Procurement: Materials Database Part 1


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Procurement: Materials Database Part 1.

When developing a new design strategy that increases efficiencies and reduces design man-hours on a project it is important to consider the impact on other departmental processes. It is a prerequisite anyway for implementation of any new workflow solution to consider all aspects of a company’s operation to ensure the solution addresses everyone’s needs.

Planning, design, procurement, administration, manufacture, installation and commissioning were all included in the consultation and development for this project.

In particular, the purchasing of materials would be impacted by the reduction in design time as the Procurement department would have considerably less time to manage the bid preparation and subsequent issue of Purchase Orders. Almost from day one of a project start; excluding long lead items; the procurement department needed to be aware of material requirements to meet the project deliverable dates. Before I get into that it may be prudent to provide a brief over view of the design process.

Brief Design Overview:

What we have is a library of preconfigured modules (assemblies) comprising Electrical, Mechanical and Structural components based on historical data that fit together in various combinations to build a sub station akin to using lego blocks.

Kv substation

A single module may constitute the area as highlighted above which would be similar for each quadrant of this grid layout (roughly 20 or more modules). The individual module may comprise 2 or more configurations which would be selected according to the project design requirements.

These modules are generic and represent the most common configurations for that location which would initially be used by the Basic Layout team to develop the concept design. Once the Basic layout is complete, this would be Design Reviewed by engineers and Management and then passed to Design Engineering for the inclusion of project specific requirements and completion of working deliverables.

The Basic Layout may also include preliminary routings for underground cable conduits and drainage which would provide the Civil team with early excavation volumes as previously covered in an earlier article.

As every module (assembly) contains its own inherent Bill of Material it is possible for the Procurement Department to have preliminary material quantities at this very early stage. The options for doing this are to create a Top Level layout model that incorporates all the sub assemblies and generate a structured (indented) BOM; which could be extensive and unmanageable; or alternatively, develop a process that permits access to this data that does not require access to the Cad model to regenerate an updated BOM.

Basically what happens is the engineers extract the BOM from each module upon placement to a specified project folder which in turn will be accessed by Procurement to analyze the datasets via a database that automatically generates material reports. This is very quick, efficient and has the added advantage of providing information on progress. For Basic Layout the generic library BOM data would be used and only for the Design Engineering phase would we need to extract the BOM from the project modules.

Part 2 of this article will look at the database in detail and how it is used.

transmission station




The Cad Software


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The CAD Software:

Utilizing the mainstream 3D Cad products in conjunction with a defined strategy along with research of historical projects data and recognizing patterns and consistencies it is quite feasible to do a lot more than just simply reproducing the existing 2D standards as 3D content.

In 2005 we had intended to use the Autodesk Inventor Cad product for this project but this did not have the ability for formulae or any intelligence in the model descriptions at that time, so we decided to use Mechanical Desktop (MDT) which was a more capable product. The project would later be ported to Inventor.

One key advantage of using the often underrated MDT was interoperability. We could easily reference Autocad survey and grid drawings and Civil 3D groundworks and section drawings seamlessly in MDT and vice versa. A feature only recently available in Inventor.

Dedicated Sub Station CAD Products:

Today many of the main Cad software developers; Bentley, Siemens, Primatech and Autodesk all now have dedicated products for Sub Station modelling and design.

These products are generally quite good, however, they do imply specific workflows to achieve reasonable returns and occasionally force a work method that may not be compatible with your own company’s procedures. Some of these are designed by software developers with limited exposure to the practicalities of the design, manufacture, and installation of sub stations.

One particular product shows Electrical/Structural assemblies inclusive of the foundation for that assembly. Foundations should be scheduled, procured and constructed as an element in their own right. You have a foundation plan for a reason; the idea of including individual foundations in a electrical/structural sub assembly makes no sense in the real world.

If your company already owns products like Inventor, Solidworks, Solidedge or Microstation; the actual process of adapting those products to the way you already work for design, procurement and installation is really not that difficult and could save you a lot of time, effort, cost and frustration.

The core Cad products all have the capability of creating a sub station design solution as its basically a matter of looking for patterns and consistency in the current and historical projects with some very basic programming routines for things like modelling cable sag and lightning protection in conjunction with a modular strategy.

That’s part of what this blog is all about; adapting your own core cad systems with the way you currently work is a much better option as you have full control over the process. It also ensures you maintain compatibility with all your other ERP processes and downstream activities.

Smart Parts: Cable Trench!


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Smart Parts: Cable Trench!

I briefly touched on this in the latter part of my previous post; referring to the inclusion of additional information to the 3d model parts that facilitates the requirements for other purposes.

Hydro Cable Trench

From the previous article (inclusion of excavation profile to develop excavation volumes and infill as the route is built).

