Engineering is always evolving, and MEP design tools are no exception to this. Humans now have access to more information that even before, and “big data” is reaching all business fields, including engineering and construction. The widespread availability of mobile applications and the Internet of Things (IoT) will revolutionize how MEP design is carried out.
This article will provide an overview of six technologies that can enhance the capabilities of MEP design and consulting firms once they reach the mainstream market.
1) Laser-Based Building Scanning
Existing buildings not always have up-to-date construction plans, and in the case of old buildings the may be no construction plans at all. In addition, even if building plans are available, it may be necessary to digitalize them because only a physical version exists. Carrying out a building survey and converting existing plans to digital format can consume numerous man-hours, driving up the cost of design and consulting.
However, there are now laser scanners that can be installed in a building to carry out a sweep of their surroundings, creating models in just a small fraction of the time required with the traditional approach. Its is important to note that this technology only creates geometric models, which lack data on physical properties of each building component. However, adding properties to an automatic 3D model is much faster and simpler than creating the full model from zero.
2) Virtual Reality
Virtual reality has been associated with entertainment, but it can also be a powerful tool for engineering. For example, virtual reality allows a project manager to “visit” the site without actually being there; instead of spending time and fuel in the traffic of New York City, engineers can wear a headgear and visit the project remotely, using a drone equipped with a high-resolution camera.
Virtual reality is also useful for site visits in person. Engineering teams can wear an enhanced reality headgear that overlays technical information as the user looks at building components. In simple terms, the 3D model of the project developed by an engineering firm is overlaid on the actual site, making it much easier to visualize progress and discuss engineering decisions.
3) Building Design with Prefabricated Components
Materials are becoming cheaper while labor is becoming more expensive, so any concept that speeds up project delivery tends to be useful. Prefabricated components are promising because they speed up both design and construction.
Rather than creating a full building model from zero, engineering design teams can draw prefabricated components from manufacturer libraries and “assemble” a functional building model.
The same logic applies for construction, where building modules are prefabricated and delivered to the site for assembly.
4) Engineering Software on Demand
Engineering software is characterized by its high price tag, and frequent license renovations can drain the budget of a MEP design firm. However, the way in which software providers charge for their products is changing:
Some companies are adopting the “Software as a Service” model, where the user pays a more manageable monthly fee, instead of an expensive license for each new version.
Software on demand is a similar concept, where the engineering company pays a fee each time the program is used.
Both concepts give engineering companies access to a broad range of software solutions without actually purchasing them. Some design tools are very expensive and only required in specific projects: paying a full license is not cost-effective, but an “on-demand” model adapts the cost of software to the needs of the company.
High-speed internet has made this concept possible, since the user can connect to a platform hosted in the software provider’s servers. SaaS and software on demand would not have been possible with dial-up Internet connections!
5) 5D Building Information Modeling
A 5D building model uses a conventional 3D geometric model, with two key types of data overlaid on building components: technical specifications and cost. This approach can be combined with laser scanning to generate the 3D model, while the 2 extra dimensions of data are added by engineering teams.
5D building modeling streamlines the planning and budgeting process, simulating construction and cash flow, and generating material lists automatically. A 5D building model indicates materials use, equipment installation and expenses with a high degree of accuracy.
6) The Internet of Things
Internet connectivity is no longer limited to computers and mobile devices, it is now expanding to devices such as vehicles, lighting fixtures and HVAC systems. Buildings can be expected to have much more sensors and connected devices in the near future, allowing building models to be linked with the actual construction. This way, building information modeling (BIM) can become a power tool to actively manage a building; for example, an issue detected by a sensor can be reflected on the building model, while sending a phone notification to engineering and maintenance personnel.
Data is transforming engineering and consulting, by providing design professionals with a with range of tools. Tedious and time-consuming tasks are being automated, while logistical issues such as the daily commute are being eliminated with data and connectivity. The end result is that engineers can focus on key technical decisions and delivering the best solution, while technology assumes responsibility for the rest of the design process.
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