Having been involved with various plant design software packages over the years, and watching the evolution of new platforms, features, buzzwords, etc., I constantly wonder “What’s next?” Over the years we’ve seen ADev Pro-Pipe and EDA Designer merge into Rebis AutoPlant, only next to be purchased by Bentley. CADCentre became AVEVA, PDS being outmoded and SmartPlant moving to the forefront. Recently, Intergraph purchased Coade and made a lot of CADWorx users very nervous. I won’t even go into the “Where are they now?” file populated by 4Front, UHP Process, CEA International, CADPipe, et al. Now Autodesk is making waves with its AutoCAD Plant 3D suite in an already tumultuous marketplace.
So as a plant software administrator, how do you know what to plan for? I imagine if you’re heavily invested in time (customization, training, and implementation) and money on one or more plant design platforms, the last thing you want to do is think about throwing it all out for the next big thing! And what will that be? That’s currently where I am at. A lot of talk is centered around legacy data. If you have gigabytes of data in PDS data, for example, do you even consider anymore whether it is state of the art enough to work for future projects? Does the inertia of existing data outweigh the new capabilities being marketed by the leading software vendors out there?
I know this is alot to consider, and I am asking many questions without offering any answers. We can pretty much be assured that converting data (drawings, models, databases, etc.) from one platform to another is not going to be easy. It gets even worse if you switch vendors – you might as well plan on doing most data conversion yourself or via a consultant. This seems like a great business opportunity for someone with the right timing and skills.
Next question: does ISO 15926 solve any of this? In theory, yes. However, without owner/operators (the primary stakeholders in existing plant data) making a big push for this standard to be implemented by their contract engineering firms we won’t see any movement towards this in the near future (in my humble opinion). When (and more realistically “if”) the demand for ISO 15926-compliant plant software gains strength the major players in plant design software will have to begin adhering to that standard or be left on their own island. Bentley is currently banking on this scenario.
So if we agree that the major players (in no particular order) are AVEVA, Intergraph and Bentley – with Autodesk recently showing a strong interest – then I guess this is the bracket to watch. (Note: if I’ve missed anybody on this list chalk it up to my own regional myopia.) Despite (or due to) the recent economic downturn worldwide, engineering firms are looking at more efficient, effective ways to execute plant engineering and design projects. Innovation tends to favor those companies who are actively listening to the marketplace, have forward-thinking experts in their corner and are well positioned financially. Albeit there is ALOT of existing plant data out there waiting to be converted, linked and utilized by whomever decides to make that part of their software mission. That said, I think the days of proprietary, locked down plant design systems are numbered. The winners will be the ones with the not only the coolest software but also the best tools for integrating existing plant data into their software at runtime. Let me know your comments, as I am interested in hearing your thoughts about this.