Harnessing the Power of AutoCAD Map 3D

Using AutoCAD® Map 3D at Welland Hydro has helped us ensure maximum efficiency and versatility. In this article, I explain how the Canadian utility has gone from “rags to riches” in terms of asset management, outage management, and GIS software. Thanks to the versatility of AutoCAD Map 3D, Welland Hydro has become one of the leading utilities in Ontario using the advanced technology at a relatively reasonable cost.

The Big Picture

Back in 2006, Welland Hydro was in the market for a scalable and powerful yet cost effective tool to keep track of our assets and to do system condition assessments from the field. We had our goals set, but needed to outline the many challenges to overcome:

  • Reducing the number of paper copies being distributed
  • Keep maps and information up to date without editing multiple drawings
  • Keep track of assets and their conditions
  • Keep connectivity active throughout the entire organization
  • Keep information in one central area (database)
  • Increase efficiency and reduce job output time
  • Use proven technology that continues to innovate and allows integration with other systems
  • Obtain a system that maintains data security
  • Ensure ease of implemention and transition existing data to
  • Ensure ease of moving to new versions

Because AutoCAD Map 3D is layered overtop of the existing AutoCAD® framework, a large benefit to using this software is its familiar interface. We are able to streamline our processes with a single application for CAD and GIS. Another benefit to using AutoCAD Map 3D is the open architecture on which it’s built as users have the ability to develop better interoperability with other systems and software.

The first step in becoming “digital” was deciding an efficient way to input all of our records into AutoCAD Map 3D. Since many of the drawings were drawn by hand in the late 1940s to 1990s, the utility was able to scan the files and input them into the GIS using AutoCAD Raster Design. This helped greatly with converting the information from paper to digital and it allowed the worker to ensure all data was correct prior to input.

While entering the information, we needed to also ensure connectivity between all devices and conductors in the software in order to create a proper electrical and structural topology. This allowed us to create electrical connectivity traces from breakers all the way to the meter and also enabled the us to reconfigure circuits and phasing, all from the comfort of our own office chair—a benefit in seeing the entire system in one big picture. Now, I know what you’re thinking…Yes, most utilities do have some type of GIS or asset management software, but what makes AutoCAD stand out from the rest?

Asset Management, Assessments, and Maintenance

Welland Hydro is responsible for the safe delivery of electricity to its customers. The assets the utility looks after includes 8,000 poles, 2,500 transformers, and almost 500 kilometers of overhead and underground cable. Being a smaller utility servicing approximately 22,000 customers, Welland Hydro has a slight advantage on many other (larger) utilities in that less man power is needed to do such assessments. We make sure to keep track of any maintenance or replacements to assets in order to conform to regulatory demands.

Once the information from the external drawings was entered into AutoCAD Map 3D, it was time to start looking at the data as one big picture and create an Asset Management Plan. Managing our assets and conducting system condition assessments are important to ensure that the utility meets regulatory requirements and keeps operating with minimal outages due to asset failure. These assessments can now be done via mobile devices (smart phones and tablets) and the information is written directly to the GIS database (Oracle). All accompanying documents are also scanned and attached to the asset in AutoCAD Map 3D.

With a few clicks of the mouse, we can produce a drawing and a report displaying assets within the system boundaries that need attention or have surpassed their “useful life.” A report like this is important because it gives the utility a good idea of what areas will need attention before others. This also plays a key role during the budgeting process.    

Figure 1: A snapshot of Welland Hydro’s Distribution System displaying age and condition results after a System Condition Assessment. These assessments are completed every few years as a precaution to ensure that our system reliability remains high. An assessment usually takes 3-4 days.

Outage Management and Analysis

Welland Hydro’s newest project with AutoCAD Map 3D software was implementing a procedure to receive filtered outage and restoration alarms from residential smart meters. The information is then displayed graphically within AutoCAD Map 3D. Because of the software’s versatility, Multispeak is used to direct the alarm traffic into the GIS database, which then displays an alert for every meter without power. Users have a live view of the distribution system and are notified when an outage does happen, all within AutoCAD Map 3D. Cool!

Figure 2: Outages can be viewed on the Internet via AIMS (Autodesk Infrastructure Map Server) and on mobile devices using the Mobile Viewer. The stars indicate an “outage.”

Our line crews in the field have full access to any map, and can view it directly on their truck tablets. The “geo-location” feature is also a handy tool as it gives them a great visual on where the outage is happening, and how to get there in a timely manner. Our Operations department houses two large TV screens which run the outage viewer through the Internet. As the crews work on the outage and start bringing customers back in power, the outage icons on the map will disappear and all of the restorations are logged with a time stamp so we can generate our Outage Statistic Reports for regulatory reporting requirements. Being able to physically visualize the outage makes it much more efficient for the operators to dispatch crews to the right areas.  This ultimately reduces the outage time for the customers and we can visually verify that all customer’s power has been restored.

In the future, Welland Hydro plans to write in an algorithm which will automatically suggest what the problem may be (e.g., transformer, fuse, switch, etc.). This will further enhance the Outage Management System and enhance the SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition) alarm notifications.

Having AutoCAD Map 3D implemented at Welland Hydro has proven to be one of the best engineering and operations investments the utility could have made. With the software’s power and versatility, the sky is the limit with customization and having the program do exactly what you want it to do. And the best part? Being able to modify and customize the program to your company’s taste from your own office at no extra cost.

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