Modeling transforms the gas industry

November 2012 » Features » PROJECT CASE STUDY
Utilities can integrate maps and data to conceptualize ideas, visualize designs, and share information.
Lynda Sharkey

A 3D conceptual model created from existing data informs planning and design and allows users to see what could be within the context of what is. The utilities (storm drain, sanitary sewer, gas, water, and electric) are all shown using the American Public Works Association.

Image: VTN Consulting

 

Project: Utility map and data integration
Owner: Okaloosa Gas District, Florida
Product application:
AutoCAD Map 3D and Autodesk Infrastructure Map Server enhance customer service and infrastructure management.

The value of building information modeling (BIM) has become apparent in many infrastructure projects from roads, rail, water, and even city-wide projects. Now, it is time to take this revolution to gas utilities and transform the industry. First, it is all about transforming the data and making it available for planning, operations, the field, and more. Second, it is about transforming workflows and engaging stakeholders – moving beyond solving problems of the past and challenges of today to transform the way utilities conceptualize ideas, visualize designs, and share information to collaborate on projects.

Founded in 1953 by the Florida State Legislature, Okaloosa Gas District is a major natural gas distribution utility within Florida's Panhandle region. The American Public Gas Association ranks the district 19th in its annual list of the top 100 municipal gas systems in the United States. With 124 employees, the district provides energy to more than 38,000 customers, including several major military installations, over a 400-square-mile service area. The company strives to deliver reliable energy and outstanding customer service.

Since turning to AutoCAD Map 3D and Autodesk Infrastructure Map Server software to help integrate its maps with external systems, the district has been able to accelerate its response to outages – and enhance the way it manages infrastructure data. Using AutoCAD Map 3D and Autodesk Infrastructure Map Server along with Oracle Spatial, the district has been able to:

  • determine which customers have been impacted by an outage in minutes instead of hours with immediate identification of key valve points for repairs;
  • eliminate duplicate data entry as projects move from design to construction to integration with the geographic information system (GIS);
  • improve adherence to the district's engineering standards while supporting diverse approaches to managing drawings and data; and
  • deliver more accurate online maps to customer service and workers in the field using mobile computing

Crews have access to mobile data that allows them to make decisions in the field.
Photo: Okaloosa Gas District

The challenge
At Okaloosa Gas, safety and customer service go hand in hand. The district's participation in the Florida-wide "call before you dig" program is designed to prevent outages and broken lines. With transmission and distribution system maps that are accurate to within just a few feet, the program is largely successful. Accuracy is critical to district operations due to the large volume of existing underground infrastructure and growth in its service area. Unfortunately, line breaks, often caused by outside underground contractors, do happen. In the past, the district relied on a combination of tabular databases and paper maps to help guide outage response.

According to Deeter Smith, GIS administrator for Okaloosa Gas, disconnected processes and outdated maps often slowed response. "We stored much of our connection data in an Access database, and gave field crews paper system maps," she said. "The maps often missed newer customers, making it harder to get them back online after outages. It's also difficult, slow, and error-prone to accomplish traces using paper maps. AutoCAD Map 3D and Autodesk Infrastructure Map Server have allowed us to move away from these time-consuming processes. Our people can focus their energy on responding faster and making rapid repair decisions instead of tracking down information."

The solution
Several years ago, Okaloosa Gas decided that it wanted to use more integrated network data to drive its processes. Information from a number of sources needed to come together on network maps. Some customer information resided in an Access database, and other types of tabular data was stored in a SQL database. The company's spatial data came from a variety of sources, such as from its own maps, local municipalities, and other utilities. The data was also stored in several file formats.

AutoCAD Map 3D software seemed like the best option for helping the utility achieve its goals. The interface was based on AutoCAD, which was already familiar to people within the organization. Designed to work natively with data in multiple formats, AutoCAD Map 3D made it easy to use spatial data in many different file formats. This proved crucial: The district wanted to store its network information in an Oracle Spatial database to facilitate integration with other business systems, and AutoCAD Map 3D was designed to work with Oracle Spatial.

"We looked at a number of solutions," said Jeremy Maines, information technology manager at Okaloosa Gas. "Our decision always came back to being able to easily tie information from multiple databases to our network data. AutoCAD Map 3D software seemed tailor-made for us. It even includes a natural gas data model based on industry standards, so we didn't have to customize the solution for our industry. We just configured AutoCAD Map 3D to support our processes."

