3D CAD Modeling and Substation Design

by the 3 Phase Design Team

The Value of 3D CAD Modeling

3D CAD modeling, or “the process of developing a mathematical representation of any surface of an object in three dimensions via specialized software” (Wikipedia) has found a secure place in modern engineering practice. Companies seeking to test or prototype products like gears casings and components, or to provide a new kind of blueprint for architectural, manufacturing, utilities, or other structures, can do so with relatively low cost and high accuracy. Visualizing a building or structure in three-dimensional space or being able to hold a designed component in your hands would allow you to accept or make effective changes to a product or component. Interference and clearance checks, production or construction timetables, even physical properties like center of mass, density, and tensile strength can be evaluated using the appropriate 3D software. 3D models are generally easier to modify in response to changes than traditional 2D CAD drawings, as one structural change would require several sheets or perspectives of the project to be modified, while the 3D model itself would only need to be changed. This development applies to power system design as well, and substations can now be modelled in three-dimensions, allowing customers to see scale in isometric views, or any views relative to positioning that they would not have had before.

Substation 3D CAD Design
Substation 3D CAD Modeling

Power Substation Design Using 3D CAD

Proper construction of electrical equipment in most 3D software also allows for efficient go-by production, as elements can be plugged in or removed in minutes, and entire substations can be remodeled according to revisions or to create whole new designs. The ability to change the virtual materials of 3D models also allows for consistent and accurate representation of the substation. Instead of having a matte, grey mass in the shape of a circuit breaker, concrete foundations, steel structures, insulators, and copper connection points can be expressed with proper physical dimensions of density, mass, etc., and includes colors that anyone who observes real-life substations can recognize.

Substation 3D Yard View
Substation 3D Yard View

3D CAD Modeling Limitations

A limitation of 3D modelling is the need to efficiently combine different solids into one object (a process referred to as “shrink-wrapping”) so that a computer can process objects of increasing size and complexity. This issue can be avoided by creating single-object “bays” or “islands” or equipment, plugging onto a model grade that can also contain the cable trenches and grounding grid. As this method is also effective for the “plug and play” mentality used in engineering, the issue of computer memory and processing power is unimportant. The training necessary for personnel to be able to use 3D software must also be considered but holds the same weight as any other qualification in any industry. Finally, while 3D modeling takes longer from start to finish than traditional 2D drawing, most 3D software allows for the 2D projection of that model onto paper, essentially completing both tasks in almost the same time it takes to do one.

Looking Ahead

Additionally, through the use of complimentary software these 3D models can be converted to an interactable, animated, virtual reality (VR) environment in which clients can walk around (or teleport) for real life scale, practice with electrical equipment, and perform various training simulations. In VR, this final product can be viewed, conductor and equipment clearances can be verified, cable trays can be accessed virtually to inspect the conduits and cables responsible for equipment controls. Foundations can be inspected and compared with the structures they support, and their position relative to the ground mat. This practice will become much more prevalent as physical interaction with expensive prototypes is replaced by virtual inspection during the engineering/design phase of a project.

3 Phase Associates has the expertise to support your next 3D CAD design project.

Substation Yard View Elevated
Substation 3D Yard View Elevated

Let’s design something together!

3 Phase Associates