Meet the man responsible for all the mechanical and plumbing designs at power plant designs' global leader, Sargent & Lundy.

You all know of Sargent & Lundy, one of the engineering community's prestige names. The Chicago-based firm has been around for more than a century and is a global leader in power plant design, with more than 800 new power plant projects under its belt worldwide.

Quite a bit of plumbing goes into their buildings, so we decided to check out their plumbing engineering department. Going in we wondered how many dozens of their 1,800 employees were devoted to sanitation tasking, and had visions of finding them in cubicles as far as the eye could see.

Then we met their plumbing department. He is Robert ("Bob") Biddle, C.I.P.E., senior designer in the Fossil Plant Division, which is responsible for all mechanical design, including plumbing.

This single individual draws up plumbing designs for almost all of S&L's projects, big and small, worldwide. Although various mechanical designers perform plumbing designs as the need arises, Biddle estimates that he usually handles upwards of 90% of what needs to be done in the plumbing category.

Obviously, he's talented. But nobody can be that good. There's got to be a catch.

Well, there is. Biddle's otherwise super-human workload is made manageable thanks to personal computers, Pentium processors and one of the neatest proprietary computer systems to be found anywhere.

Computerized project management

It's called PLADES2000T, the acronym standing for "Plant Design." Tony Lunardini, the manager in charge of the system, says,

"There are competitors with systems like ours, but we think ours has unique qualities geared toward our work. Some of them are in the business of marketing their systems. We don't sell ours. We just know how many manhours it saves for Sargent & Lundy, our clients and project partners, and that's all we care about."

PLADES2000 is a product of evolution. Although most of the system consists of customized programs, it also operates in conjunction with off-the-shelf software. It grew out of the company's mainframe programs dating back to the late 1970s, which included some of the earliest forays into 3-D modeling. By the early 1990s, S&L engineers were tied to work station computers with increasingly sophisticated capabilities, and the PLADES acronym came into being. About the time Biddle came aboard eight years ago, they were underway switching to PCs and adding the "2000" model number to their PLADES description. According to Lunardini, by the end of this year they will be completely phased out of work stations and entirely PC-based.

PLADES2000 is more than a design tool. It is an integrated project management system that handles everything from 3-D modeling to animation to CAD to databases capable of commodity takeoffs. "It's our total engineering tool," says Lunardini. "If we're doing a new power plant project, we would start with PLADES and end with PLADES.

"There's a large amount of flexibility built into our system for importing and exporting," he adds. "That's so we can allow our data to be exported into customers' packages."

Sargent & Lundy's office walls are festooned with pictures of power plants-or at least what seem to be pictures at a casual glance. Mostly they are images generated by PLADES that show what finished projects will look like long before work is finished-or even begun. We have all seen artists' renditions of future buildings used to publicize projects. They can be stunning in their own right, but we always recognize them as approximations with a bit of artistic flourish. The computerized visualizations are startling in their realism.

"Modeling is a byproduct out of how we do our drawings," Lunardini says. "For instance, our piping package differs from most peoples' in that it is doing both modeling and drawing at the same time on the same screen. We don't have the expense of creating a 3-D model in addition to our drawings. It is integral to our design process."

"The 3-D aspect is great," Biddle chimes in. "It's almost like we construct the building on the screen, in 3-D. Drawings are cut from that model. If done right, the building and the model will look exactly the same."

Even more breathtaking is the animation capabilities of PLADES2000. While the project is still in the design stage, S&L can take a client on a trip through a finished plant, turning corners, inspecting nooks and crannies, seeing how maintenance crews will be impacted years in the future. Constructors and maintenance crews on nuclear projects use these "movies" even for existing plants so they can plan work without being physically present, in order to keep radiation exposure down.

Interference checking

The razzle-dazzle discussed so far is a view from the client's perspective. The computer-generated pictures and animated movie features of PLADES2000 are powerful sales tools. But the real value of this system occurs in the trenches where Bob Biddle and his colleagues work their magic.

