TechNote #01: Using Autodesk Inventor for SubStation Design

SubStation Design #01 3rd Feb 2008.

2009-02-25_1220I recently completed a project for a major Electrical Power company in Canada (2005-2007) for which I developed a 3d cad strategy for HV & MV substation design.

This project started in the latter part of 2005 and at that time the best product for what they wanted to do was Mechanical Desktop. The Autodesk Inventor product was considered but the version available then did not have the same level of functionality that we enjoyed with MDT. Today of course that has changed considerably and a lot of the features from MDT as well as a lot of new concepts have been introduced to make Inventor a formidable cad design product.

I should note that this same project has now moved to the Inventor environment.

I mention MDT and Inventor as the main cad products utilised for this strategy, but beyond that I still had to satisfy the criteria and data exchange with the other products used which were AutoDesk Civil 3D and Map 3D. The strategy changed slightly from the MDT concept to align with the DWG exchange capabilities now within Inventor, but overall the main concepts remained unchanged.

Selection of the Cad system was only part of the solution. I spent a considerable amount of time studying the companies engineering practices, the existing library standards and quality control procedures. In addition Procurement, Manufacturing, vendor data and site construction procedures were also studied.

When you put together a cad strategy for any type of project you have to fully understand the company operations and procedures in conjunction with the cad product capabilities to derive a working methodology that works together. In short you are developing an engineering design philosophy that does not impact company business practices.

Modular Approach:

For example this company had a lot of standard assembly drawings in 2d that depicted the various collective arrangements that suit the majority of the different sub station design requirements relating to 44Kv and 230 KV areas, the switchyard, circuit breakers and station transformers. These areas were complete assemblies or layouts and really in that form not conducive to the 3d environment. Requiring only marginal changes I introduced a more modular approach to the company standards by breaking these areas down into manageable chunks of information.

Modularisation actually helped the development of a 3d cad strategy because we could manage the modular units effectively and apply assembly variation directly only to the areas that were affected and not have to deal with large layouts of information that only required localised variation. This was very efficient and as well as helping the file management of these modular units it also provided much more flexibility when it came to designing the substations. The modular philosophy was adopted throughout for many aspects of the project design including land survey data.

Dealing with the company standards was only part of the solution, I also suggested aligning the Procurement schedule with 3D design processes, defined the effective use of survey data, devised BOM solutions for integration with their Procurement systems, developed modelling techniques to improve efficiency (‘smart parts’) and devised VBA applications for the Cad system.

For me personally this was a great achievement, primarily because others had tried before me without success – the problem I believe was that their focus was entirely on the cad product and they had not taken the time to study the entire engineering processes from concept right through to Procurement and construction; without knowing how the whole process works it is almost impossible to devise a solution solely on the basis of an individual cad product.

Furthermore the whole strategy was developed, programmed, designed and devised by myself with no assistance from external sources. I even managed time to assist the Lightning protection chaps adapt the 3d cad to define the areas of influence and protection envelopes.

The Result:

At the end of this project I wrote a manual of over 300 pages that was again broken down into modular volumes to provide access to specific areas of interest. Incidentally when writing any manual it is well worth while considering breaking the subject down into individual subject volumes – this makes it easier to read and the user only has to access a dozen or so pages of data instead of trawling through hundreds of pages.

During the latter stages of the project I demonstrated the potential for the company to design and engineer a complete Distribution Substation in less than 7 days (post concept) which by comparison historically may have taken up to 3 months – a considerable time saving and of course increased efficiency.

The key to the success of this project was simply the understanding of all the various aspects of an engineering design process and identifying the work methodology that could best utilise the capabilities and integration of the CAD systems as part of an overall strategy and not considering the cad systems in isolation.

BIM Sub Station Site: Design

Contact Details:

If you are interested in more information on using Inventor for SubStation design or just wish to find out ways of modularising your own company standards for adapting to a 3d environment then please contact me at


About Hugh

BIM & Cad Manager/Strategist, 3D/4D, multi-discipline cad workflows, integration. Interests include photography and historical aviation.
This entry was posted in BIM, Electrical Power, Inventor, MV. HV, Substation and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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