3D Modeling, Iterative Design and Collaboration Deliver Efficiency for Pipeline Owners and Operators

Pipeline design team works on a 3D model

As part of their collaborative design process, Team Leader Rob Johnson (right) reviews the 3D model of a pipeline facility project with engineering technicians Mike Pohl (left) and Adam Schwartz (center).

MEC’s pipeline design team knows there is almost always more than one way to get from point A to point B. For them, the challenge is getting from A to B while minimizing bends, welds and material costs to deliver the most effective solution with the greatest operational efficiency.

As McClure Engineering Company’s (MEC) team leader of pipelines and facilities, Rob Johnson oversees the design of linear pipelines, compressor stations, valve assemblies and liquid handling facilities for pipeline owners and operators. The design team’s process focuses on multiple iterations, interactive 3D design review sessions and collaboration to find the most efficient and economical way to move a client’s product through the pipeline.

“A lot of times, our clients know where they want to go, but getting there is a process of discovery,” Johnson said. “We try to work ahead by identifying, laying out and modeling multiple scenarios before presenting the best possible solutions to the client. We invest a little more of our time and effort early in the design phase to ensure they have a design that best suits their needs.”

For a recent pipeline facility expansion project, Johnson’s team was asked to tie into an elevated pipe network, then immediately route the new piping and valves to the ground level before tying into the new equipment. When the team designed the project, they initially designed according to the client’s request; however, they also designed an alternate concept that used access platforms and kept the new pipe network and valves elevated before tying into the new equipment.

“Ultimately, site conditions dictated the final design,” said Johnson. “The second design made more sense economically and from an operations perspective, but the only way to be sure was to design it both ways.”

Following the design, the team holds a 3D design review session with their client, where the team presents the design options and 3D models of the project. During the review, the clients view their options, provide feedback and make modifications before choosing the design that works best for them.

“We model the facilities so we can pull it up on the screen and walk our client through the pieces of the puzzle that we are putting together in the 3D environment,” said Mike Pohl, engineering technician for pipeline design services. “We can change views and make adjustments on the fly, which really allows us to bring the designs to life for the client.”

Another way that Johnson’s team works to increase efficiency for their clients is through collaboration across departments and disciplines within MEC.

“With an integrated, in-house survey team working alongside us on a project, we have access to information without having to request it from the owner or another third party that could add time to the process,” added Pohl. “I can make a phone call to one of our survey crew chiefs and get the information needed to quickly move the project forward.”

In addition to surveyors, MEC;s staff includes structural, mechanical, electrical and civil engineers, which ensures the design process provides fully engineered solutions that clients can review and approve more quickly.

Recently, when working on a compressor station facility in the Marcellus-Utica basin, the pipeline design team identified an issue during plan review where there were unsupported 8-inch pipes, 9 feet above the ground connecting two pieces of equipment. Going underground was not an option and the support for the pipe could not interfere with the foundation of the equipment already in place. It was a challenge the structural engineering team was able to solve.

“It’s great having the structural team assist with the foundations and supports for the pipeline facilities we are designing,” said Adam Schwartz, engineering technician for pipeline design services. “They are able to approach the problems from a different perspective and use their expertise to add to our collective design knowledge.”

In the final steps of their plan designs, the team completes a set of peer reviews and the plans are reviewed by quality control professionals prior to being sent to the client.

“No two projects are the same, and I enjoy helping our clients navigate each project’s unique challenges,” said Pohl. “The interactive design, 3D model reviews and peer reviews are also a great way for us to stay on top of our game. It seems like I always learn something I can use on the next project.”

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