New Plant Design Suites Address Common Challenges

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Industry News
New Plant Design Suites Address Common Challenges
By Susan Smith

This summer saw the announcement of the availability of two plant design suites - one from Bentley Systems and the other from Autodesk.

What is interesting about these two offerings is that they address the challenge plant design professionals have struggled with for years - lack of interoperability, productivity, price, and ease of use among plant design products.

Autodesk has had their AutoCAD P&ID product on the market for four or five years now, but in the last year added Plant 3D, and now their Autodesk Plant Design Suite 2011 sits them squarely in the market.

Bentley has been a front runner in the race for plant marketshare, and according to the most recent Daratech study of plant design software, Bentley is #1 in terms of sales to owner operators in the 2D space and #1 provider of schematics software and #2 to Intergraph in 3D.

Bentley has just released OpenPlant Modeler, OpenPlant Model Server and OpenPlant Isometric Manager, that address the 3D plant design world. OpenPlant P&ID and another product, ProjectWise PDS Dynamic Review Service which reads PDS models in the ISO 15926 neutral format that Bentley made available commercially a year ago were released about 18 months ago.


By its very nature, plant design pushes the issue of interoperability. Plants are in operation for 30 to 100 years, and within that time need to be retrofit perhaps numerous times. During that lifecycle, it's unlikely that the software the plant was built with - if a software was even used initially - is going to be the software that the plant is retrofit with. Most PPM customers are also using multiple products to accomplish plant design and retrofit, plus since plants are in operation for so many years, many legacy systems are still in use, with legacy data in various stages of translation. It is more likely that several different software packages have been used during the course of the plant's life, so a product that can integrate all that disparate legacy data is highly desirable.

Autodesk and Bentley have taken different strategies to address interoperability. 85% of client requests are for improved integration between 3D products.

Using their product Navisworks, Autodesk has put together what they call a “purpose-built” platform which includes AutoCAD 2011, Navisworks, Plant 3D 2011, Plant P&ID in the same suite. Navisworks allows users to take models in various other software formats - AVEVA, Intergraph and Bentley, for example and put them together in a single integrated model, compress the information and share that information in document format.

Autodesk Plant Design Suite 2011

“We feel the solution allows people to go from AutoCAD, P&ID, into Plant 3D because P&ID and Plant 3D are built on the same data foundation,” said Robert Shear, senior industry manager, Plant Solutions of Autodesk. “You're able to validate and cross check data between your model and your schematic and then whether you aggregate models or you just take the models you're building and put it in Navisworks for sharing, you're able to get it out to everyone who needs to look at it, not just the folks who have skills or technology.” This would include the construction team, plant operators, etc., who also need to see the 3D model and extend it into the broader plant community. “It bridges the gap between the CAD experts and the people who actually operate and maintain a building plan.”

This way the model can be seen by people sooner, and help them avoid rework. The broader plant community needs to have Navisworks to be able to view the 3D model, but there is a free Navisworks version, Navisworks Freedom, for those participants. If they want to do redlining, measuring, etc. then they will need to buy a licensed version of Navisworks Simulator or Manage.

Bentley has been the driving force behind the ISO 15926 initiative. The standard is now embedded in the OpenPlant products and now commercially available. ISO 15926 enables interoperability between all applications commonly used in plant design. In response to ISO 15926, a community called iRing (ISO 15926 Real-Time Interoperable Network Grids) has formed to use the standard. POSC Caesar and FIATECH are advancing the standard, and invite companies to join to order to influence the standard at a membership fee. The iRing community is comprised of numerous well known corporations such as CH2M Hill, Bayer, Bechtel, Consolidated Contractors Company, Dow, DuPont, Emerson, Fluor, and Hatch. Membership is free and all members are able to use the latest standard which they use primarily with their in-house systems.

These 3D plant design products really do enable multidiscipline interoperation between all disciplines in real time at both component and at a file level, according to Anne Marie Walters, Bentley global marketing director and Ken Adamson, vice president electrical, piping and plant products.


Productivity is one of those areas that is perhaps highly personal to individual companies, as they each have their own perspective of what productivity should look like. What the vendor claims and what the customers experience may be the same or different things. Overall, the sheer size, difficulty to use and cost of plant design software has rendered it less productive than other types of CAD software. In addition, proprietary software and lack of integration and interoperability have made the situation even more challenging.

Bentley OpenPlant V8i Model Component Browser provides a concise breakdown of the contents of the model repository

Behind each suite of products is a project management product. Behind Autodesk's Plant Design Suite is their Navisworks product, which facilitates interoperability, clash detection, simulation, and problem tracking. Bentley OpenPlant ModelServer V8i plant design server software productively manages both files and components, uses file management enabled by Bentley's ProjectWise collaboration services, which enables interoperable workflow across multiple product environments.

AutoCAD P&ID has proved itself to be an efficient startup and performance tool, as each release is designed to make it easier for people to get started in a project, or to restart a project. “Once you work on it you can find your work again, and finish features,” said Shear. “We have also improved multiuser support, and ways to have larger teams work more effectively in 2011.”

AutoCAD 2011 paves the way for plant design with these features:

  • Point cloud support for up to 2 billion points
  • Robust set of 3D surface modeling tools
  • Timesaver tools make it easier to select and work with objects when editing

AutoCAD Plant 3D has been on the market for a year and the 2011 release boasts the following features:

  • Built-in AutoPLANT spec conversion utility
  • New Piping catalog editor and importing of Inventor equipment
  • Improved pipe routing , center line to pipe, sloped pipe, pipe placement and editing
  • Orthographic enhancements, improved integration between orthographic and 3D model
  • Improved first experience tool for quicker start-up
  • Extended parts catalogs and libraries including:
  • ISA control valves
  • ASME (MSS SP) valves
  • PIP specs
  • AWWA ductile iron (mechanical joint)

Autodesk Navisworks is now interoperable with AutoCAD Plant 3D 2011 which now features

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