AutoCAD P&ID 2009 (Cadalyst Labs Review)2 Feb, 2009 By: Robert Green
Piping design software emulates traditional work processes instead of CAD facsimiles.
With all the buzz about 3D design, digital simulation, animation, and design analysis, it seems that critical 2D CAD drawings such as electrical schematics and process and instrumentation diagrams (P&IDs) have been forgotten. No more. With the 2009 release of AutoCAD P&ID, Autodesk has refined the features of this relatively new product and made it more usable and production capable.
Figure 1. Built on AutoCAD 2009, AutoCAD P&ID includes custom palettes for symbol libraries (right) and a project navigation window (top left) to allow navigation of document sets.
When you first launch AutoCAD P&ID, you notice the familiar AutoCAD interface — with a few twists (figure 1). AutoCAD users will feel at home immediately and won't have to spend any time acclimating to the tool. The layout utilizes the Project Manager along the left side (similar to other AutoCAD Desktop software modules) for navigation through the various sheets that comprise the P&ID document package, a graphical sheet browser at left bottom, and a symbol catalog tool palette along the right-hand side. When used with a wide-format monitor, this default layout yields plenty of drawing room while giving users the tools they most commonly need to create P&ID sheets.
To get started working with AutoCAD P&ID, you'll need to study the P&ID standard toolbar (figure 2), which can be loosely categorized in the following groupings (note the vertical separators in the toolbars that define the function groupings):
Figure 2. The standard P&ID 2009 toolbar contains almost everything you need to work in the software in one neat, clean interface.
- 1. Line tools. Functions for creating and editing process lines.
- 2. Line group tools. Functions for creating and editing related groups of process lines.
- 3. Project management tools. Project Manager, Data Manager, and validation tools.
- 4. Annotation tools. Text leader, equipment tagging, and block symbol editing tools.
The process of drawing in AutoCAD P&ID is literally that of dragging components (from the included libraries mentioned in the following section) from tool palettes and connecting them with process piping lines. The process is controlled graphically using AutoCAD's grid-and-snap parameters to keep everything centered and uniformly spaced. As you lay out the basic P&ID, you can be blissfully unaware of the data that is being built up for you — more on that later.
If you've ever labored through creating P&ID documentation manually, you've probably had to create your own block libraries or have tried to find some. With P&ID 2009, you'll get Process Industry Practices (PIP), Instrument Society of America (ISA), and International Standards Organization/Deutsches Institut für Normung (ISO/DIN) libraries that you can choose from at installation time (see right-hand side of figure 1 as an example).
AutoCAD P&ID 2009
So if you work for a large multinational firm that is doing business in Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States you'd simply install all the included symbol libraries and you'd be ready to work on anything. If your work is confined to a single country, just install the appropriate symbol libraries to conserve disk space.
To insert symbols into your drawing, simply drag and drop from the tool palettes and your drawing starts to populate and your equipment list is built for you (more on that in the Data Manager section below). You don't have to think about block names, file folders, proper attributes, or entering anything into a database to build a drawing. A word to the wise: Don't forget to leave your grid and snaps turned on; all your process lines will center on your equipment later.
When you think about how long it would take to create your own libraries of attributed piping symbols and integrate them into database tables, it's easy to see that the increased cost of P&ID compared with conventional AutoCAD ($4,995 as opposed to $3,995) is well justified. In fact, I think P&ID is a bargain for what it does.
It's All About Data
Of course P&ID software wouldn't be worth much if it couldn't build equipment, tag, and line lists for reporting to the field and building material lists, right? That's where the Data Manager module comes into play. The key to understanding the Data Manager is to remember that every object in the drawing has an equipment/tag number that acts as a database identifier and allows the Data Manager to keep track of everything else about the object. The Data Manager typically displays along the bottom of the screen (figure 3) when needed and simply toggles off when performing non-data functions.
Figure 3. Data Manager (bottom) allows easy browsing, data mining, and viewing of components in a consolidated interface.
The data managed by the Data Manager is contained in a project file (see upper left of the Data Manager in figure 3), which allows it to function as the project database file. Everything you'd ever want to know about any equipment in any drawing is accessed via the Data Manager's columnar interface on the right side, while locating the basic equipment types (nozzles, valves, or instruments) is accomplished using the data browser along the left.
Finally, you can use Data Manager as an intelligent viewer by clicking next to the component you wish to locate in the left-most magnifying glass column to the left of the equipment tag. After you click, the appropriate drawing loads and a zoom executes to take you to the correct view. (Figure 3 shows a zoom view of the instrument tag HS 10102.) Pretty simple and pretty powerful!
Annotation and More Data
No drawing is ever complete without annotation. And although architectural and mechanical drawings may have linear dimensions as their annotation, P&ID drawings are all about tags, loop numbers, and descriptions. Interestingly enough, all these pieces of information exist in the Data Manager application, so you might think there would be a link between the two.
The Data Manager actually does facilitate annotation by allowing you to drag and drop any data from it to the drawing for automatically scaled text annotation. And don't worry where the annotation should be on the drawing because the text will automatically locate itself near the corresponding equipment while AutoCAD highlights the equipment in question (figure 4). As long as you ensure you have the right data in the Data Manager, AutoCAD P&ID will take care of the rest.
Figure 4. Any Data Manager field can be used to drag and drop annotation to the drawing screen with automatic equipment location.
It Speaks Piping
One thing that stands out about AutoCAD P&ID 2009 is that it "speaks piping" throughout the drawing and annotative process. As an example, it uses schematic lines to describe process pipes (not AutoCAD lines or polylines) and annotation and tagging processes instead of AutoCAD's Dimension or Attribute functions. For those who understand piping, it's refreshing to work with a software tool that actually seems as if it were programmed by somebody who understands piping instead of a CADophile who expects users to learn a new command vocabulary.
This attention to emulating the traditional work processes of P&ID tasks makes the learning process easier — and almost fun — and will translate into shorter training classes and implementation time frames for piping designers and controls engineers alike. It's clear to me that the development team for this product spent some time in the trenches with the actual process-and-controls personnel who will use the software — something I wish could say about all CAD software.
Plain Vanilla Technology
Any new software means a learning curve for users, but P&ID software has traditionally involved complex databases that have required substantial IT support and client/server SQL or Oracle databases to function. Sometimes, this complex IT effort has driven up the price of implementation and vetoed more complex P&ID software options.
AutoCAD P&ID gets around these problems by using standard Microsoft Office technology such as Excel (via XLS or CSV files) as an import/export source for equipment lists and XML data files to drive the Project Manager and equipment databases. And because almost everybody already has a copy of Excel, chances are excellent that it will work for anyone on your extended engineering team without having to invest in additional new software. As an option, an open API allows custom use of data with an external database.
Worth the Upcharge
AutoCAD P&ID 2009 does what a well-designed piece of software should do: It makes the difficult look easy. With its clean screen appearance, minimal feature set, familiar AutoCAD commands, and right click–driven object editing, users can be up and running with little training.
And with minimal training time required and no IT hassles, implementation time frames are reasonable and costs are low. Throw in the multinational symbol libraries, and you've got a well-planned application that easily justifies the upcharge from plain vanilla AutoCAD. Highly Recommended.
Robert Green performs CAD programming and consulting throughout the United States and Canada. His book, Expert CAD Management: The Complete Guide is now available. Reach him via his web site at www.cad-manager.com.