“Our technicians were quite fast and accurate with the old process, but just drawing a profile used to take at least 30 minutes. Now, we can create a profile in AutoCAD Utility Design in less than five."
— Scott Abraham, Technical Systems Manager, Northeast Nebraska Public Power District
Serving more than 8,000 customers, the Northeast Nebraska Public Power District (NeNPPD) provides electric power to the people and businesses of Northeast Nebraska. The utility takes particular pride in delivering service for one of the best prices in Nebraska, a state with already low electricity prices.
Making the most of investments in technology and process improvements helps NeNPPD maintain great rates and high levels of service to customers. NeNPPD recently decided to invest time and resources toward improving its staking process. It transitioned the way it creates staking sheets from pencil and paper to AutoCAD Utility Design software. With help from AutoCAD Utility Design, NeNPPD has been able to:
Reduce duplicate data entry in its work order and provisioning process
Increase the consistency of its staking process, while reducing the costs associated with over-engineering
Complete staking sheets up to 75% faster
Improve the quality of staking by exploring more line routing options more easily
Prior to choosing AutoCAD Utility Design software, NeNPPD relied on hand-drawn staking sheets. Upon receiving a request for a new line, the utility’s staking technician visited the site and made a preliminary sketch. Back at the office, the technician finished the staking sheet and wrote a materials list for the job. As the job progressed, employees at the utility updated purchasing, materials management, and work order systems with the information manually. When the field crews received the staking sheets and their work orders, they assembled the materials required and completed the work themselves. They also documented any as-built changes by hand. Eventually, copies of the paper staking sheets made their way to the outside engineering firm that maintained NeNPPD’s AutoCAD software-based system map.
“Our old process was time consuming for the staking technician and everyone else who played a role in the staking process,” says Scott Abraham, technical systems manager for NeNPPD. “We wanted to move to a technology that allowed us to standardize and speed up the process. By taking paper out of the first step, we saw an opportunity to reduce duplicate work in subsequent steps.”
NeNPPD established a few key requirements as it searched for a solution to power its staking process: ease of training and support for standardization and moving the mapping update process in-house. Autodesk AutoCAD Utility Design software met and exceeded those requirements. The user interface—based on the Autodesk AutoCAD software interface—is familiar to many people with drafting experience, making it easy to train users who already possess basic knowledge. Designed to support common utility processes, including staking, AutoCAD Utility Design helped NeNPPD to adopt standardized processes almost immediately.
The software also allowed the utility to modify the preconfigured standards to better match their preferences. As an additional plus, AutoCAD Utility Design software allowed NeNPPD to upload data from the global positioning system (GPS) solution recently adopted to help reduce reliance on paper during site visits.
“There’s no question that the familiarity of AutoCAD software for drafting and design was a leading factor in our decision,” says Abraham. “We don’t have the time or resources to train people to use software they’ve never seen before. That out-of-the-box familiarity helped us get started quickly. Utility industry standards support consistency from start to finish. Plus, we’ll be able to more easily transition from using an outside engineering firm to update maps to doing it in-house, which can help save both time and money.”
Faster service and greater cost savings
NeNPPD’s current staking workflow shows how the utility has been able to take advantage of the smoother flow of information. As an example: say that someone considering building a new home in a remote location wants an idea of the cost of adding new electric service. Without even visiting the site, NeNPPD can access the system map in AutoCAD Utility Design software, and create a quick preliminary staking sheet and estimate.
“In the past, we had to visit a site to do an estimate,” says Mandy Backer, facilities manager for NeNPPD. “Now, we can respond faster to customer queries. Preparing estimates is less expensive, which helps us save money, especially in instances where the customer chooses not to add a line.”
A connected process
When the future customer decides to move ahead with a project requiring new service lines, the technician visits the site and uses a GPS-powered device to capture the route of the line. The technician finishes the sheet using AutoCAD Utility Design in the office. It takes only a few minutes to create the initial profile. Refining the alignment of the line and making changes is just as easy— before, it would have required redrawing by hand.
Abraham explains the impact of adding speed and agility to the process: “Our technicians were quite fast and accurate with the old process, but just drawing a profile used to take at least 30 minutes. Now, we can create a profile in AutoCAD Utility Design in less than five. Making small changes is easy too, and that means we can make changes and improvements to the staking job without have to redraw everything.”
Embedded standards and more automated calculations guide the process and support the technician in making more informed materials choices, helping to prevent potentially expensive over-engineering of materials. Integration with the utility’s work order and stock list systems allows employees in the utility’s warehouse to receive a materials list for the project when the utility issues the work order for the new line, so they are able to assemble the exact materials needed for the field crews.
Not only is the need for duplicate data entry reduced, there’s less risk of incorrect materials provisioning. “When you rely on manual processes and calculations, there’s temptation to over-order or over-engineer,” says Backer. “AutoCAD Utility Design uses industry standards to check that the materials specified can do the job. There’s less risk of choosing items that are larger or more powerful than what’s needed. Looking at each item, the cost differences are small. But saving US$200 per pole starts to add up when you’re doing several miles of line.”
“When you rely on manual processes and calculations, there’s temptation to over-order or over-engineer. AutoCAD Utility Design uses industry standards to check that the materials specified can do the job. There’s less risk of choosing items that are larger or more powerful than what’s needed." — Mandy Backer, Facilities Manager, Northeast Nebraska Public Power District
NeNPPD has noticed measureable improvements in its processes thanks to AutoCAD Utility Design, and expects to see even more benefits in the future. “We’re completing staking sheets as much as 75% faster today, and reducing duplicate data entry at every stage in the process,” says Abraham. “The great thing is that we just started. Over time, we’ll get even faster, and we’ve established a foundation in AutoCAD Utility Design on which we can build even more integrated processes.”
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