The Perfect Partnership: How DRA has Transformed Ways of Working with Autodesk Tools

Since 2001, DRA has worked with Autodesk to boost efficiency, drive collaboration and deliver complex projects on time and on budget. Here, the team talks us through the partnership’s winning formula. 

Founded in 1984, DRA Global Limited is an international multidisciplinary engineering, project delivery and operations management business, predominantly focused on the mining, minerals and metals industry.

With more than 4,200 employees across 14 offices and various sites worldwide, the firm supports all stages of a project’s life cycle, from conception to delivery, commissioning, operations and rehabilitation. 

Such a broad spectrum of work requires meticulous planning and seamless processes. The team turned to Autodesk to support ways of working and help deliver complicated projects on time that meet client expectations. 

A long-standing partnership 

DRA has a long history with Autodesk. The partnership first began in 2001 when the firm adopted AutoCAD to support the design processes. 

Since then, the team has gradually implemented more and more Autodesk products. In fact, in 2014, DRA upgraded the entire design office to Autodesk applications.

“As Autodesk brought out tools for various disciplines, we opted to move from other vendors to Autodesk’s suite of tools that catered for all our needs and offered competitive pricing.” explains Tarryn Wells, Engineering Systems Manager at DRA. “We need to deliver a level of detail, and Autodesk tools allow us to achieve that.”

With multi-disciplinary teams working on multi-faceted projects, DRA needs robust processes, competitive pricing and reliable tools. 

“It’s a big ship to turn and we’ve always got multiple projects running simultaneously,” says Elna van der Merwe, Engineering Digital Manager at DRA. “We do thorough investigations and testing followed by internal training before we implement any new products."

Fine-tuning processes with the right tools

In 2014, DRA implemented Autodesk Vault to organise design data, manage documentation and track revisions. Since then, the team has expanded its activity in Vault.

“I think how we use it is very unique,” says Johan Uys, Drawing Office Manager at DRA. “It’s not just a tool for storing and adding data. We now manage our budgets and forecast in it.”

The team has integrated Vault with Autodesk Construction Cloud (ACC) to streamline processes and boost collaboration across the business. 

“We store all our design office content in Vault,” says Tarryn. “Any time we need to share those designs externally, we use ACC. So it’s both internal and external workflows.”

Improving collaboration, boosting efficiency and saving money

At any given time, DRA manages multiple projects across the world with multiple teams and stakeholders. With this comes huge volumes of data and careful coordination. ACC gives the team peace of mind knowing project activity is in safe hands. 

“Two years ago, we had two or three of our biggest projects running at the same time on ACC,” says Elna. “We averaged between 5,000 and 8,000 activities per day per project on ACC.”

A partnership fit for today’s fast-paced challenges

Fast forward to today, and Autodesk products are still fuelling growth and driving efficiency across the business. 

Since implementing Vault with ACC, the team has reaped immeasurable benefits, including reduced risk, better collaboration, and improved productivity. 

“We historically used to share our content via multiple platforms,” says Elna. “It was uncontrolled and unpredictable. We would end up with multiple versions of the same content. 

“With ACC and Vault, we’ve been able to achieve one version of the truth, we know where to find it and we can trust what we’re accessing. There’s been a significant reduction in risk and rework.”

Greater accountability and traceability have also led to more seamless processes for the team. 

“If something goes wrong now, we know where to pick up the problem,” explains Tarryn.  “We had an interesting situation where an old version of a file had been issued, but because we now use ACC and Vault, we were able to track and trace what version of the file should have been issued. 

“We were able to rectify the situation and get the right information to the fabricators within a few hours. This is incredible and it's all down to the traceability within the Autodesk systems.”

According to Johan, continuity is another significant benefit, meaning all teams, clients and stakeholders know what to expect. 

“All our products have been with Autodesk since 2014,” he says. “This brings continuity. We know we can upgrade on a yearly basis. Our users have only a day or two where there’s disruption.”

Transforming ways of working

Seamless processes and uniformity are key for the DRA team. Autodesk tools have helped transform ways of working and improved day-to-day operations so much, the team has rolled out the same processes across multiple sites. 

“We have an office in Toronto that uses pretty much the same workflow with their own flavour,” says Johan. “We don’t dictate what needs to happen, but the guideline is there and they stick to it.”

This uniform approach was especially beneficial on a recent high-stakes project in Peru. With many teams working in different time zones on multiple aspects, meticulous communication and fine-tuned processes were crucial. 

“The design drawing was done here in South Africa, but the actual structural design and civil design was done in Peru because of legislation and all of that signing off Johan explains. 

“This is one of the biggest copper mines in the world and we had seamless interaction between the two sides. Autodesk platforms mean we’re always connected and able to communicate.”

Keeping the show on the road during a global pandemic

Covid-19 lockdowns in 2020 brought many businesses to a standstill. For DRA, however, Autodesk tools meant the teams could operate remotely.

“It still feels like a dream,” says Johan. “Everyone was under pressure. We were in lockdown and in three weeks, we got all our active projects onto ACC. Everyone could carry on working and knew exactly what to do.”

With business not as usual, the team looked for ways to help everyone continue their roles with as little disruption as possible. 

“We developed a folder structure that suites the need and workflow for each discipline.“ Johan says. “They could thus carry on with their day job, without any training.”

The folder structure still helps things run smoothly today, supporting a thorough and consistent review process. 

While other businesses suffered huge losses and reduced productivity due to the pandemic, the DRA team managed to keep the show on the road with the help of Autodesk tools. 

“Face-to-face communication, printing documents or standing around the table could no longer happen, but ACC allowed us to continue every single one of those conversations. We never stopped being productive as a result,” Johan adds. 

“Almost 250 people carried on working as if nothing actually happened. We could still deliver on time and on budget. I think that’s a big success story in our history.”

Moving everything online to ACC during the pandemic also helped the firm achieve its sustainability goals, as printouts became a thing of the past. 

Today, by working online with ACC, the team continues to reduce its carbon footprint and cut costs. In fact, Johan estimates they’ve slashed their use of paper and ink by 75%.

The story continues

Since those early days, DRA’s partnership with Autodesk has gone from strength to strength. Looking to the future, the team is excited for what’s to come. 

“We made a massive commitment in 2014 when we decided to align ourselves completely with Autodesk,” says Johan. “That decision 10 years ago seems like the simplest decision we’ve ever made and I look forward to what’s still to come.”

Mohammad Abou Assali

Senior Customer Success Manager, Autodesk