Special Report: Oiling the wheels of industry

Justin Cunningham finds out the benefits from moving to 3D design in the oil and gas industry.

William Coulthard, along with its subsidiary Baric Systems, produces lubrication systems for the oil and gas industry. The main core of these giant systems consists of a huge steel tank filled with lubrication oil. This is distributed through pipe work, meters and valves under controlled pressures, using precise instrumentation, to run the pumps and compressors used on an oil rig.

And due to the nature of where these systems have to operate, most systems are bespoke and designing them continues to be a challenge. With increased projects coming in to the company, it became obvious there was a need to be speed up the design process.
"We just weren't turning the drawings around fast enough," says Paul Anderson Baric's drawing office manager. "In 2008, we had a fantastic year, but it put a strain on the drawing office.

"Because every unit we do is bespoke, we were reinventing the wheel a lot of the time. Each job is always subject to customer changes, so we'd often stop working on one job and move on to another for a couple of weeks. If this happens six or seven times over the course of the year, it can knock you out by three months or more."

As much of the current design was done in 2D, it did present problems particularly when trying to visualise convoluted pipe work that runs in all directions. The other key advantage was the addition of a product library. This allows standard components and parts to be reused, avoiding duplicating of items already modelled. However, the transition did create some initial hurdles.

"There was definitely a bit of negativity at the beginning because things weren't working out as fast as we'd expected," says Anderson. "When several of us couldn't find our way around Inventor, we blamed the software."

Such were the complexities and repetition of the design task, the team needed to work with a third party software application called I-run to take care of all the different piping iterations and generate the isometric drawings used for fabrication. As this did not happen automatically it caused some frustration.
To tackle the issues, Baric called in the help of Autodesk reseller, Symmetri – formely Imass – which produced highly-prescriptive training modules to solve the problem. Symmetri director Colin Watson explains: "We had to ensure the I-run software was set up so it could take care of all the different iterations of piping, open the bandwidth to cope with this and then communicate it all to the team in terms of how they would use it."

SolidWorks too has been able to provide software solution to make the design of oil and gas equipment a more effective process. And the biggest gains again seem to be made when companies make the transition from 2D to 3D design.

Kværner Oilfield Products develops and manufacturers underwater products in the offshore industry. These include entire systems for controlling the flow of crude oil from a drill hole to a platform. The products were previously designed in 2D, but again the company needed to improve the efficiency of its design office.

It moved to SolidWorks CAD software and found that the drawing office productivity rose by 30%. At the same time, the options for using existing designs to create new variations increased considerably.

The goal is a modular system with design components that are combined and that can be modified according to individual project requirements. A third advantage is that it is much easier to present a design to a customer, and to create animations for training the customer's own service technicians.

"With SolidWorks CAD software, our team was able to productively use the software within an extremely short period of time," says Steve Shimonek, senior project designer at Kværner Oilfield Products.

Justin Cunningham

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