Developing and Maintaining Plants Using 3D Visualization

David Appleyard

Sophisticated industrial facilities like power plants are increasingly turning to 3D visualization techniques to streamline plant operations and maintenance over the asset life cycle.

Power stations are becoming more modular in concept, as developers look to reduce costly and less-predictable onsite operations. Opting instead to produce large modules that are assembled onsite—using high-fidelity, immersive 3D visualization—designers and developers can reveal potential clashes and conflicts during the construction and installation process. This can help asset managers ensure the site work runs smoothly, sometimes before it even starts.

However, 3D visualization can aid far more than plant development. It can also save plant managers time and money when it comes to system upgrades and even ongoing power plant maintenance programs.

Designing Plants for Maintainability

One key attribute for successful power plant design is maintainability. Given that any outage or fall in performance potentially represents a major daily loss, power plant owners and operators require facilities that are designed to be built with technical precision and easily maintained.

For instance, asset owners and operators may specify that any maintenance outage must be feasibly completed in three days or fewer when devising plant design requirements. Therefore, the design process needs to ensure limited downtime and account for customer demand.

Experience from servicing teams can play a big role during the design through 3D visualization processes. As Andreas Locher, the global head of commissioning at GE, explains in an interview with Transform: "When we have new developments, new products, or new designs, the services team is always a part of the constructability review meetings. They verify that their needs are considered in the right manner and we look at 3D models as part of that."

Another part of this toolkit supports outage processes. For example, major plant outages demand some area to lay down larger components and modules. 3D modeling can simulate such factors to help ensure the outage runs smoothly and the repair team meets maintenance scheme targets.

Preparing for a More Flexible Future

A more involved and thoughtful design process enabled by 3D simulations can also aid plant longevity. Given that a typical power plant can run for 25 years or more, power plant asset owners must consider not just current, but also long-term trends. The need for flexibility and the capability to respond to changing circumstances has never been greater in the power business. In the near future, more stringent emissions control legislation or changing grid code requirements may inform investment decisions and operating regimes.

Again, 3D visualization can support future planning by helping plant designers simulate these trends, and account for them during development. Utilizing the technology can help ensure the right options remain open to asset owners to anticipate future needs. These needs will likely include renewable balancing, ancillary services provisioning, and even reserve capacity from onsite energy storage technologies.

As Francois Droux, NPI Technology manager at GE, observes in an interview with Transform: "There is no legal requirement for batteries, but they can help a customer who is considering future development of the grid to have some reserve capacity, which could be—at a certain point in time—a good asset."

Integrating Data With the Digital Plant

More sophisticated 3D visualization tools also allow related-data coupling within 3D models of power plants. Here, all of the data and associated documentation about any component is introduced into the 3D-modeling software. Asset owners and operators update and modify the related data as maintenance takes place or components are replaced, for example, painting a precise, real-time picture of the condition of any element.

OEMs have vast quantities of engineering data on major equipment like gas turbines, generators, steam turbines, HRSGs, condensers, and so on. In certain cases, supply chain manufacturers or suppliers are required to provide source data in a compatible format to asset owners. For brownfield retrofit applications, plant owners and OEM designers may supplement design data with LIDAR scanning or imagery from drones in order to retrieve a 3D model from an existing asset.

Reducing the Levelized Cost of Energy

3D visualization enables refined designs that support both construction and installation, as well as ongoing maintenance and even future planning.

Real-world simulations are helping accelerate field repairs and reduce outage times. They're improving availability figures while ensuring that access, suitable lay-down areas, crane capacity, and a host of other parameters are sufficient to achieve key performance targets.

All of these factors have an impact on the lifetime cost of energy and therefore benefit both power consumers and the owners and operators of the generating plant. Bringing 3D modeling and simulation to the power business ensures asset managers can deliver real-world gains.


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