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Creating and Configuring AutoCAD Plant 3D Projects

Mike Musgrave – SSOE Group

Class Description
AutoCAD Plant 3D is a robust tool used by piping designers to create the piping, equipment,
and structure for their 3D plant designs. Adapting the platform to meet your needs is critical to
successfully integrating it into a project and to do that, forethought and planning are required.
There are a number of items to consider during this planning phase. In this class, we’ll first look
at the user base and where they are located. The use scenarios lead into a discussion on
workshare in AutoCAD Plant 3D and infrastructure requirements. We’ll look at local projects, the
Autodesk Vault, and virtual machine technologies. Next, we’ll switch gears and turn towards
creating an actual project. We’ll look at the configuration options and how to separate core
project information from the deliverables. We’ll also touch on how to use permissions to control
access and project integrity. Finally, we’ll discuss how to use an AutoCAD Plant 3D project as a
template and some best practices for maintaining it at a high quality. The knowledge that you
glean from this class will allow you to build the AutoCAD Plant 3D environment that suits your
needs and hit the ground running on your next plant design project.

Learning Objectives
At the end of this class, you will be able to:
 Identify the type of database required for a given Plant 3D project
 Explain various methods of workshare on Plant 3D projects
 Understand the importance of a project template
 Utilize project setup to configure a Plant 3D project

About the Speaker
Mike Musgrave is a VDC Technical Leader at SSOE Group, a global engineering, procurement,
and construction management firm. With a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science from the
University of Toledo, he is a programmer by education that has developed a wide-ranging CAD
skill set over the past 10 years. At present, Mike’s key focus is on managing technology at the
project level by tailoring hardware, education, and training for users based on the client’s needs
to make them successful. He is well-versed in everything from AutoCAD, AutoCAD Plant 3D,
Revit, NavisWorks, Inventor, and ReCap to offerings from Bentley, Intergraph, and PTC, but is
always looking out for the next big thing. Mike currently work’s in SSOE’s global headquarters in
Toledo, Ohio.

you should still take care to do things right. This makes SQLite-based projects good only on small projects where a single user will be doing all of the work. Building the Proper Environment for Workshare Whether your project team consists of three people in a single office or 100 people scattered across multiple states and continents. The pitfall with SQLite is the change mechanism. While the file is locked it prevents any other users from making changes at that time. etc. As with most CAD software it runs great out of the box. Creating and Configuring AutoCAD Plant 3D Projects AutoCAD Plant 3D Autodesk’s AutoCAD Plant 3D software is a powerful CAD tool that enables spec-driven process piping design in the AutoCAD environment that is familiar to many users. In order to commit a change to a record the entire file must be locked by the user making the change. it can cause conflicts when two or more users are trying to work on the same project at the same time. and reliable which makes it ideal for use with simple Plant 3D projects. workstation-based SQLite AutoCAD Plant 3D project. Each project has a database at its core and every time an object is placed or modified. Notice that only a workstation is needed since the files and database are stored on the local drive. A Plant 3D project environment is no different. like in Figure 1. It is not an enterprise grade client-server database. Enabling proper communication with the database is key so the main variables behind choosing a scenario are the number of users on the project and where they are physically located. a drawing is created. There are few different project setup scenarios available when creating Plant 3D projects. where they apply. fast. but to use it in the most effective manner possible for your company. Projects with a Single User The first scenario is the out-of-the-box setup which uses SQLite as the project database. communication occurs between the user’s workstation and the project database. nor is it meant to be. It is simple. performing at a high level and completing a successful project involves lots of communication from top to bottom and at every step in between. is a poor solution for production work due 2 . and the infrastructure requirements. several items must be given proper consideration. Ideally. No server or network infrastructure is required. Figure 1 on page 3. lightweight. Hosting a project locally. uses the widely known SQL syntax. shows the topology of a local. SQLite is an embedded relational database that is versatile. single user project fits your needs. This class will take a look at those items and provide guidance to help get you on your way to successfully using AutoCAD Plant 3D in your business. Even though the file lock is only held for a short period of time. In the event that a local. They serve as a great way to do initial investigation of new workflows or to troubleshoot problems that users encounter on their projects.. local projects based on the SQLite database should only be used for testing purposes. and requires zero-configuration to use. settings are changed. Let’s take a look at the various scenarios.

