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Engineering design tools are moving to the ‘cloud’

12.01.2013  |  Slansky, Dick,  ARC Advisory Group

According to a new market study on engineering design tools, new 3D design applications can play an integral part in determining the optimal design, creation and construction of HPI facilities.

Keywords: [design tools] [3d models] [software] [clound] [cloud engineering] [IT]

Design projects in the hydrocarbon processing industry (HPI) have become very large. They are exceedingly complex, have a long duration, and are very expensive. Often, executing these massive projects requires forming joint ventures or partnerships of engineering, construction and owner organizations. This interdependent joining of disparate stakeholders necessitates using the latest generation of 3D engineering design tools for more efficient project execution.

Beyond the project phase, asset owners now recognize the additional value that design tools can yield, not only to the project phase but also to the operating of the plant and other industrial assets. According to the ARC Advisory Group’s new market study on engineering design tools, new 3D design applications can play an integral part in determining the optimal design, creation and construction of HPI facilities. Such tools can play an increasingly important role throughout the entire plant’s life cycle.

Increased acceptance of cloud-based engineering tools

ARC is also seeing increased acceptance of cloud-based solutions for engineering design tools and other plant and enterprise applications. These tools support distributed workflows and enable teams located in different offices and countries to collaborate effectively and to compress project schedules. Users can manage assets more efficiently.

Although, historically, engineering and design tools were designed largely for design and engineering stakeholders, such as architecture, engineering and construction (AEC); or engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) companies, these offerings have morphed into more-robust collaborative agents. Now owner/operators can also apply such tools to extend the service life and efficiency of their plant assets. For greenfield projects that typically involve considerable capital expenditure, owners also apply engineering design tools at earlier project stages to facilitate quicker operational readiness and, subsequently, improvements in the operations and maintenance phases of the asset’s life cycle. Of course, use of common platforms also simplifies the handover of the asset from the EPC to the owner/operator, while ensuring comprehensive and up-to-date documentation of the “as-built” assets.

As the number and complexity of present engineering and design tool applications has grown, the cloud has emerged as a delivery mode to customers. At present, some industrial users are reluctant to use the cloud due to security concerns. This is especially true as asset owners begin to apply these tools not only to design and construct new facilities, but also for the post-project phase of the asset’s life cycle.

Most engineering design tool suppliers are adopting the cloud for certain data-rich applications, and they are considering ways to offer additional cloud utilization. For instance, Autodesk is looking to deliver a few 3D modeling tools to customers using the cloud. Autodesk and other major suppliers, such as AVEVA, Bentley and Intergraph, view cloud computing as a logical delivery method since 3D rendering and algorithms of embedded analytic tools require significant processing power. Suppliers see costs, collaboration and sharing designs as more reasons to move some applications to the cloud.

Selective use of engineering design tool applications is ideal for cloud computing for many reasons. Service providers create cloud computing systems to meet clients’ business needs in several areas. Typical cloud computing services include virtual IT servers as extensions to a company’s local IT network, commercial or custom hosted software, software as a service, and network storage. In general, cloud computer systems are designed for scalability to support large numbers of customers, as well as demand surges.

Cloud benefits

The benefits of cloud computing include less hardware and software to manage and maintain. It is also highly scalable to meet the users’ needs, which are typically charged on usage. It can also be charged with a more predictable flat rate. However, in this model, customers cannot directly control the stability of the networks, and they are highly dependent on the service provider. In addition, cloud computing often requires sending data over the Internet and storing it on the third-party service provider. The privacy and security risk is of the utmost concern among users.

While cloud-based engineering design tools are becoming more viable, ARC believes that suppliers need to develop a strategy for delivering tools to users that reflect their concerns and changing needs. Many users want to own the physical assets and digital information, and, as a result, private clouds rather than public clouds may be more appealing. In other situations, a combination of the two may be more appropriate.

Private clouds are the internal computing architectures used to process information behind the firewall. Also, private clouds can use spare internal computing capacity. The private cloud can maintain the data, while a public cloud can provide the processing power. The data still must be sent to the public cloud, but it can be done in an encrypted and very secure fashion. HP

The author
  Dick Slansky is a senior analyst with the ARC Advisory Group; his responsibilities include directing the research and consulting in the areas of PLM, ALM, and engineering design tools for both discrete and process industries. He has over 30 years of direct experience in manufacturing engineering, engineering design tools, control systems integration, software development, and technical project management. Mr. Slansky holds a BS degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Kansas, and a BS degree in computer science from Seattle Pacific University. 

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