For months, AVEVA has been blanketing the virtual airwaves with messaging around its new plant design product, dubbed “the future of plant design” or FoPD for short. Many users were at AVEVA World Summit last week in Paris to take back answers to: Would FoPD replace PDMS? How will it tie into AVEVA’s “digital backbone”? Most important: would the PDMS cats, specs and models built up over decades continue to be usable?

CEO Richard Longdon started things off with a summary of AVEVA’s first 45 years of operation but didn’t tease the crowd for long. Telling the audience that AVEVA has invested millions of pounds in FoPD, he showed a short video (I think it’s this one) and unveiled the new name: Everything 3D, abbreviated E3D. It was so British: the company invests majorly in R&D over several years and more in marketing leading up to the launch — and the result is a 30 second video. PTC, in true American fashion, rented out a castle-like building, built a cage and hired actors to break out of “CAD jail” when it introduced its new product a couple of years ago. I kind of liked the jail thing, but agree that AVEVA knows its audience: a little build-up adds spice, but designing plants and ships is serious business and they want to see a demo, please. Now.

AVEVA obliged, with a large crew on hand to do demos and answer questions. I sat in on the first E3D deep dive, a couple of hours after the unveiling, and was impressed by the following:

  • AVEVA has done a great job on E3D’s user interface. It’s modern, light, has a clean layout and some very nice customization and control features, all designed to reduce clicks and mouse movement. One of the claims AVEVA is making about E3D is that it is more efficient to use — it’s early days so we can’t really confirm that yet — but the task-based user interface will enable users to quickly get up to speed.
  • The UI also includes some very nice features that should make data reuse much easier. Users can search with lots of different criteria, displaying and hiding apparently at will.
  • The visualization is very realistic for a CAD model. Almost every demo combined laser scan data (in color, looking like a pipe, tank or structural element) with the CAD model. We take hidden line removal for granted today, but AVEVA has figured out a way to shade edges so that the model is life-like without sacrificing performance.
  • Speeding design tasks is also a big part of E3D. Pipe routing, structures and hangers were prominent in the demos, as was, for some reason, handrail design. The December release of E3D will include a handrail wizard that will make this dreaded task easier, leading to safer and more compliant plants.
  • E3D integrates laser scan point clouds and CAD data with the goal of including as-constructed data in the modeling process. The idea makes a huge amount of sense and the audience at AVEVA World was very receptive, with full houses for the construction-focused presentations.
  • Perhaps the single most popular stand in the exhibition hall featured a 60-something inch tablet, on which users could interact with E3D models. It was a magnet, attracting people who rotated, zoomed and walked through the 3D model and interrogated its live database for related data. AVEVA didn’t specify when its tablet app would be available, other than to say “soon”.
  • But it’s not all 3D. E3D includes some very interesting drawing production features, like dragging a 3D model onto a drawing and then specifying section views and adding annotations and dimensions.

You’re all dying to know, so here are answers to the questions you tweeted and emailed during the event:

  • AVEVA PDMS and E3D are designed to work side-by-side on projects, so some piping designers could be using E3D and others, PDMS. Yes, on the same project.
  • Migration from PDMS 12.1 will be “out of the box”
  • User-created templates will be brought forward into E3D
  • The first release of E3D will be in December 2012
  • AVEVA is sticking to its core values of multi-discipline collaboration and openness with E3D, so users should see no backwards slippage
  • PDMS will continue in maintenance releases every 12-18 months
  • AVEVA needed to build E3D to take advantage of new and acquired technology — only so much can be bolted onto PDMS
  • E3D includes detailing and design, creating fabrication documents, integrating laser scan point clouds (and probably more that I didn’t catch) on the engineering side but also the ability to check scan data against the model to verify construction
  • Pricing: “check with your sales team”.

But it wasn’t all AVEVA E3D, all the time. The attendees are still using PDMS very productively and showed off some remarkable projects. In all, the quality of the presentations was very, very high and I hope to write about them when there’s time. It was interesting to note that many of the user presenters were a bit wistful about PDMS, saying things like “I guess PDMS is old now”.

One update from last year. If you remember, Statoil and AVEVA announced that they were working on a direct translation mechanism between Intergraph’s PDS and AVEVA’s PDMS. The goal is to cut the time to do a conversion from months to days/weeks while improving the quality of the output models. AVEVA said that this converter is available now on a project basis.

This AVEVA World was a big deal for AVEVA and its customers. After months of teasing, AVEVA could have underwhelmed its audience now, or oversold and under-delivered later. I think AVEVA got it just right: They acknowledged that it’s not possible to keep bolting acquired and new technologies onto PDMS, and figured out how to create a new 3D product that is familiar enough to be comforting yet new enough to be attractive. The ability to use PDMS 12.1 and E3D at the same time, in the same model, is huge. It means that projects can transition relatively seamlessly from PDMS to E3D, and training issues should be mitigated by the usability improvements in E3D. Of course, this is all theory right now — until early adopters have some experiences to share — but the users at AVEVA World were all itching to get at it and try out E3D. By the end of the first day, most were talking about “when” not “if”. That’s a very good sign.

Note: AVEVA graciously covered expenses and registration for the event but did not in any way influence the content of this post.