PLADES2000 is composed of various modules revolving around a model server hub. A module that Biddle works with most often is called Piping Design Work Bench (PDWB). It is picked up from another module, which creates piping & instrumentation diagrams, which the engineer gives to the designer. It is one of 30-some modules used within the PLADES system. The engineering data gets transferred into the database, which can be used to control the systems and sub-systems within a plant. PLADES also can turn the design to an isometric mode to do hidden line removals.

Biddle interfaces quite a bit with other plant designers, because he designs drainages for various equipment, waste products, condensate, etc. With all that is going on within a plant, the interference checking aspect of PLADES2000 proves invaluable.

According to Lunardini, more than 100 files may go into a model, and each of those sub-systems gets interference checked against one another. The way it works is Biddle submits a file to the model server, which will ask if he wants an interference check. The program then goes through a routine in which the file is turned into a volume file comparing it with other disciplines' design files to show where interferences exist.

Interferences are categorized as "hard" or "soft." A soft interference would be, for example, where Biddle might specify he wants six inches of space around a pipe in order to allow for three inches of insulation. A soft hit would be anything encroaching within that six-inch space. With normal plumbing pipe he might override the interference and okay a hit that approaches within four or five inches, but for critical steam piping where expansion has to be factored in, the designer probably wouldn't.

Most interferences can be eliminated with a few clicks of the mouse that change a couple of coordinates or dimensions. In situations where that can't be done, Biddle will confer with the other designers to see what other systems might be moved.

Productivity & accuracy

Drawings that used to take Biddle weeks to produce back in the "horse and buggy" days of pencils and t-squares now can be churned out in a half day or less. He has worked on up to six projects at a time, and has had cases where project deliverables were due within days of each other. No problem.

Accuracy, too, is greatly enhanced. With 2-D flat drawings dimensions and elevations had to be calculated by the designer-what Biddle and surely many other plumbing engineers refer to as "doing the math." A good definition of tedium might be that of, say, calculating elevations for a 1/8 in. per foot drop along a drainage line. He might have had to spend a week or two laying it out, then many hours rechecking the arithmetic. A math error showing the wrong elevation would cause a contractor to stop the job to put in a change order, which can be very expensive. Add to that the time delay on the project and the designer's time to get the drawing fixed. Any of you reading this who have been doing engineering work for more than a decade or so probably have had these experiences. It all seems like so long ago.

A feature in PDWB called slope lock allows the designer to route the pipe with a predetermined forced slope in a 3-D space. Sub-programs in PDWB allow Biddle to extract elevations and all other data needed to produce the drawing. And do it quickly. Here are some other "bells and whistles" featured in the PLADES2000 system.

  • The database automatically provides a list of materials from a drawing, telling how many lineal feet of pipe are needed of different material and diameters, along with reducers, tees, elbows, etc. This gives clients some idea of the project cost while still in the design stage, as well as aiding S&L on design/build projects. Also, this enables materials to be ordered even before the drawings are complete.

  • Project managers can track manhours, commodities and drawing percentages complete throughout the project.

  • PLADES2000 enables designers to toggle back and forth between metric and English measures for domestic and international projects.

  • The piping module has been effectively used for new design, backfit and betterment work on commercial projects as well as power plant projects.

  • Rules can be built into the program. For example, designers can prohibit any departures from code. Biddle intends to build plumbing codes into the system, as well as put in fixture unit values that would add up to automatically size pipe as it goes downstream.

  • Standardized details can be put in to the CAD program to save time. Biddle, for instance, frequently calls up floor drain and cleanout details used on other projects. In situations calling for a little uniqueness, modifications can be made much quicker than drawing the same stuff from scratch over and over.

PLADES2000 constantly evolves to incorporate new computer technology and capabilities. S&L owns around 2,200 PCs and continuously upgrades them on a rotating basis beginning with the older units first. Their network includes links to offices around the U.S. and overseas. They recently finished routing a couple of hundred miles of fiber optic lines in their Chicago headquarters to prepare for the future.

Bob Biddle can be reached at Sargent & Lundy, 55 E. Monroe St., Chicago, IL 60603-5780, 312-269-7137.

PDWB was used to design, procure and generate construction drawings for all of the images accompanying this article, as well as the cover.