Cable Tench 02

Corner configuration.

Cable trench options

These illustrations are extracted from the Trench manual.

We studied the historical layouts for the sub station below ground works and realized that Cable Tenches in particular were not given a great deal of thought. It just seemed to be a case of developing a routing and fitting the Trench units accordingly even if this meant that there was a lot of “non-standard” sized units.

We recreated these same routings using as many standard lengths as possible; by manipulating the cable exit points marginally we were able to do this without too much effort. The main reason for doing this is simply that the site will receive lorry loads of this stuff which could be time intensive for the site guys to trawl through the stacks of trench items just to find the correct parts to suit the drawing layouts.

The other reason is cost. The off the shelf units are available in standard lengths and any variation will require additional work for the vendor in cutting and sorting to suit the client requirements. In the overall scheme of things the additional costs may be inconsequential but if this can be negated with a small amount of effort then this is something we should try to achieve. Collectively, in conjunction with handling time saved on site the overall costs benefits could actually be quite significant.


We did something similar for the Cable Ducts as well; which managed various stacked configurations:

substation cable ducts

Extract sample for cable Duct standard assemblies.

Sample Drawings

Sample Drawings: Extracts from the 2D drawings derived from the 3D model layouts.


Section drawing showing the combined Electrical and Structural modules. Note also the module names along the top and the Operational Clearance Volumes for the vertical switches. We modeled various clearance volumes as follows:

  1. Operational Volume: To define the volume parameters of the operational characteristics for the equipment.
  2. Accessibility Volume: Where we require access for personnel to read meters or maintain components.
  3. Maintenance Volume: These volumes represent the clearance space required to remove and replace component parts of equipment as part of a maintenance function.
  4. Design Volumes: Where we have design characteristics that need to be considered. This is very important particularly for Substation design. We also had a variation of this to visualize the influence of lightning protection.


Modelling clearance volumes are an integral part of the 3D modelling which provides us with additional information critical to the Design Reviews that would be carried out in Navisworks.

Substation keyplan

This is typical keyplan which we would include in all plan and elevation drawings.

Substation typical cross section

The cross section for keyplan above.


Cable, Conduit, Trench and Lighting Arrangement. We even modularised the underground works for trenching and conduits. Interesting to note is that when we created the Cable Trench models we also included the trench excavation boundary as a profile. This meant that as we developed the route we also by default developed the excavation parameters. We referred to these as Smart parts; essentially including additional information that facilitates the requirements for other purposes.

Hydro Cable Trench

Also within the model properties we included the volumes for the excavated earth and ultimately the back-fill. In the next post I will explore more of the properties attached to the Smart Parts that assisted with placement of the Cable Trenches to maximize use of Standard manufactured parts and Connector terminals that included additional data to assist with determining the connector routing.

Contact: Hugh Thomson


Part Numbering

Part Numbering; Crucial to successful data utilization is the consistency of the naming conventions and format of the attached attributes or IFC data-sets to the 3d models . 

The company already had a fully populated ERP system with a vast library of component and parts that has accumulated over the many years of sub station design.

It is imperative that we incorporate the key identifiers from this data-set to ensure compatibility with the 3D attributes and the ERP system. We did not have the permissions to change the ERP but we were obliged to promote amendments that would make the item descriptions consistent and weed out duplication that may have arisen from historical misspelling when populating fields.


This is the new 3D Model library parts list for standard Insulators.

CAT.ID. is a data field that replicates the ERP system and could not be changed.

TYPE/NAME: The first element of the description we made mandatory INSULATOR, STN POST. The remaining part of the description was ordered but the format was not mandatory.

DESCRIPTION: The first numerical values and the immediate characters LB, CANT was mandatory. Again the remaining portion of the field was advised but as you can see adaptable according to the item.

DRAWING ID: Remember this is MDT (dwg) whereas for Inventor this would be an IPT ID title. The first characters define the Class ID (from ERP) concatenated with the CAT.ID. You may notice that the second part of the ID has a “0” prefix to the CAT.ID. to create a consistent number of characters that facilitates the longer CAT.IDs as per the last row.

In my experience data sets should maintain a degree of consistency in numerical/alphabetical naming formats and description. The latter only needs the prefix or suffix to be mandatory to achieve a structure that will later facilitate interrogation or sorting of data whether that be via a database or spreadsheet.

A certain amount of common sense will allow the engineer to retain some flexibility in defining a part description if only part of the description is mandatory. If you define the entire description field to be fixed then you will find that the engineers spend more time on filling out data-fields instead of designing.

It is enough to have a defined numbering (ID) along with prefixed description formats in order to be able to use the data effectively; any more than that is redundancy.


