College gets $1 million software donation

Innovative plant design/management
technology to give A&M construction
science grads competitive advantage

Graduate students at Texas A&M's Department of Construction Science now have access to the latest generation of plant design and management software, thanks to a $1 million software donation from CEA Systems, Inc., the Houston-based affiliate of CEA Technology (, one of the world's leading software developers in the field of engineering, construction and plant life cycle management.

"Though relatively new applications, Plant-4D and 4D-Explorer, are already widely used by plant owners and engineering procurement and construction, or EPC, firms around the world," explained David Pullin, spokesman for CEA Systems, Inc.

Plant 4D is a parametric Web-based 3-D plant design system that manages engineering information along with a 3-D computer model. The 4D Explorer is a unique data-mining tool that allows users to access plant information without the necessity of knowing the underlying data structure. The "4D" moniker refers to the applications' revision control functions, which allow end-users to manage and track down different revisions of 3-D models and related engineering information.

"What makes this software distinctive from other plant design systems," according to Julian Kang, assistant professor of construction science at Texas A&M, "is that it stores a 3-D computer model and related engineering information together in a central database and enables multiple end-users to manipulate the data simultaneously over the Internet, regardless of their locations."

"Additionally," he said, "the software eliminates the need for maintaining duplicate sets of data, and therefore increases accuracy, data integrity, and enables quick turnaround and delivery of revised data, and improved communications among project participants."

The software is already being utilized by a number of construction science and engineering schools around the world, however, Texas A&M will be the first U.S. university to integrate the software into its curriculum and research initiatives.

According to Pullin, students knowledgeable in this software are in high demand in the plant management and EPC industries.

"The ability to utilize rapidly emerging technology is one of the key elements to survival in the competitive construction industry," Kang added. "The construction industry is now seeking professionals armed with new computer technology, and educational institutions are responsible for producing these professionals."

"The Department of Construction Science is very fortunate to have corporate partners like CEA Systems, Inc.," said James Smith, head of the construction science department at Texas A&M. "This generous gift will allow us to provide an advanced program incorporating state-of-the-art information technology for managing construction information. In addition to incorporating the software into our current course work, we also plan to use the software as an essential component of several of our advanced research programs."

Kang is teaching a graduate course using the new software, "Computer Integrated Information Management for Construction Projects."

"The course provides students with opportunities to collaboratively manage construction information using Plant-4D and other leading technologies," he said. "Participants gain hands-on experience in using these new tools through a class project in which they will build a Plant-4D model for a small building."

Future plans call for the modification of the course for undergraduate students. Kang is also investigating the development of a collaborative research project with direct benefits to the construction industry.

"The idea is to establish a virtual construction lab within the College of Architecture, where I can develop an application model of construction project information management using the Internet and 4D visualization technology," he said.

Once the capabilities of Plant-4D have been determined and an ideal model established, Kang plans to seek the collaboration of an EPC firm to build a Plant-4D model of an off-shore structure such as an oil drilling rig.

"The Plant-4D model of the off-shore structure will help students understand the complexity of information management in the design process," said Kang, "as well as in the construction process."

"We consider this gift an important investment in the technological advancement of the industries served by both Texas A&M University and CEA System, Inc," said Pullin. "In providing Texas A&M with the next generation of tools necessary for students to master the intricacies of plant design and management, we are helping the university provide the industry with highly-skilled professionals who stand ready to guide them into the future. From our standpoint, it is money well spent."

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