Automation in Engineering Design

Automation in Engineering Design

By Nguyen Ba Tuan – CIMAS 

Designing a structure requires engineers to perform many calculations to achieve optimal results. In order to design a single structure or building, the common way is to layout some solutions first and then do preliminary design, compare and evaluate the feasibility, economic efficiency, and construction time to select the best one. However, for industrial structures, particularly the structures of the plants such as oil refineries, chemical and petrochemical plants and the like in addition to the above requirements, it also requires a very professional interference check which must achieve a harmonious combination of structure and equipment, pipe lines, device, operating space, maintenance space, etc. Yet the structures should be simple, robust, economic and strictly in accordance with the regulations.

These above-mentioned requirements are difficult to foresee and meet the stated objective because relevant information and data will be provided and corrected gradually along the design process of each discipline. With large areas, innovative technologies and a well -established plot plan in the basic design stage, the interference problem can be solved easier. However, in case of a tight space or revamping project the structural engineers have to work much harder to design an economic structure, avoiding any conflicts and satisfying all requirements and design code.

An industrial plant should be designed and constructed in a very short period of time according to the specifications required by customers. Depending on its capacity, essential time to complete a project from the very beginning to mechanic completion, pre-commissioning, commissioning and commercial operation takes normally 24 to 36 months, equivalent to the time of 2 to 3 years rather than period of 3 to 5 years previously. Accordingly, the challenge for engineers is how to shorten the time by 30% to 40%. Some solutions are designated to increase productivity by mobilizing more resources, in which the most revolutionary solution is that all tasks including design, procurement, construction, installation, etc. to be done in parallel. This methodology demands very high professionalism. Each team should discuss and coordinate closely to reach an agreement. In addition, the project should have senior engineers with hands-on experience to involve in so as to streamline the process during its lifecycle. In each design, if the selection and purchase of equipment are not on schedule or inappropriate, it will cause delay or changes later, and of course, the negative impact on cost, schedule, and quality of product.

With a huge volume of complex calculations, the design could not be made possible without the support of software applications to calculate instead of the limited human brain. In Vietnam, the application of software, hi-tech, modern machine, etc. have been popularized in recent years, especially in the field of transportation for the construction of bridge, tunnel or multi-story building in urban areas. However, nowadays, industrial projects have not had many mutations. Perhaps this is due to global economic crisis which has caused many projects to be suspended; consequently many companies hesitate to deploy investment.

The triangle formed by schedule, quality and change is always the challenge for structural engineer in all projects. The civil construction work shall be finished first but the information has been always updated and even changed. Therefore, engineers cannot avoid the recycle of design. In this regard, the standardization and computerization substantially help to simplify engineering drawing, minimize errors, reduce impact, shorten design time and optimize design work. The application of software in design saves a lot of calculation time and assists the designer to make products of high precision. What the engineer does is to collect and manage information, control the inputs, and verify the outputs so that the designer can easily find out somewhere unreasonable and do re-run until the best result delivers.

The establishment of design standards, design guides, design notice, design manual, the application of software, etc. are an extremely efficient method to systemize knowledge and experience of the company through the progress of operation and development. By this way, the teaching and training also achieve greater efficiency. A taskforce is generally composed of both experienced engineers and junior engineers. By doing this, junior engineers may have chances to take on-the-job trainings and gain hands-on experience through practical work. After considerable months, new engineers can apply the standard, acquainting themselves with the software, and can start to involve in real projects.

Currently the software becomes more and more user-friendly thanks to the 3D software. All of things which constitute a plant including structures, building, machinery, equipment, pipes line, road, etc. are modeled. From the model, engineers can estimate the progress of work to be completed. Once all the components are created and put at the corrected location, the engineers will examine the design to find any conflict, detect mistake, and adjust the layout or routine for more reasonable solutions. Obviously, the change on model is easier, faster and more economic compared with the change after construction. From 3D model, designers can export material take-off for quotation and procurement at any time.

It can be said that with the ongoing development of informatics technology, the design work can be executed faster, more economic, and more precise although standards vary from country to country and the requirements are getting higher and higher that need to be updated periodically. All requirements and regulations are always solved and satisfied by software completely. Besides with application of commercial software such as structural analysis software, connection check software, foundation design software, Shop-software, 3D model software, etc. engineering companies also establish a research & development (R & D) team to study and exploit the useful features. This team may also generate additional functions or even create new software to make the commercial software utilized more frequently and more effective and link all software together to enhance the automation in design work.

Share this post