If I was doing this today I would use Autodesk Vault to define naming conventions according to a set of rules for alphabetical and numerical sequences. Its also a very good tool for the model management and copying assemblies with associated linked files to a project location.

As we will see in a later article, the organisation of the parts list will be the key to using a non-relational database structure for the provision of material/part quantity reports.

The Modular Concept


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The Modular Concept: Substation design naturally lends itself to a modular design approach, even when companies existing engineering standards do not necessarily align with this methodology a change in perspective can achieve desirable results.

As mentioned in previous articles, I opted for a modular approach to the development of 3D Cad parts, subassemblies and top level assemblies. This is how it works:


This area is the 44kV area incorporating a structural framework on which we have various electrical components comprising insulators, circuit breakers, switches, busbars etc. The existing 2D engineering standard drawings were elevations spanning 5 or more gridlines for each grid; which for the 2D world worked okay but not conducive to working in 3D.

The company had attempted to simply reproduce these engineering 2D standards as 3D models with the top level assembly comprising the entire elevation at each gridline which did not work out too well. The notion of simply converting existing 2D data to 3D models without considering opportunities for improvement is a typical approach for most companies. To me this was not ideal thus the reasons for researching their historical projects from which I was able to devise the eventual modular solution.

When I researched the past projects I recognized that some areas for every project virtually stayed the same whereas other areas changed considerably according to the design requirements. It transpired that these same areas had only 2 or 3 variations typically used to satisfy the design needs for those last 9 projects thus providing the data for a modular solution.

Shown here is the evolved modular approach. The company 2d engineering standards were designated as Work Packages that represented the specific areas of a typical sub station design. For the purpose of relating the new methods with existing, we elected to retain the Work package designations.


For each area, we identified logical assembly modules as shown below. The example shown here is for the structural framework showing the different modules and their locations. I had already devised a numbering system for identifying these assemblies and parts. A similar approach was devised for the other work packages.



The Electrical content was then created as separate modules based on the structural assemblies as shown above. For each area, there was a minimum of one Electrical module for each grid quadrant that may be subject to variation according to historical project data and therefore we may have 2 or 3 different configurations covering the most common assemblies which we then built and maintained in a 3D standard library.

The 3D library comprised a hierarchy that replicated the various ID categories and class codes from the existing ERP catalog system.

Cad Library

So we now have a library of 3D modules (sub assemblies) for the 44kV area that contains units representing the most common configurations of Electrical/Structural units based on historical data that are likely to be used for the majority of future projects. Essentially a plug ‘n’ play arrangement where we simply selected the appropriate modules from the library and drop them into the project. Today the ability to copy entire assemblies is greatly enhanced with the latest versions of Inventor.

By researching historical projects and identifying consistency and common features in the design of various projects we can devise a modeling regime that incorporates these observations in a modular context thus saving considerable time for future projects.

We also paid attention to the model format and description content for the purposes of creating a BOM similar to the following (early example). This was later improved to be more consistent with descriptions and model/drawing numbering.


The other main advantage to working with a modular system like this relates to Procurement. I developed a database specifically for the purpose of tracking materials used by the Procurement guys to manage costs even as the Substation design was in development without requiring access to the actual Cad system.

The database was an indexed based design which the Microsoft guys went to great effort to advise could not be done; I did it anyway and it worked fine. This gave us the ability to interrogate model material lists and track costs at any stage of the project without annoying the engineers for constant updates. Effectively a useful procurement and project management tool. For more details on how this worked refer to my later post.

The Manual

The Manual

Integral to my mandate for this project was the development of a working manual explaining the process for future support and maintenance. I actually took this further by including the logic and thinking behind the development process; detailing why specific decisions had been made and the considerations in making those decisions.

This was very important as I was only there for a relatively short space of time, so it was necessary for the company to understand the background to why things were done a specific way to make it easier for them to make informed decision for future improvements.

The manual ended up being about 300 pages long, which was very detailed. It is unwise to think that a manual 300 pages long was going to be easy to read so I broke it down into manageable volumes of between 18 and 24 pages to improve accessibility of key information.


In fact the entire solution was predicated on the idea of achieving manageable chunks of information through the adoption of a modular strategy.

The manual as it turns out has been shared outwith this company and has provided a basis for others to devise similar solutions, which is a good thing!

Procurement: Long Lead!


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Procurement: Long lead items pose a real problem for the buyers as availability will vary according to the equipment manufacturer capacity, or specifications may be compromised in order to achieve a favourable price and delivery!

At this stage we have evaluated all the aspects that need to be taken into consideration. The evaluation has concluded that a modular approach to the design in conjunction with streamlining related activities will form the basis of the way forward.

It can be very tempting and indeed looking at some of the promotional videos for today Substation Cad systems one could be forgiven for thinking that moving to a 3D environment can be achieved by simply replicating the existing 2D engineering standards. I concede the fact that some efficiency can be gained in both time and resources but if done from a wider perspective a greater efficiency can be achieved. More on this in later posts!

