Budget constraints aimed at increasing profitability in the electric utility industry are forcing design engineers to stretch their resources, while at the same time, downsizing is thinning their ranks at some utilities. Fortunately, computing technology is starting to pick up the slack created by these economic events. Recent applications of computing technology have made automated transmission and distribution (T&D) line design a reality.
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Automated T&D line design tools allow line design engineers to do more with less. In the past, engineers used analog equipment and reams of paper to design power lines. Today, computers can create the drawings and crunch the numbers in a fraction of the time. And the old adage “when in doubt, build it stout” no longer applies in the current environment. It’s too expensive. Fortunately, modern line design tools can cut the fat out of a project and let engineers design systems economically.
The ability to perform efficient least-cost design optimization was crucial to the T&D design group at New Orleans-based Entergy Services when they implemented LineSoft Corp.’s LD-Pro automated line design software. “At the same time we were learning LD-Pro a couple of years ago, we also went through a reorganization,” said Steve Parrish, Entergy design engineer. “Our design group shrank from almost 30 designers a few years ago to just six.”
Responsible for the transmission design effort over the four-state area that Entergy serves, what remained of Entergy’s design team found that LineSoft’s solution took some of the pain out of the huge cutback. LD-Pro, an integrated suite of line design tools, automates the design of overhead and underground line projects, from the development and application of design criteria through detailed analysis and generation of cost estimates and materials lists. The product provided Entergy line design engineers with the development tools necessary to create effective designs while conserving resources. It also accelerates the process of implementing engineering work orders by automatically producing design documentation, drawings, maps, specifications, material requisitions, labor requirements and cost data.
Entergy’s design team is also tasked with increasing the efficiency of the design process. Recent improvements incorporated into their engineering process include more fully automating the surveying process by integrating GPS mapping technology into the system. Future projects include migrating data records between LD-Pro and the mainframe system that Entergy’s procurement department uses, as well as enabling designers in the field with mobile computing applications.
“We created LD-Pro when we realized that no one as yet had applied modern software architecture, relational database technology and an easy-to-use graphical user interface to real-world T&D engineering processes,” said Fred Brown, LineSoft president and CEO. “We saw the need for a legitimate enterprise-level design package that would integrate with the work management, CIS and accounting systems already in place, and help utilities achieve the efficiency, service and reliability goals necessary to stay competitive.”
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With LD-Pro, Entergy can reduce errors and conserve labor by eliminating time-consuming redundancies such as multiple data entry and old manual record keeping and reporting processes. By supporting current work standards-as well as enabling process review when necessary-material costs can be cut via standardizing parts, eliminating excess inventory and improving stock turnover rate. Even if individual designers come from different technical backgrounds and organizations, everyone using the system produces designs consistent with established criteria using design standards stored in the central database. The optimization capabilities allow the designer to quickly determine the most appropriate, and least expensive, set of standards for each individual project.
By increasing efficiency in the design process, the software also opens the door to a world of outside business opportunities for savvy electrical utilities anxious to find new profit centers. Entergy is already marketing its Entergy Operations Services Inc. (EOSI) program, offering a variety of support services-including T&D line design engineering-to private power generators and users.