the benefits of backing up the data outweigh potential issues and make it worthwhile. The file store should be on the same LAN (Local Area Network) as the user. rather than on a WAN (Wide Area Network) storage location. shows the recommended configuration for a single-user. No plan is fool-proof so network latency and outages can cause problems. LAN speeds are usually much higher than WAN speeds on a company network. Figure 2. FIGURE 2: SINGLE USER PROJECT ON NETWORK 3 . FIGURE 1: SINGLE USER PROJECT ON WORKSTATION A better solution is to host the project on a frequently backed up file store. SQLite-based Plant 3D project. or WAN outage and keeps the software operating as fast as possible. below. At a minimum the data should be backed up to an external drive or to a network location on a regular basis. Data resides on a network file server and is accessed over the LAN by a user’s workstation. This prevents a total loss of data due to a failed hard drive. power failure. Creating and Configuring AutoCAD Plant 3D Projects to the high risk of losing data. accidental deletion.

SQL Server is a relational database system. Projects with Multiple Users Projects are typically going to have multiple users at some point during their lifetime which means the ability to work simultaneously is a major concern. as shown in Figure 3. Creating and Configuring AutoCAD Plant 3D Projects Based on my experiences. However. workflow testing. Centralized Projects The first setup scenario involves centralizing the database and file stores. Server one is a database server running Microsoft SQL Server and server two is a separate file server. There are multiple ways to accomplish this setup. The simplest involves two servers in your IT data center. and troubleshooting problems are all great examples of when to use this type of project. Local users access the project over the LAN while remote users communicate over the WAN. Workspace development. The single user limitation is too great to bear in most cases. I highly recommend SQLite-based projects for other purposes. FIGURE 3: MULTI-USER PROJECT. I do not recommend using SQLite projects for production work. With Plant 3D the concern goes beyond breaking up the work into multiple files and extends to the database level. Most projects encounter a time period where multiple designers are needed to complete the work. Plant 3D also supports using Microsoft SQL Server as the project database for this reason. Both servers should have backup protocols in place to prevent major data loss. The Plant 3D projects are created on the file server and the database is built in the SQL environment. Every multi-user setup that follows uses Microsoft SQL Server as the central database for a Plant 3D project. CENTRAL DB AND FILE STORAGE 4 . Like SQLite. but it is enterprise grade and can handle multiple users with ease.

even if the WAN connection drops. With this setup. The VM system that they are doing the actual work on resides in the data center on the company LAN. Second. They can simply reconnect to the VM when the WAN connection resumes and pick up where they left off. There may also be additional software licensing and costs to improve bandwidth between the central and remote offices to handle the VM data streams alongside normal network traffic. as shown below in Figure 4. robust network on the inside (LAN) and outside (WAN). the only data being pushed over the WAN is the screen data between the VM and the user’s workstation. The WAN can be abstracted from the setup by adding a virtual machine (VM) environment to the mix. but as with anything hosted on the network. fully configured CAD VM environments are not cheap. Creating and Configuring AutoCAD Plant 3D Projects This is the most basic configuration and is the easiest to set up. there is no protection from internal network outages. CENTRAL DB AND FILE STORAGE WITH VM’S As with the previous setups this one still has flaws. First. then this will minimize any of these issues. memory. the user’s data is safe. issues with lost data can occur when the network experiences downtime or high latency. Virtual Machines With the centralized database and file server method. CPU. When configured correctly VM performance is nearly identical to a high-end 3D workstation. Remote users connect to the VM system that is located in the main office. The servers are atypical and require hefty amounts of storage. and GPU resources. FIGURE 4: MULTI-USER PROJECT. When they do this. 5 . the WAN is going to be the weakest link in the chain. If you have a fast.

