Well Done

6 Sep, 2005 By: Arnie Williams

3D design transforms offshore oil field equipment design

When you think of the ravages of nature that offshore oil field equipment must endure, you realize that much thought and engineering science go into the design and manufacture of this equipment. The forces that must be withstood, both above and below the surface of water; the pressure tolerance of deep wells; the importance of pipeline integrity — all these factors require the most up-to-date engineering knowledge. But this industry, like any other, also faces the demand to bring products to market sooner, at higher quality, and with little time for any rework necessitated by design inefficiencies.

Traditionally, offshore oil field equipment design has been the province of 2D, with AutoCAD the software of choice. More recently, however, the industry in general has been migrating to the design efficiencies of 3D. A number of companies, such as National Oilwell Varco and Andergauge, have opted for the short learning curve and design efficiencies of SolidWorks and its companion product for design analysis, COSMOS. These companies have moved to 3D for reasons that are becoming a common litany among designers of such heavy-duty equipment: the need to design better products faster.

Slicing Through Development Time

When National Oilwell’s Scotland and U.S. divisions decided to move from AutoCAD 2D to SolidWorks Professional Office 3D software, the company aimed to minimize errors and speed time to market. The Scotland-based pipelay division develops heavy-duty machinery used to lay pipeline that weights as much as 270 tons. The machinery often has to lift pipes from a mile below the ocean’s surface onto giant powered reefs positioned on large ships. This division also designs and manufactures equipment used to straighten pipelines, tensioners to lay and recover pipe, winches to work with well heads and pipeline termination assemblies, and other vital equipment.

In the year that National Oilwell has used SolidWorks, the company has realized its efficiency goals. “We don’t tend to do a lot of prototyping,” says engineering manager Alexander Carslaw. “We go straight from requirement to product, so it must be right the first time. SolidWorks lets us try ideas on-screen and catch part interferences before metal is cut and welded.” The company reports it has cut development time by 30% in the move to 3D and SolidWorks.

Tapping the Rewards of Physical Simulation

Aberdeen, Scotland-based Andergauge has been an early advocate of the advantages of 3D design. The company was the first to develop downhole adjustable gauge stabilizers, which allow the control of well inclination thousands of feet below the seabed. The company moved from AutoCAD 2D to Mechanical Desktop and then Autodesk Inventor at first. But Andergauge later switched to SolidWorks when it found that software to be a better choice, proving itself stable even as designs became very complex as well as offering the functionality that the company requires.

“Our design challenge is relatively straightforward,” says engineering manager Alastair Macfarlane. “We need to develop tools that are capable of drilling longer, further and more efficiently in increasingly hostile environments. SolidWorks’ physical simulation capabilities help us correct part interference and other critical problems before manufacturing begins, saving days of potentially costly rework or scrap.”

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