Maines added, "We did the vast majority of the implementation in-house, with help and support from Autodesk. This allowed us to get started more cost-effectively, but we're also seeing benefits from the familiarity we gained with AutoCAD Map 3D in the process. We have the knowhow to continuously improve the way we've configured the solution."

Hours to minutes
A recent, minor outage illustrated how accurate information and maps can help restore service to customers faster. A construction contractor hit a 4-inch gas distribution line in a key resort area within the district's service area. The utility responded immediately, with field crews dispatched to the scene.

Employees within engineering immediately ran traces using AutoCAD Map 3D to determine which customers were affected. The trace results allowed rapid generation of a call list for customer service agents in the district's call center. Agents immediately began contacting customers to inform them of the situation. In the event of a larger outage, the AutoCAD Map 3D-generated data is fed into the automated outbound calling capabilities of the district's interactive voice response system. After fixing the break, field crews and service technicians consulted online maps generated by Autodesk Infrastructure Map Server on their wireless laptops to determine affected addresses and to manage restoration of service to the customers' gas appliances.

"Before we implemented AutoCAD Map 3D, getting complete information about customers affected by an outage could take hours," said Smith. "Communicating that information to field crews took time. Now, we can get a fuller picture of an outage in minutes. Customers get a faster response, and they know more about what's happening. AutoCAD Map 3D brings together everything you need to respond – addresses, network maps, and valve locations – so our technicians can get their jobs done faster and customers back in service."

An intersection viewed thru a mobile viewer shows existing underground and above ground utilities overlaying the existing roadway.
Image: VTN Consulting

Accuracy in for accuracy out
The use of AutoCAD Map 3D has helped the district improve the accuracy of its system information. It all begins with system design, which is done using AutoCAD Civil 3D software. As a design solution that includes some AutoCAD Map 3D functionality, AutoCAD Civil 3D eases the integration of maps from other organizations, such as local municipalities or other utilities, into the design process. When projects are complete, Okaloosa Gas can quickly incorporate the designs into AutoCAD Map 3D without duplicate data entry.

"What people don't always understand about AutoCAD Map 3D is that it's a real GIS," said Smith. "It can do the analysis we require, but what's great about the product is the accuracy. In the GIS world, 'accurate' often means within 20 or 30 feet. AutoCAD Map 3D supports the kind of accuracy associated with engineering, where data needs to be accurate within a foot or less."

"System design can go straight from AutoCAD Civil 3D into AutoCAD Map 3D," Maines said. "That reduces the risk of data entry errors. The associated data resides in Oracle, where we can integrate it with information from our other business systems. The accuracy is invaluable, but being able to tie together maps with billing, usage, and equipment data has made so much possible. For instance, even our accounting technicians began using the mapping technology to easily identify the specific location of equipment and accounts for tax reporting purposes."

The result
Having used AutoCAD Map 3D and Autodesk Infrastructure Map Server for several years, Okaloosa Gas District considers it essential to the utility's workflow. "We are definitely saving time and improving productivity with AutoCAD Map 3D, but it's the accuracy that delivers the most value for the district," Smith said. "You can make better decisions and deliver better service when you have accurate information."

Visualizing existing assets in the context of the real world helps to provide enhanced understanding of existing conditions data and improved coordination with internal and external stakeholders supporting "Call Before You Dig", helping to prevent expensive repairs or relocation projects, and better supporting safety.

 

Multiple stakeholders have access to information, and views can be set up to specific business needs of each team. The construction teams can view information necessary to complete their tasks more easily such as material types for regulators, valves, pipes, fittings, and more. Image: Okaloosa Gas District

By turning existing CAD, GIS, and building models into 3D representations of existing conditions, teams can understand, analyse, and visualize what exists much better than 2D design drawings and maps. Early access to the rich information in the models can help more people on project teams gain insight into the project more quickly and easily. As a result, more-informed decisions can occur much earlier in the planning, design, and construction process – when decisions can have the greatest impact on project cost, schedule, and sustainability. That improved efficiency will reduce project costs and risks, but more importantly, the intelligence behind the planning and design can result in improved safety and reliability.

Lynda Sharkey is technical marketing manager for utilities at Autodesk. She has been working in the geospatial arena for several years and applies the capabilities of the solutions in the Autodesk Infrastructure Design Suite to infrastructure planning, utilities, conceptual design, and sustainability workflows. She can be contacted at lynda.sharkey@autodesk.com.

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