Since LAN speeds are typically much faster than WAN speeds. so the wait times during file transfers from the Vault are minimized. Central Plant 3D Project Database and Central Vault The variation shown in Figure 5 involves a central Autodesk Vault server and file store coupled with a central Plant 3D database server. At the most basic level. Plant 3D only copies down what the user has immediate need for to the local workstation. allowing them to work on the project locally. Vault is a document management software with which Plant 3D can be integrated. Creating and Configuring AutoCAD Plant 3D Projects Autodesk Vault The final system configuration option for multi-user projects offered by the AutoCAD Plant 3D platform is the Autodesk Vault. files are copied from the Vault repository to the local workstation. With Autodesk Vault. Plant 3D handles all of the interaction between the local workstation and the Autodesk Vault via the Project Manager. Plant 3D database calls are always done over the network. Vault consists of a SQL database coupled with a file store. The user must check files out in order to modify them. CENTRAL DB AND CENTRAL DMS 6 . but can be slow for remote users. These calls are highly optimized in Plant 3D 2016 so response times are fast even when performing them halfway around the world. There are a few variations of the Plant 3D / Vault ecosystem which involve different levels of replication. this is a good setup for local users. which prevents other users from changing their files. FIGURE 5: MULTI-USER PROJECT.

Both the Autodesk Vault environment and the Plant 3D project database are cloned to the remote site(s) on a scheduled basis. assuming that the replicated Vault is up-to-date. Plant 3D project database replication is handled by using a new utility included with Plant 3D 2016. The utility can be run as a SQL job or as a Windows scheduled task. the remote users will be forced to pull the most recent data over the WAN from the master server. However. they will still be pulled from the master server as explained before. In between replication events. Creating and Configuring AutoCAD Plant 3D Projects Central Plant 3D Project Database and Replicated Vault The variation in Figure 6 is the first step towards solving long wait times for file transfers over the WAN for remote users. The replication of the Vault allows remote users to access files much faster over the LAN. CENTRAL DB AND REPLICATED DMS Replicated Plant 3D Project Database and Replicated Vault The final variation shown in Figure 7 involves replication at all levels. Because the utility runs on a schedule. In cases where files are out of sync. The infrastructure setup involves a remote Autodesk Vault and file store replicating from the central or master Autodesk Vault in the main data center. there are periods of time when the two servers are out of sync. the two 7 . file access from the Vault is much faster. if a file is updated and the scheduled Vault replication has not yet occurred. The Plant 3D project database remains centralized with all calls to it being made over the LAN/WAN. The hitch in this setup is the replicated Plant 3D project database. As with the previous example. FIGURE 6: MULTI-USER PROJECT.

FIGURE 7: MULTI-USER PROJECT. Hopefully a future version of Plant 3D will include real-time replication between multiple Plant 3D project databases. it is best to stick to the system layout from Figure 6 for the time being. This can cause rework for the remote project team(s) if not handled in an appropriate manner. Project Setup Wizard Figure 8 through Figure 14 show how to access the wizard by creating a new project and the various dialog boxes that come up. Part of the replication process for the Plant 3D project database is to resolve these conflicts. The “Project Setup Wizard” in Plant 3D makes it very easy to do this whether the project is local. REPLICATED CENTRAL DB AND REPLICATED DMS Creating a Plant 3D Project Now that all of the infrastructure is in place. Objects placed and tagged on the master server win all conflicts and objects from the cloned database with identical tags have a ‘?’ appended to them. to have multiple objects with the same tag numbers. 8 . on the network. With traffic between the Plant 3D project database and the workstations being so highly optimized now. without sufficient coordination. Creating and Configuring AutoCAD Plant 3D Projects databases work independently of one another. or in the Autodesk Vault. it’s time to actually create a project. making this a worthwhile path to follow. It is therefore possible.


