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SketchUp Pro for visualization and logistics at sea ports: a conversation with SEA-Tech

SEA-Tech is a port handling and engineering company that specializes in transportation, warehousing, and other port operations. They use SketchUp Pro to design port handling facilities and equipment, as well as to organize operations and provide technical support for clients. Season 2 of “The Wire” was one of our favorites, so we were excited to learn more about how SketchUp can help improve port logistics. We spoke with Pascal Giudicelli, a Project Leader at SEA-Tech responsible for the company’s work in SketchUp.

SketchUp Pro for visualization and logistics at sea ports

Tell us a little about SEA-Tech.

SEA-Tech belongs to the Belgian company SEA-Invest which operates worldwide and is a terminal operator for bulk handling. SEA-Tech is the in-house engineering company that specialized in the conception and design of bulk handling installations. SEA-Tech designs installations all over the world for SEA-Invest and also external clients, both private operators and public authorities. Clients have ranged from port authority, to a mine or a factory owner. We use SketchUp Pro to develop technical criteria of the installation and also the master plan that is delivered to contractors.

“We use SketchUp Pro to check every new incoming ship to be loaded by a quick modeling of the positioning of the machines and dock area.”

What led you to SketchUp Pro for this kind of work?

Considering all the films, video games, and the interactive and realistic 3D world we live in, people expect to see and imagine what they will get for their investment. Architects have already come to this realization long ago; we had to follow their example. Opposite to that, 2D wire frames mean nothing to a non-technical person.

The only 3D software we initially used was SolidWorks, which is actually good for technical detailing of an entire machine, but not the whole port installation. For representing an installation in its whole, we would use 2D projections with several sections. This process would cause us to lose a lot of time by having to model each typical element of a port environment one at a time. And most of all, the result would not be attractive when we presented to non-technical clients. We sometimes had more success by just showing circles and squares on a satellite picture!

We decided to go to a demonstration of Architectural IT tools, and we ultimately discovered SketchUp during an evaluation of the Artlantis rendering software. I did some research on SketchUp and found the great 3D Warehouse library which showed examples and models available to download. I tried to make some designs and modify models I found on 3D Warehouse. We loved the simplicity and spontaneity of it and the fact that we could import a site context through Google Maps. Overall, the modifications needed were intuitive and the result was a light model, usable with my computer which was, at this time, not too powerful.

Thereafter, we've discovered many new ways to use and improve our use of SketchUp, which we learned thanks to the many tutorials on the web. Now, I import 2D or 3D .dwg files, use a combination of extensions, create models from pictures -- with and without photo-matching -- make animations and films, and then present my model in LayOut. Our last goal then, was to use SketchUp to develop dynamic components.

“We definitely needed a powerful tool that, despite the great dimensions of the projects, was fast to use and enabled us to instantly visualize any implementation of our bulk handling designs.”
This model of a Bag Unloader was modeled in SketchUp

This model of a Bag Unloader was modeled in SketchUp and then composed in LayOut to create the full image. The top left is a 2D drawing from SolidWorks, which was imported as a DWG to SketchUp Pro to better visualize the installation. The top right image is an actually photo of this equipment in use.

Most of all, SketchUp made the transition from 2D to 3D smooth, in both directions. For instance, the existing bag unloader seen below started as a 2D drawing and then translated into a much more compelling visualization using SketchUp Pro and LayOut.

Can you tell us about how you work in SketchUp?

We have used SketchUp Pro in all of our projects since 2012. Today, we have 3D models for most of our storage facilities and handling machines. The contractors provide us with their 2D or 3D models whose external shapes are kept for implementation. We use SketchUp Pro for the design of our installations, the movements of mobile machines (through the use of dynamic components, and scenes), and our master plans that show context such as access and roads. Adding the 3D view in real-time is a true asset compared to a series of 2D drawings.

We require a high level of detail in order to be technically accurate. We used to commission 3D artists to create very good renderings, but we found that those representations were too far from reality. SketchUp Pro allowed us to display the exact models with a high level of detail without using too much processing capacities of our computers.

Modeling sites in SketchUp Pro

Previously, SEA-Tech uses artist renderings (left) to visualize installations. Modeling sites in SketchUp Pro allowed for a higher level of detail.

Our challenge was to check whether SketchUp Pro could help us in technical aspects, for instance, in the calculation of storage capacities. Making a gross estimation by using simple shapes of stored bulk between three walls is good, but having the accurate drawing and volume straight from SketchUp is much better! The calculation of a volume of any shape designed by a machine was the nightmare of our engineers, but today, our designers can easily calculate it using the Solid Tools provided by the Pro version of SketchUp.

ketchUp Pro’s Solid Tools

SEA-Tech used SketchUp Pro’s Solid Tools to calculate important volume estimates.

We have recently developed dynamic components which “know” how to build themselves with correct dimensions and proportions. For example, our dynamic belt conveyors arrange themselves in the roller station! This allows our team of draftsmen and engineers to manipulate smart elements and easily create and modify a model. This consistency in our results enables us to train our younger recruits on typical facilities design so quickly that soon no one can distinguish their designs from those of our older employees.

SEA-Tech dynamic conveyor belt model

This SEA-Tech dynamic conveyor belt model smart scales itself, making it simple for designers to place and adjust equipment in facilities.

SketchUp is definitely the key to our recent successes and it has aided our client’s decision making processes when we present our projects. The client understands and appreciates our efforts when they can instantly see how we intend to solve the technical issues and improve its facility through the presentation of SketchUp models.

“Now, our commercial engineers would never go meet a client, even in-house, without SketchUp Pro models and drawings.”

Do you use any SketchUp Extensions?

Like many SketchUp Users, we are downloading many extensions directly into SketchUp to speed up our design work. For us, the main added value of the Extension Warehouse lies in the extra functionalities it can offer. The best examples are for 3D Rendering, 3D printing, and animation.

With the Keyframe Animation extension, our team has realized a promotional 3D movie directly in SketchUp Pro, and this animation can be started in the model or exported in full HD.

Do you have any advice for other SketchUp users who would like to follow your lead?

SketchUp Pro is a fully customizable software by its interface and its additional tools. My personal advice to beginners is to train on existing models to become accustomed to drawing habits and to establish one's own keyboard shortcuts to improve your productivity. It is sometimes worth spending some more time to create a precise component, which will be easily duplicated later on. 3D Warehouse is an exhaustible source of inspiration and may provide with basics for drawings, with which you can rapidly create your own models!

Concerning dynamic components and animation, we have realized a detailed tutorial for beginners and advanced users, with English subtitled videos in. The tutorial is available in the official community forum of SketchUp.

Most of all, stay updated with newer extensions by talented developers and all the functionalities of new versions of SketchUp Pro that may procure incommensurable possibilities.

SEA-Tech has integrated SketchUp

We hear about interesting use cases for SketchUp all the time, but we were particularly impressed by how deep SEA-Tech has integrated SketchUp into its work. Thanks for sharing, Pascal! To learn more about SEA-Tech, connect with them on Facebook.