We live in the era of the machine. The 21st century has brought about a life where we rarely leave our homes without our smartphones, rely on GPS to navigate our city streets, socialize through social platforms rather than directly, and slowly forget how we ever lived, worked and played before the internet.
Whether you love it or hate it, our technological world is here to stay, and continues to alter the landscape of industries.
Across the board, automation is replacing and augmenting the work of humans, making the process of creating and building faster, safer, and more efficient. For the AEC industry, new innovations in 3D printing, AR/VR technology, AI, and the metaverse are on the brink of altering everything as we know it.
The future is here, so buckle up and keep reading to find out how these innovations are rapidly changing the AEC industry.
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What is the AEC industry?
Do you know what the AEC industry is? What does it mean? Basically, AEC is a group of professionals with expertise in the fields of Architecture, Engineering and Construction.
Each area is essential to a safe and efficient completion of a construction project, whether it’s commercial, residential or industrial.
What is the Architecture role?
Now that you know what the AEC industry is, let’s understand the importance of each role, starting with the Architecture role.
As AEC professionals, architects are fundamental as they are the ones that develop the design concept for the construction of new buildings or the restoration/refurbishment of existing buildings.
Though visual aesthetics are an essential component of their work, they need to create designs that are both aesthetically pleasing and practical, ensuring they meet industry/building laws and regulations.
Some of their responsibilities include:
- Certify the work is completed in the prescribed manner.
- Quantify and qualify the project.
- Understand the client’s requirements.
- Follow industry regulations.
- Design the project.
- Keep records for daily progress/budget reports.
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The role of Construction
Now, concerning the construction role, the project managers are responsible for coordinating the work of skilled contractors and subcontractors.
The construction manager and the architect must communicate to ensure the project is done safely, legally and efficiently.
Their responsibilities include:
- Hire and manage contractors and subcontractors.
- Distribute resources.
- Manage relationships among AEC industry professionals and with clients.
- Manage the team and communicate with the architects and engineers.
- Identify potential internal and external risks.
- Create contingency plans.
The role of Engineering
Lastly, let’s talk about the Civil Engineers who oversee construction and maintenance projects.
They play a vital role in the AEC industry as they are the ones that ensure the project is safe from start to finish, making sure the project is technically feasible and complies with government regulations.
Their responsibilities include:
- Oversee construction site safety.
- Manage budgets.
- Make sure the project is feasible and complies with government regulations.
- Serve as the liaison between the client and professional subcontractors.
Technology Innovations Influencing the AEC Industry
3D Printing & Fabrication
Rapid fabrication techniques, like 3D printing, are not new technologies to enter the scene. But for the first time in history we are seeing viable proof of concepts of 3D printed houses hit the market. For example, in 2019 3D Printing Company WASP debuted it’s first 3D printed home- the TECLA- made entirely of clay near Bologne, Italy. The wasp-nest like house, printed in about 200 hours using locally sourced clay, evokes a sort of vernacular feel despite the highly advanced technical process behind its creation.
Rapid automated fabrication technologies like 3D printing will eventually become the norm in the AEC industry thanks to the benefits of reduced down construction times and building costs. Compared to the cost of a 3 bedroom house built using conventional methods, a 3D printed home costs 20-40% less to build. As supply chain issues continue to drive the cost of building materials up, innovative 3d Printing materials based on locally available materials will provide much needed alternatives.
But this isn’t the only paradigm shift we will see in the way construction is performed. The 2050 Innovation Report by Balfour Beattypredicts a future of “human-free construction” that sees the automation of building done by robots, drones, or workers in exoskeletons. The biggest benefit of this would be to shield human workers from harm during the construction process, having them perform the role of “overseer” rather than laborer. More complex and delicate tasks could be performed by workers in exoskeletons that could offer protection while also being able to perform more heavy duty tasks.
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Machine learning is a process that is at the heart of automation. By feeding data sets into a machine, we are able to train it to produce outputs with similar characteristics to the input. This extends beyond numbers to images as well, and is a field that is just now being explored for the application of generative designs. This process will shape how architects & designers work in the future via it’s potential applications of generating different design solutions, analyzing potential build risks, and automatically assessing code as applied to a design.
To put this into context- imagine you are designing a new apartment building, and want to figure which floor plans will optimize the space for the type of units you are designing for. By feeding a machine learning algorithm with a large data set of floor plans, it will eventually be able to generate floor plans to fit your project needs based on the parameters you put into it, allowing you to make better and faster design decisions on the project. Does this seem like a dream? One company, Evolving Floor Plans, invented by programmer Joel Simon, is already exploring this technology.
After Mark Zuckerberg’s metaverse announcement this year, VR/AR technology went from being a niche innovation in the world of computers and gaming to suddenly being on everyone’s radar. Although VR/AR applications have been in development for quite some time, we are just now truly starting to see the vast potential of this innovation.
In the AEC industry, virtual reality is a powerful tool to not only visualize interior designs and constructions, but to immerse yourself in them via virtual walkthroughs. Virtual walkthroughs (think matterport 3d) are already widely used in the real estate industry to give virtual home viewings. VR/AR reality takes this concept a step further by allowing the visualization of designs that haven’t been built yet.
A/R technology will become especially valuable to interior designers as a way to show clients their designs to get buy-in on a project. Imagine using A/R, or augmented reality, through a smartphone camera to see wallpaper choices directly “applied” to the wall. As a client or designer, you can instantly make an informed decision about which wallpapers you like, without having to order and view physical samples. This sort of application can be applied to furniture as well. Wayfair, a popular online furniture retailer, already released an app that uses AR technology to allow buyers to see the furniture they sell in their home before buying.
With the emergence of VR/AR and the metaverse in everyday life, Interior designers of the future may be asked to build a real-life counterpart to a client’s favorite virtual space. Or conversely, virtual interior designers may be asked to decorate or recreate a virtual space from its real life counterpart. The opportunities for architects & designers to utilize and embrace this technology are truly endless.
While the idea of automation sometimes gets a bad rep as a tool to replace humans with machines, this doesn’t have to be the case. Automation and new technology innovations always have a benefit of making processes faster, easier, and more efficient, and by embracing them, we can free ourselves from the tedious or risky aspects of work to more fun and creative activities. In the AEC industry, the emergence of 3D printing, AR/VR, and machine learning technologies have the potential to be game changers and open opportunities for new and exciting ways to design, build, work and live. Love it or hate it- these technologies are here to stay.
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