Creating and Configuring AutoCAD Plant 3D Projects FIGURE 10: PROJECT SETUP WIZARD PAGE 2 FIGURE 11: PROJECT SETUP WIZARD PAGE 3 10 .



giving them the ability to look. one for Plant 3D administrators and one for Plant 3D users. but not touch. you can recreate the template project. and related files. The user group gets read access to core configuration files and then read/write/modify to the plethora of drawing folders. In order to take full advantage of improvements in the latest version it is necessary to create a new project with the new version of the software and then implement your changes. Each release comes with modifications all over the place. While it is entirely possible to start from scratch on every project. Doing so can break the file and/or object linkage to the database. Creating and Configuring AutoCAD Plant 3D Projects Permissions Once you have a project environment in place you need to protect it from curious users. First. not all of them are documented in a formal manner and the upgrade mechanism doesn’t add every new feature to existing projects created with an older version of Plant 3D. Some changes are in the database and others are in the configuration files. File and folder permission controls are an easy way to manage this. in the very unlikely event of catastrophic data loss. The reason is two-fold. FIGURE 15: PROJECT SETUP WIZARD TEMPLATE ASSIGNMENT Documentation of changes Even with a template project in place. Project Templates As you begin to use and customize your Plant 3D setup. and much more likely. Isometric output paths must be configured through Project Setup after the Plant 3D project is created. it is still very important to document all changes that you make to it. the monotony of doing the same tasks over and over and over again may drive you crazy! The easiest solution is to utilize a project template. Plant 3D uses the DWG file format. Separation of Data As a further safeguard beyond permissions it is possible to segregate Plant 3D project configuration files from the working files and deliverables. orthographic drawings. Second. The problem is. you may wish to re-create the template with each new release of Plant 3D. Domain users. Use Active Directory to create two groups. The administrator group gets read/write/modify access to all parts of the project environment. you will want to carry your modifications forward so that future projects can take advantage of the enhancements. A template project is one that exists only to house standard conventions that are used on Plant 3D projects. Most paths can be set using the project wizard including the ones for P&ID’s. Once you have a template project in place. which encompasses the remainder of the untrained users get read-only access to everything. you can use it as a source for settings for new projects that you are creating. 13 . but it shouldn’t be modified outside of its Plant 3D project environment. Plant 3D models.

so you may be asking yourself why you should go through all of this effort. If your company has CAD standards or if you do work for clients that enforce strict adherence to their CAD standards. The answer is consistency. Without a template you need to reinvent the wheel on each project and inconsistencies between each project can affect the quality of the work that you do. templates provide a means to an end. They ensure that all of your projects meet the given requirements for everything from text styles to isometric bills of materials to available BIM data. Creating and Configuring AutoCAD Plant 3D Projects Standards Management This all sounds like a lot of work. 14 .

Search functionality allows you to find existing posts that may solve your dilemma or give insight on a solution. Browse through the handouts. Creating and Configuring AutoCAD Plant 3D Projects Additional Sources of Information This handout is meant to be a reference. but it is by no means all-inclusive. In-the-Pipes Blog In-the-Pipes is a Plant 3D blog that is maintained by the Autodesk product support team. Both Autodesk and community experts keep a constant eye on the posts and are always there to help out when needed. The topics range from isometrics to equipment and everything Plant 3D in between. Autodesk Screencast New instructional workflow videos show up on Autodesk’s Screencast site every day. Better yet. become a contributor and help other users out! Autodesk University Website Visit the website dedicated to the mother of all Autodesk conferences and search for information on project setup. but for Plant 3D in general. Here are a few that I find myself visiting frequently. post a question. Autodesk Plant 3D General Discussion Forum Participation in the Autodesk Plant 3D Discussion Forum is a great way to find answers to your questions. and datasets for ideas and solutions to problems that you encounter. and over time it may become inaccurate based on current workflows. 15 . If nothing is out there on your topic. some not only for isometric support. presentations. There are quite a few classes over the past several years that have tackled this topic. There are even some recorded sessions to watch. Chances are someone has done a demo concerning the problem that you’re currently facing. There are a lot of other great places out on the Internet to find help with isometric setup and configuration.