Automating certain design functions can greatly reduce time-consuming tasks and the cost of projects
When it comes to the detailed design of substations, you’ll see a lot of electrical drawings, schematics, and wiring diagrams. We’ve come across projects with more than 500 drawings—no wonder it seems I can’t find my desk anymore. That means tons of drafting and verification that can lead to mistakes and repetition. How could we improve this process?
First, we asked ourselves: What tasks are involved in a detailed design package? Are there any similarities between drawings? Could we reuse parts of the design? Do we perform actions like counting and sorting data that could be more easily handled by a computer? Are there tools that would produce outputs automatically with minimal risk of errors?
The answer: Yes. How? By using the E3.series software as a platform and developing our own add-on tools, we were able to automate some critical and time-consuming tasks of our electrical design, thus reducing the overall cost of the project. Here are four things that we learned while implementing this new tool.
1—Big parts of design can be automated (Don’t worry, the machines won’t take over your job.)
Within a field or a discipline, detailed design has a lot of similarities. Not really “copy/paste” per se, but similar processes, calculations, visual aspects, or formats. Even with the help of popular CAD solutions such as AutoCAD, there are still several repetitive and reusable tasks that can be automated. For example, let’s take a connection to a terminal. Your CAD software will help you draw connections more efficiently than by hand, but what if you have more than 1,000 to draw? You’d still need to repeat the same lines and symbols over and over. If, instead, you implement an algorithm and functions within the E3 software, you can now automatically generate all the wiring based on the schematics.
Another repetitive task is counting. Whether it’s listing cables, enumerating connections, numbering wires or material, having a person manually go through all the drawings to sort items is very common. It’s also time consuming and expensive due to the hours involved. With our tool, we can sort lists in different formats for different purposes with just the click of a button. A termination schedule that used to take days to generate can now appear in a matter of seconds.
2—There is a significant efficiency gain (How does 30% sound?)
This process improves efficiency in three major actions: drafting, enumerating, and verification.
Using the E3 software, we can significantly cut drafting time for all wiring drawings. The added value also increases with the scale of the project. All connections and cables can now be generated—almost—automatically and all visual aspects and the symbols can be developed and reused for all drawings.
Visual symbols are “intelligent,” meaning they have their own set of attributes and properties. This allows you to generate and sort all kinds of lists. For example, assume that we want to list how many pilot lights are used in your design. In the “old days,” you would flip the pages, count them manually, add that to a list, and enter the description and quantity. With the automated functions, the system will find all the lights for you and even generate a list with the proper description and quantity.
Verification is necessary to make sure the design has no mistakes. By having the design generated by a strong and tested platform, such as E3, the risk of error is dramatically decreased. Hence, the verification time is also reduced. There is no added value in doing a point-to-point check on connections that have been generated and tested by the software. As a rule of thumb, a crowded wiring diagram can take from 30 minutes to 2 hours to verify. If you can cut that in half for 100 drawings, you just saved yourself 50 hours. (You’re welcome.)
3—It’s not a plug-and-play solution (Sorry, you’ll have to put some work in it.)
The E3 software and its associated tool and library are not an “off-the-shelf” solution that magically does everything with the push of a button. It does give a tremendous development platform with a lot of built-in functions and options, but you need to customize it to your own needs. This requires a significant amount of work, including developing algorithms, tools, and functions. The more you want it to do stuff for you, the more you need to adapt it. Of course, the “out of the box” software does provide a lot of built-in features you can use right away, but to maximize the platform to your needs, there is some work to be done first.
4—It does not apply to all types of design (I told you we’d still need you.)
There are a lot of tasks and processes that can be automated because of their nature, their time consumption, and their repeatability. But complex designs, such as a substation, are not just a succession of “cut and paste” operations. There are still parts that require calculations, customization, iterations, validation, adjustments, or just plain experience. Those are all things that a machine or a software program cannot provide by itself. There are also tasks that are not time consuming and having them automated would add no value. Why buy a big expensive machine to automatically tie your shoes when you can do it by hand quickly? It turns out that electrical designs also have some parts that do not justify having them done by powerful software. Hence, it is very important to identify what you want to do with your E3 platform and evaluate if the investment is justified.
What did we learn?
We learned that a lot of our wiring tasks can be completed at a fraction of the time, providing cost savings and improved consistency and quality. And because of that I have more time to do other things … like writing about new technologies, like E3.
About the Author
Pierre-Luc Pigeon is known for his analytical skills, initiative, and energy. His first projects involved engineering work in the manufacturing sector, and after more than 11 years as an electrical engineer, he now works exclusively on transmission and delivery (T&D) projects for various utilities, engineering substations and designing protection systems.More Content by Pierre-Luc Pigeon