Graham Jones (Vancouver, President of VANTUG)

About 25 years ago I became involved in 3D Computer Aided Design of process plants using a product called PDMS (Plant Design Management System) which is now marketed under the company name Aveva. I was the typical young (well fairly young) “enthusiast” and I was going to show people how their lives were going to be so much better by using a computer rather than the traditional drafting table. So when I showed people a “massive” 12” screen and the wonders of the “digital” world  (eg. automatic materials takeoff – notoriously boring and error prone when done manually), I naively expected them to jump up and down with joy. What I actually got was massive resistance. “You really expect me to view the ‘design’ world through that tiny screen rather than a nice big drafting table?” was the typical comment. I asked myself, “why can’t they see the bigger picture?”, if you will pardon the pun.

How we progressed from there (and we did quite successfully in the end) is a story for another day. However, it did get me thinking about the size, shape and interface that the drafting table offered. After all it had been around for a very long time. I came to the following conclusions:

  1. If it was any bigger it would be difficult to easily reach the top when drawing.
  2. If it was substantially smaller then it would either require smaller scale drawings (ie. not as easy to read) or less content per drawing and more drawings (ie. more difficult to picture the whole “assembly” and require more drawing to drawing references).
  3. The world as we view it is not square, cf. 4:3 for computer monitors and TV’s and now approx. 16:9. The largest standard NA drawing size for plant design is E size which is 44”x34” (approx. 4:3) and the most common is D size which is 34”x22” (approx. 3:2). The metric or ISO system is similar.
  4. It was fairly easy to have a working review meeting with perhaps up to 5 people around a drafting table.

Around that time I made what I guess was a fairly bold prediction, “within the next 20 – 30 years we will see the return of an affordable device about the same size and shape as the drafting table connected to a computer and with touch interaction”. I can still hear the laughter! Recently Steve Ballmer announced the “Surface” technology. I can see why it would be easy to immediately link it to things like the home and entertainment. I think that it has much wider implications. I can now foresee a time where engineers and designers stand around a “Surface” table and interactively discuss the physical design of process plants and indeed wide applicability in the “design” world in general.

A few years later I made a prediction that one day (timing unspecified) design and testing would be carried out in a totally immersive virtual world where you went to work in a morning and “entered” a virtual world where you could see the process plant that you were designing/building and interact with your co-workers in that world. When the plant was built and tested to your satisfaction the digital representation would be used to interface with any number of other systems to order, manufacture and deliver components. The digital “virtual world” representation would then be used at the construction site for the purpose of visualizing what is to be built by the construction team and to make real world adjustments to the model. I guess we aren’t quite there yet. The brain implants aren’t available yet on eBay!