The main subject of this article is Procurement and how the evolution to 3D impacts the purchase and decisions relating particularly to Long-Lead items.


Long lead items of equipment may include units like Transformers and High Voltage Circuit Breakers. These types of equipment are usually purchased well in advance of the start of the actual design process, sometimes with lead times as long as a year.

  • These are complex pieces of kit and occasionally vary in configuration according to selected manufacturer and cost. Though the specification may comply with the requisite TBA and CBA approvals the physical configuration may need to be evaluated as part of a Design Review process for potential implications on station layout and design. So there will need to be a design input at this early stage as it would be improper for these decisions to be left solely with the Procurement team.

For the Transformers this should not be a major problem on account of these items usually being physically isolated from the main switchyards and breaker areas. However the latter; Circuit Breakers; will need to considered carefully as any major configuration change will have an impact on design standards.


I should say at this time that the 3D Cad models are prepared from existing standards incorporating historical component assemblies in a modular format…but as I said I will go into that later. The main benefit is that the Basic Design team can evaluate equipment specification and configuration against a library of the most common type of assemblies very quickly and if necessary adjust the scheduled design time for equipment that is essentially “non-standard”.

  • The other implication is forward planning. At the time of this development the projects were planned ahead of time to account for long lead item purchasing and resources based on historical planning data. The realization that the 3D method could reduce the average design schedule by 60% it then followed that some major changes will be required with the planning process to account for this. The main issue is lack of historical data working with 3D methods.

It was decided that constant evaluation of design actual against perceived times would be constantly evaluated to develop the necessary historical data. Due to there being an existing backlog of work it transpires that maintenance and upgrade projects could be incorporated to fill in the gaps when considerable time was saved. The other aspect relating to proper TBA and CBA consultation has not been done adequately in the past and now should not be detrimental to achieving these goals.

As a footnote to this we are basing our achievable goals on a 60% reduction in average project time. As an example of what could be done I presented a solution for a new extension to an existing substation including fully detailed BOMs and deliverable drawings in only 6 days (somewhere close to an 80% time reduction). On this occasion this was seen as nervada, however this was only achievable due to my experience with 3d cad and work processes. I would not expect their engineers to achieve this level of productivity in the short term but 60% would be achievable.

It is quite clear though that as the engineers gain experience then projects will be done very quickly and this has to be factored into and evaluated frequently to maintain accurate forecasting.

BIM or IPD: forget the labels!


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BIM or IPD: forget the labels!

I have mentioned BIM but this project is more aligned with an IPD (Integrated Project Delivery) philosophy of which BIM is an integral part.

IPD: Integrated Project Delivery is a delivery system that seeks to align interests, objectives and practices, even in a single business, through a team-based approach. The primary team members include the architect, key technical consultants as well as a general contractor and key subcontractors. The IPD system is a process where all disciplines in a construction project work as one firm, creating faster delivery times, lower costs, no litigation and a more enjoyable process for the entire team – including the owner.

BIM: Building Information Modeling (BIM) is a digital representation of physical and functional characteristics of a facility. A BIM is a shared knowledge resource for information about a facility forming a reliable basis for decisions during its life-cycle; defined as existing from earliest conception to demolition.

Definitions are from Wikipedia. As BIM develops as a process so it more encompasses the many aspects of IPD. This is where it gets confusing as one evolves into another thus the reason why I am not keen on labeling the design workflow solutions as described on this blog; which is simply a logical, common sense approach to project design based on good engineering practices!.


We need to look at the whole picture and not take anything for granted.



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Overview: The contract has been signed and I had the mandate to produce a solution for an industry that had limited exposure to 3D methods and even less to BIM or IPD.

Although my initial focus was on the documented company procedures and processes the real added value came from the engineers and designers themselves. I had many discussions; with virtually the entire workforce; to gain insight from their impressions, ideas and tap into their expertise…essentially what worked and what did not!

This company had a good team of engineers with a wealth of engineering knowledge but I recognized there was untapped potential lost due to the apparent knowledge gap with the Cad software they were using. Many examples related to the vanilla Autocad product which in 2005 was a mature product with a plethora of features that were quite frankly overlooked that could have benefited their productivity.

One key feature that was not utilised was xrefs; in fact no one even knew the feature was there. This is not unusual as I have come across this with other companies more recently. I do wonder though as to why this is the case, perhaps training but I think it has more to do with how the product is sold and supported. Sure the local cad supplier will provide training but they don’t seem to have been proactive in helping the company with the longer term implementation and use. So I  introduced them to xrefs which were a significant step when working with the Autocad genre and Civil 3D.