New tools are driving the engineering industry toward more digitized design and construction
At a recent conference, I presented on the topic of “digital transformation.” The entire conference program revolved around this topic, with insights from associations, manufacturers and thought leaders.
While the attendees were primarily from manufacturing firms, such as companies that make control systems for processing plants or industrial automation solutions, some attendees had backgrounds that were a bit broader.
Digital transformation in the automation and manufacturing sector includes many technologies that, while not entirely new, have not been fully adopted by companies. Mixed reality, advanced robotics and digital twins have been fully accepted by some manufacturing companies. Others are just learning about it, or starting to use them in select projects.
More relevant to the building industry are the topics of virtual reality, drones, virtual design and construction and 3D printing. While not adopted in all cases — or in any projects when it comes to very small firms — these technologies are digitally transforming the architecture, engineering and construction industry.
Other topics of interest to engineers might include building information modeling, robotics, cloud computing and system integration in smart buildings. Again, these are not being adopted at all engineering firms or on all projects, but these technologies are moving to the forefront as business becomes more digitized and as a younger workforce brings more know-how and confidence in using these tools.
Project delivery methods are moving from the de facto design-build option to more collaborative options, like integrated project delivery. The cover story article describes it as:
IPD is a process through which people, systems, business structures and practices are joined together to optimize project results, increase efficiencies, reduce waste and gain insights from all parties involved in the design, fabrication and construction phases. The basic idea is to identify who or which team is best able to complete the task at hand, even if it means stepping outside traditional roles. The process is built on continuous improvement and staying focused on achieving the project objectives outlined at the onset of the project.
This is not unlike manufacturing, in which system efficiencies can be found at many levels through lean manufacturing. This is echoed in the case study, in which virtual design and construction is paired with an integrated lean project delivery approach. This article shows how using digital tools brings together all of the various team members, and incorporates digitized site plans and smart tools and software, like tablets and smartphones.
All of these new tools are driving the engineering industry toward more digitized design and construction.