Wednesday 25th of April 2018
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Automated Modeling Makes the Impractical Possible at Chemical Plant

Without automated pipe and structure extraction technology, a chemical plant modeling project in the Midwest would not have been economically feasible for Piping Layout Consultants Inc. (PLC), an engineering design firm based in Louisville, Kentucky. “This project would have seriously exceeded our budget if we had tried to do the modeling manually,” said Keith McKinney, PLC’s owner and lead plant designer. PLC was among the first to use both EdgeWise Plant and the new EdgeWise Structure automated extraction software on the same project.

EdgeWise Structure, which was still in a beta version, reduced the time required to extract and model structural support elements in the plant by at least 50 percent. Pressed for a similar efficiency metric for

piping and conduit modeling, McKinney estimated an 80 percent time savings.

“Couldn’t have been done  manually"

“It’s hard to put a number on the time savings [for the piping] because it probably couldn’t have been done manually,” said McKinney. “The piping and conduit were just too small and too dense.” PLC was contracted to create 3D models of the interiors of two large buildings that comprise the chemical production facility. Every pipe, conduit and structural support element larger than one inch in diameter had to be modeled in its as-built configuration. Once completed, the 3D solids model would be used in a computational fluid dynamics simulation for chemical dispersion analysis. Model accuracy is critical. McKinney explained that if a chemical spill or leak occurs in the plant, the operators need to know how the gaseous chemical plume will travel in and around equipment as it moves through the plant. By modeling the gas dispersion, the operator can identify locations of potential ignition points that might trigger an explosion. Fans and exhaust ducts can be strategically placed throughout the facility to move the plume away from these points and quickly disperse the gas into non-volatile concentrations.


Model Accuracy Essential for Blast Modeling

PLC completed scanning and modeling of Building 1 first and is still working on the smaller Building 2. The first building included 60,000 square feet of space divided equally among three stories, although the second floor contained the most densely packed piping. The firm used a FARO Focus 3D laser scanner to capture 458 scans in that building, 189 scans on the second floor alone, over a period of 20 work days. “For other scanning projects, we would have collected only 300 scans in the first building,” said McKinney. “Because computational fluid dynamics modeling requires such high accuracy, we did more scans…Pipe density and size were also factors.” McKinney explained that most scanning was done at two heights. The team first set the scanner at floor level to capture a scan and then hoisted the device up to a height of 12 to 14 feet to collect another. The pipes, conduits and other elements were tightly packed, requiring careful positioning of the scanner.


The pipes and conduit ranged in diameter from one to three inches, but 90 percent of them were one inch. After the scans were processed in FARO Scene, the PLC modeling technicians began extracting features from the point cloud using EdgeWise Plant and EdgeWise Structure. Again, due to the density of elements, they divided each floor into multiple segments for extraction. One technician worked on piping and conduit while the other focused on structural components.


EdgeWise Plant extracted and modeled each pipe and conduit, correctly representing the outer diameter of feature with its insulation, if there was any. The technician then used the Easy Connect feature in the software to precisely join pipes in straight segments, T’s and elbows. The software was also used to edit out corrugated wall surfaces that appeared as pipes in the point cloud. Just on the second floor of Building 1, PLC modeled 20,000 pipes. “A key benefit for this project was that the software modeled the pipes in their as-built positions, sags and all,” said McKinney. “It’s more accurate than any other method we know of.”


EdgeWise Structure Delivers a 100% Greater Modeling Efficiency

As modeling of point cloud segments of each floor were completed, the technicians moved the 3D models out of EdgeWise Plant and into Autodesk Navisworks to compare them against the point cloud for quality control purposes. The second technician worked on structure modeling at the same time using EdgeWise Structure. Although the software is capable of recognizing structural elements related to the inside of a building, such as I-beam supports, it was primarily used to extract and model features holding pipes in place.


In Building 1, these included S-beams, wide flanges, angles, tubes, and round or square rods. To extract these elements, the technician drew a window, or polygon, around the feature in the point cloud. The software measured and identified it by shape and pulled the correct steel element from the catalog. Fitting tools enabled the technician to stretch or modify the catalog shape to make it align exactly with the point cloud. “We tried structure modeling with a competing product, and EdgeWise Structure did the job twice as fast, in this case about two weeks for Building 1,” said McKinney. “Previously, we performed manual extraction in Navisworks, and it was very, very slow.”


As was done with the pipe models, the technician exported the structural 3D models from EdgeWise Structure into Navisworks to make sure they matched the point cloud. “In the past, most of our scanning projects ended with the extraction of the pipes and conduits to determine where tie points should be for new designs or where clashes might occur,” said McKinney. “Now with these software packages, we are extracting and creating intelligent 3D models…that is a new deliverable we can offer to clients.”


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