When Central Lincoln People’s Utility District, an electric utility serving four rural counties in the state of Oregon, wanted to modernize its electric power transport system, Ron Beck knew it would be a complex project. As Senior Network Engineer with 30 years of experience working for Central Lincoln, Beck understood that upgrading to a modern, packet-based system would require improvements to equipment and facilities to the company’s 32 electrical substations that house power distribution infrastructure, along with five offices and eight mountaintop sites across 750 square miles.
Beck had initially anticipated the four-year project would involve a tremendous amount of fieldwork by engineering personnel, who might need to visit each site up to eight times over the course of facility improvements. This would translate to thousands of hours of travel time by staff driving many thousands of miles of roads to remote facilities, including mountainous locations hundreds of miles away on US Forest Service property. He was delighted to be proven wrong, thanks to the help of engineering partner Burns & McDonnell and the use of Matterport digital twins.
Burns & McDonnell Promotes Best Practices for Streamlining Workflows with Digital Twins
Hired to guide Central Lincoln through its transport system modernization, Burns & McDonnell’s design team refined the project scope with an initial pilot involving four sites. Instead of using a more traditional method of printing out the current set of facility drawings and marking them up in the field, along with taking some still photographs, Burns & McDonnell introduced the Central Lincoln team to the Matterport Pro2 3D camera.
Burns & McDonnell used the Matterport cameras to capture Central Lincoln’s physical sites in 3D at 4k resolution, including accurate spatial measurements, transforming them into navigable 3D digital twins that can be viewed and explored by the project team on any desktop PC or mobile device.
“We were amazed the first time we saw a digital twin of one of our substations,” Beck says. “The resolution was better than we’d expected, and visiting the captured sites remotely was almost as vivid as being there in person. At first we thought of Matterport as a cool new toy, but we quickly realized that, hey, we actually need this for our entire four-year project.”
Over the course of the four years, capturing digital twins has become part of the team’s standard data gathering process. The Matterport platform unlocks the ability for colleagues from Central Lincoln and Burns & McDonnell to easily collaborate remotely using online meetings and virtual site visits instead of physical visits, saving valuable travel time and expenses while improving productivity.
“With the help of Burns & McDonnell and Matterport, we’ve been able to keep the entire infrastructure upgrade project under budget and on schedule,” says Beck. “We can all look at the same electrical substation in 3D via online meetings, and nobody has to spend a full day driving to that site. Staff time can add up quickly, and it’s not cost effective for them to sit in a car all day. We’ve already eliminated a number of repeat site visits over the four-year project, which will be more than 250 site visits overall.”
Illuminating a Single Source of Truth
Going forward, Central Lincoln no longer needs to rifle through a combination of photographs, drawings, or inventory spreadsheets to know what’s built and installed at each location. Workers can just log into the digital twin, zoom in on equipment serial numbers, check distances with the Matterport measurement tool, or click on Mattertags that Burns & McDonnell set up to document additional detail related to key assets. Central Lincoln subsequently trained its own team to be able to edit the digital twins and add Mattertags, making it easier to keep records about each site updated on a shared-use, cloud-based platform.
“We have a single source of truth in the field now, which is really important since we’re a small utility with a small staff,” Beck says. “Once we capture a facility with Matterport, we can rest assured we have robust documentation of site conditions. We don’t have to go back to look at it, inventory it, or measure it. Since our sites are fairly static environments, we only have to update the digital twins when we modify the infrastructure. Even then, we can capture a fresh digital twin in less than an hour.”
During the project, Beck’s team only needed to visit some facilities a single time beyond an initial kickoff and capture planning meeting on site. “We did the capture, then everything else was virtual. The only time I went back was to do the cutover of circuits from the old network to the new network. It was exactly the way we expected it to be. Everything fit,” says Beck.
Burns & McDonnell recently worked with Central Lincoln to develop the scope of work for the mountaintop phase of the multi-year project. Digital twins of those sites eliminate the need for lengthy drives by estimators through difficult-to-navigate forest areas, broadening the number of potential vendors interested in bidding on the project. “Plus, by hosting a virtual site walkthrough for the contractors, we can give them a better idea of the size of the spaces and a truer picture of the full context of what they’ll be dealing with there,” Beck says.
“We wanted more than just a technology refresh,” Beck says. “We wanted to change the way we did things, the way we produce our drawings, the way we document sites, the way we name cables and circuits. We wanted to adopt the best industry practices. We were good at what we did, but now we’re even better at it, in part thanks to Burns & McDonnell and Matterport.”
Keeping the Lights On and Preserving Institutional Knowledge
Control rooms themselves may be small buildings, but they’re sitting on acre-sized sites with wires, electrical switch gear, and other equipment. Assessing a site using Matterport keeps the lights on for Central Lincoln customers when physical measuring might otherwise interrupt service. “There are times when I need to know the distance between an energized piece of equipment and the ground,” Beck says. “We can’t put uninsulated rulers on the wires when they’re energized, but online with Matterport we can quickly see at a glance if, for instance, a truck can fit underneath them.”
Beck expects these useful capabilities will drive field technicians’ adoption of Matterport from mobile devices, making it increasingly routine for them to reference a digital twin from a cell phone or iPad when they’ve been dispatched to any of Central Lincoln’s remote facilities.
Onboarding new employees is easier now because the utility doesn’t have to spend hundreds of hours driving new people to all of the sites. The digital twins also help preserve the institutional knowledge that long-time employees like Beck know like the backs of their hands, such as for which network switches are where, and how they’re cabled.
In the future, Central Lincoln plans to introduce Matterport to its facilities and building maintenance teams so they can scrutinize conditions remotely. “We’re excited to see what else we can do with the flexibility of the Matterport platform, from assessing placements for security cameras to keeping tabs on overall cleanliness, and monitoring needs for new paint or lightbulbs, the status of air conditioning units, or the presence of fire extinguishers with valid dates printed on them,” says Beck.
In addition, the utility plans to use the Matterport BIM Files feature to accelerate creation of files for AutoCAD rather than manually converting sketches and drawings when it’s time to build something new. “We expect this will also dramatically speed up the engineering process,” Beck says.
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ABOUT CENTRAL LINCOLN PEOPLE’S UTILITY DISTRICT
The Central Lincoln People’s Utility District is an electric utility based on the central Oregon coast that has covered parts of four counties since voters established it in 1943. The utility serves roughly 55,000 customers, including more than 5,000 businesses and about 200 industrial sites.
Cost-effectively modernize the power transport system, involving equipment and site upgrades at 45 of the utility’s facilities, dispersed across four rural counties
Matterport Pro2 3D camera
By capturing utility substations and other facilities using Matterport digital twins, Central Lincoln boosted its ability to collaborate with engineering partner Burns & McDonnell to efficiently plan and execute a complex, four-year power transport system improvement project
- Eliminated approximately 250+ site visits over four years by capturing digital twins of 45 facilities.
- Reduced travel expenses
- Facilitating a broader field for vendor bids
- Enabling more efficient work processes