplines – at different locations also."
From the plant's structure to the object properties, all information and logic of the 3D world is linked in a navigable manner with that of the flow chart and detail engineering. The various specialists, from process engineers to mechanical, measurement and control and electrical engineers, obtain a unique overview of the entire plant, regardless of their expertise in the other disciplines. This comprehensive data consistency is an important step towards the "digital plant".
No more compromises
“One would be far too inflexible with pure interfaces between the systems”, says Frank Mayland. As a result of the Multi-CAD capability of the communications platform, compromise solutions, which as cheap “all-rounders” usually only managed some of the tasks in the necessary detail, are a thing of the past. “This is about cross-discipline synergy and bridging isolated solutions by integration and process automation”, stresses Mayland.
Communication between 3D plant design and 2D engineering functions in a bi-directional manner. The "other side" is automatically informed of any change. Complete automation is deliberately not built in here so that the respective users retain an overview.
In process engineering, the link is based on the data of the containers, equipment, pumps, instruments, fittings, etc. which are defined in the P&ID (piping and instrumentation diagram). In other plants, for example, it refers to motors and sensors, in short, the data of all devices installed in the plant including their connections to the distribution cabinets, where again very different devices are installed. There are no pipes in these plants, but the cable trays, thus the power network between devices and cabinet, also need exact data for their topology. EB obtains the lengths of topological conditions from the 3D design and adopts protection class-dependent routing by the cable segments and the filling rate calculation. Therein, for example, the rules are defined which ensure that no control and power cables are laid together. EB then transmits the calculated values for the filling rate, for example, to the 3D system again. Thus a realistic representation is possible.
Consistency in the process is self-evident. A drive can be traced from the 3D building layout or general diagram to the last 2D terminal representation. Or one zooms out virtually from the detailed representation of a motor component to the positioning of this motor in the plant. All mapping variants are linked in a navigable manner by the network of connections across the system boundaries. This is also hugely important for operators who must not only identify pumps or motors in the event of an emergency, but must find the related infrastructure down to the cabinet, and usually as fast as possible.
Both Aucotec and Unitec are committed to the promotion of interdisciplinary cooperation in their respective fields because they recognised some time ago its great potential for future increases in efficiency. Both partners also rely on Microsoft connections, which are a big plus for user friendliness. "We think alike in many areas and our experiences also fit well together, thus we agreed quickly”, explains member of the Aucotec management board, Uwe Vogt.