Bentley Systems Consolidates Utility Design and Management in New Application

17 Jul, 2013 By: Cyrena Respini-Irwin

With Bentley Utilities Designer, customers can access network design, cost estimation, and GIS capabilities in one software solution.

At the end of June, Bentley Systems released Bentley Utilities Designer, a multifaceted application for electric, gas, water, and wastewater utility networks. Combining intelligent CAD-based design, geographic information system (GIS), and cost estimation tools in one package, the new release is designed to simplify software portfolios and streamline workflows. "It provides comprehensive network design and management for utility owner–operators," said Victor Alvarez, Bentley's senior product marketing manager.

Expanding on a Familiar Foundation

The developers of Bentley Utilities Designer sought to improve workflows by consolidating existing tools, including MicroStation (an information modeling environment for infrastructure projects) and Bentley Map (a 3D GIS). "[They] looked at previous utility design offerings, rolled [multiple] products into one application, and extended the capabilities further," said Alvarez. The new product is not a replacement for MicroStation, he noted, but rather a utility-specific design product that packages intelligent CAD-based design and GIS into a single application, with a single license.

In addition, this release includes wastewater network design capabilities for the first time. Previously, the Bentley Systems portfolio offered wastewater network analysis, but the ability to design the layout and connections for all components of the network is new, said Alvarez.

GIS Flexibility

When it comes to GIS capabilities, Bentley Utilities Designer offers customers a choice: For those who opt not to use the built-in, utility-specific GIS, the software integrates with commonly deployed enterprise GISs. "It really comes down to where the utilities are at with their enterprise GIS investment," said Alvarez, noting that some organizations have sunk significant resources into their existing systems. "If [the legacy systems] are working well, there may not be enough reason to swap those out."

Although many GIS applications have design capabilities, "those systems can sometimes be a little bit difficult, because at their heart they are a GIS system," said Alvarez. "A GIS-based solution can only go so far in satisfying designers and what they need." Bentley Utilities Designer, he explained, enables designers to work more quickly because it is CAD-based. "[We asked ourselves,] what are the tools and functionalities we need to provide so it doesn't take designers half an hour to offset a gas line from the curb by ten feet?" Designers prefer to work in an intelligent CAD-based drafting environment, he continued, instead of a GIS environment that has been adapted for design.

Bentley Utilities Designer features a built-in GIS designed for utilities. Click image to enlarge.

Mike Horsfall, Bentley's technical manager, pointed out an additional benefit. Bentley Utilities Designer can reference a wide variety of materials for GIS use: a drawing from an engineering company, a PDF map of a subdivision, aerial photographs, etc. "The list of formats we can read is huge ... even if somebody drew something in [Trimble] SketchUp, we can reference that in," Horsfall explained.

Utility personnel can access GIS data in the field via the recently released Bentley Map Mobile app. The free app currently supports only Android-based devices, but versions for the iPad and Windows 8 will soon be available.


Faster Costing, Better Workflows

Estimating project costs is a necessity, but it can be a very time-consuming task. To mitigate that impact, Bentley Utilities Designer incorporates costing into the design environment. "Each design decision the designer makes, there's a cost ramification that's calculated and presented to them ... it's immediate feedback," said Alvarez. This on-the-fly estimation is faster and easier, he explained, than pushing a design into an enterprise resource planning or work management system, performing the costing, then returning it to the designer — a process that could take days or even weeks.

It's also much more accurate, added Horsfall, because when Bentley Utilities Designer is integrated with a work management system such as Maximo or SAP, every design element has a cost and installation time assigned to it. This eliminates the laborious process wherein a user will draw a design in a CAD program, manually count the network elements in question (such as utility poles), look up the cost of each item in a spreadsheet, then recreate the CAD drawing in a separate GIS. Bentley Utilities Designer enables a far less manual — and therefore, less error-prone — workflow, said Horsfall: "Drag and drop these poles, integrate with your work management system, and push the design to GIS."

With integrated cost estimation, users receive immediate feedback about the costs associated with various design decisions. Click image to enlarge.

Benefits of Consolidation

Reducing the number of software products a utility uses can reduce costs; simplify training, deployment, and maintenance; and streamline integration with enterprise work management systems. "[Bentley Utilities Designer provides] simplification of the software portfolio by rolling all these capabilities into a single software application," said Alvarez. "You now have a single connection point ... you're making one interface between Bentley Utilities Designer and your enterprise resource planning system, for instance."

Alvarez noted that efficiency gains are even greater for multi-utilities (such as those that provide both electric and gas services): When each discipline uses a different design app, that creates silos of information trapped within those disciplines. And in large utilities, the design of the network may be divided among multiple design houses or locations. A single platform for these entities to perform all their design and management yields greater quality and consistency across the utility, he affirmed.

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