The utilities industry is at an inflection point. A rapidly retiring workforce, urbanization, increased sustainability initiatives, and aging infrastructure, are creating significant challenges that must be solved through efficient operations and new technologies.
One area ripe for digital transformation is utility distribution design. Today, much of the design work is done using standalone CAD-based tools (like AutoCAD and Map3D) and manual workflows that limit data sharing and limit communication between design teams and other engineering stakeholders.
As utilities pursue productivity savings, many are realizing the benefits of integrating utility distribution design with other information systems like GIS, and enterprise financials and materials management.
Intelligent Integration Reduces Design Time by Over 50%
To test the theory, Nashville Electric Service, one of the 12 largest public electric utilities in the nation with more than 385,000 customers in Middle Tennessee, worked with Spatial Business Systems (SBS), a provider of software and service solutions that help its clients leverage the power of location-based data.
Nashville Electric Service generated the same designs for overhead and underground residential development in conditions that tested four different levels of integration.
The first case used AutoCAD Map3D. The second introduced Automated Utility Design™ (AUD), a powerful software, developed in partnership with Autodesk, that combines design and documentation with rules-driven workflows and analysis for utility and telecommunications distribution design, all based on the power of AutoCAD.
Finally, the third case included comprehensive integration with GIS and enterprise resource planning (work management, financials and materials management).
The findings are telling.
- 20% Efficiency Improvements During Design – Moving from a point CAD solution to AUD improved efficiency by 16% for overhead designs and 22% for underground residential development designs. Some of benefits were derived from having calculations performed behind-the-scenes during feature placement, as well as the integration of estimation from the automated generation of bill of materials. But most of the benefits came by the elimination of the need to look up, find, or otherwise investigate engineering and drafting standards used during the design phase.
- GIS Integration Delivered Further Productivity Gains – The integration of GIS brought additional benefits ranging from 8-16% productivity gains and a drop in drafting times as land base, existing features, and other data from GIS could be easily retrieved.
- Enterprise Integration Delivers Biggest Gains – By far the biggest performance improvement came with the addition of the “full” integration with GIS and enterprise resource planning. In this last scenario a huge increase in design throughput was achieved – approximately a 35% jump in this one step alone. By removing the manual process of generating the annotation-type features required to produce a worthy construction print, the designer can see large decreases in drafting times. Similarly, not having to manually re-enter a bill of material into work management also increases design throughput (and reduces errors).
As public utilities seek ways to increase efficiencies, a 60-72% reduction in time spent in many areas of the design process provides big productivity gains. With integrated tools and automated workflows, utilities can build construction sketches, engineer new facilities, order materials, and estimate costs quickly and easily.