Modelling for the majors

Engineering design and detailing company PDC has helped build some of Australia’s largest mines with its proprietary 3D BIM technology

Some say that contractors are only as good as their last job, and jobs don’t get much bigger than building iron ore mines for BHP Billiton. Providing the 3D Building Information Modelling (BIM) for BHP’s Jimblebar mine processing plant is the latest in a long line of high-profile work that Australian company PDC has done for the country’s biggest resources companies. Other clients include Rio Tinto, Fortescue Metals Group and Woodside.

PDC has worked hard over many years to form and maintain working relationships with these mining and oil & gas giants. Executive Director John Lyons, part of the company since 1977, puts PDC’s success in this area down to what he calls client intimacy.

Having high-profile clients has also helped give PDC a leg-up into new markets and regions, enabling it to supplement its Australian headquarters with offices on the Philippines and North America.

Evolving with the times

PDC has a long history stretching back to 1972. Founder Bill Weir is still with the company today as an Executive Director – “a big strength of the business,” says John – but a great deal has changed around him. “Technically, the business has changed quite considerably with the offerings of technology – starting from our drafting capabilities as a workshop detailing company providing a service to fabrication and construction companies,” says John.

“By default, with the change of technology available and the type of product we could produce, our clientele changed. It began when we were contracted to do the EPC [Engineering, Procurement and Construction] for Kinhill Sterns on the Bodington Gold Mine, instead of the SMP [Structural, Mechanical and Piping] we’d usually do. That was one of the biggest changes, where traditionally most of our contracts had been for fabrication and construction companies.”

From this PDC became more involved in the design side of the projects, rather than just supplying workshop drawings. The business strategy changed to pursue an integrated approach – offering design capabilities, 3D modelling processes and enhancing its processes by developing a sophisticated job management system.


Martyn Weir and Shawn Weir joined the company executive in 2002 and 2006 respectively and today hold the positions of Chief Executive and Managing Director – BIM & iConstruct. Shawn describes how PDC went on to acquire other, international companies in order to expand both its geographical reach and its capabilities.

“Previously, PDC was very much focused on mining and infrastructure work in Australia, but we saw a strategic fit through the acquisition of 4DGG who had an existing client base in the commercial sector in the US,” says Shawn. “Acquiring Emerson Stewart introduced new capabilities in civil engineering, environmental and water.”

Notably, Emerson Stewart’s specialist knowledge and experience in water and waste management enabled PDC to provide integrated design work for the Collie Desalination Plant – the largest mine dewatering and recycling plant in Western Australia. The client was Verve Energy, the state government’s power generation utility.

“It was a major project in terms of the technology, project outcomes and environmental benefits,” Shawn adds. “It recovers more than 90% of the feed water and removes more than 10 tonnes of salt from the Collie Basin each day.”

PDC’s work on the AU$3 million contract won it two WA branch Australian Water Association awards: Infrastructure Innovation Award and Young Water Professional of the Year.

Intelligent design

Marino Evangelisti, Managing Director – Design, says that today PDC’s central specialism is 3D BIM, and its core industries mining, mineral processing and infrastructure. He says the company’s greatest strength – and advantage over its competitors – lies in its “integrated delivery model”, which integrates PDC’s models and processes so that they can be carried directly through to fabrication, construction, commissioning and beyond.

“Normally this would require a multitude of players, from the original design engineers and their models, through to the detailers preparing models, and finally to fabrication. We eliminate a whole series of steps by using an intelligent model from day one that saves time. We have tools that help us get there, wrapped around BIM, and proprietary software iConstruct, which we’ve written as a result of working with some very large clients.”

PDC developed iConstruct to provide certain functions he found lacking in the review software PDC was using, called Autodesk Navisworks. It began as internal intellectual property, but grew into such a powerful suite of functions that PDC decided to commercialise it.

“iConstruct is a collaboration and review technology that connects the 3D model environment with your intelligence and with various tools that you can utilise to make value of the intelligent model,” says Shawn.

The proprietary software suite incorporates intelligence from various sources – such as databases, scheduling system, costing system and materials tracking from barcodes – to create an intelligent, evolving construction model. It is collaborative in allowing contractors to add their own intelligence to a model created by PDC.


PDC and Fortescue have been working together since the iron ore major began its first mine in 2006. The miner had to borrow a significant amount of money to build Cloudbreak in the Pilbara, Western Australia, and was eager to get the mine into production with minimal time and fuss. “Their strategy was to get people in with a track-record for high performance and who could get the job moving, so we secured that contract through reputation,” says John, who led the project.

Fortescue awarded PDC a AU$17 million contract for work on its Cloudbreak Ore Handling Desands Facility, comprising SMP 3D models with full BIM intelligence and complete workshop drawings for a screening building; crushing building; fines and lump ore stockpile; train load-out facility; desanding facility; conveyors; and transfer stations. The project required around 12,000 tonnes of structural steel.

Working with a relatively new company brought about several challenges. “Standards had to be created, so there was quite a process for [Fortescue] to get to where others had been for many years and some massive challenges in getting up to speed very quickly,” John explains. “Competitors were wondering how Fortescue managed to turn the job around as quickly as it did, with nothing on its cards as far as processes go.”

PDC’s integrated approach enabled the project to be fast-tracked and completed in around 18 months. “By working alongside Fortescue as the design was being completed, we could identify a lot of the issues early on because of the level of detail we go into, and our ability to provide solutions,” he continues.

“Fortescue didn’t have the luxury of time, so rather than the traditional approach of waiting for the design to be finished, we were able to fast-track that process and get the job completed a lot quicker.”


PDC is performing similar functions on BHP’s 6A Jimblebar Rapid Growth Project, a new mine site that is still under construction. This $21 million contract includes shop detailing and 3D BIM of structural steelwork; mechanical plate work; isometrics for piping; and vendor modelling of all concrete, procured items, electrical and cable trays over the three packages in excess of 20,000 tonnes.

PDC has achieved several feats since beginning the project in 2011, including issuing the first steelwork six weeks earlier than scheduled and using iConstruct to develop 300 Module Reports containing Centre of Gravity information, which assisted in several areas of development.

Challenges in the Jimblebar project arose primarily from BHP’s cost-saving measures, including outsourcing all fabrication to China and modularising each facility as much as possible. This required PDC to present a great deal of information that could be understood by Chinese staff.

“We had to change the way we worked, creating accurate information for the modularisation, providing additional centre of gravity calculations on a continual basis as the modularisation requirements changed,” says John. “That’s where iConstruct really came into its own, enabling us to provide highly consolidated reporting through module packs.”

Moving forward

PDC is currently being considered for at least three major integrated detailing and design projects in the resources sector and believes winning even one of these would be a huge step up. “We believe the scale of these projects, in which we’re hoping to use our integrated delivery model, will set a benchmark for us as a business and, ultimately, as a point of difference in the industry,” remarks Marino.

“With the more competitive market environment providing many challenging opportunities, we want to further demonstrate to our clients the savings our integrated approach can offer.”

In the long term, PDC wants to extend its reach into new markets and regions. Having built a strong track record in mining, mineral processing, infrastructure and utilities, the company wants to pursue more work in the oil & gas sector. The company also has a “very keen interest to move into North America”, which it believes is on the cusp of a “renaissance”. These objectives will likely be achieved through making further strategic acquisitions, says Marino.

“We are a globalised company, so we’re looking to consolidate our position – not just in Australia, but overseas, as a leader in 3D BIM and engineering design using our integrated design approach,” he adds. It’s a suitably big ambition for a company backed by big clients, big achievements and big ideas.


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