Adopting new technology

Apr 02, 2023

In order to remain competitive, AEC firms need to understand and embrace new technology.

New technology is revolutionizing architectural design as well as engineering services. To remain competitive, AEC firms need to evaluate and embrace these applicable technology developments. According to a study by Deltek, “only 25 percent of architecture and engineering firms consider their firms digitally advanced today, but 76 percent expect to be there in five years.”

Here are the eight most impactful technologies for the AEC industry:

  1. Artificial intelligence. As labor shortages continue to contribute to higher inflation, businesses are looking for ways to future-proof their operations by becoming as efficient as possible. One solution that can provide efficiency – and cost-savings – is AI. AEC firms are using AI to analyze vast datasets with speed and accuracy that human operators are incapable of matching. The use of AI for repetitive tasks has reduced dependency on labor during the ongoing labor shortage and has uniquely positioned the AEC industry to withstand employee turnover.
    AI also has the power to process massive amounts of data, optimize staffing levels, manage inventory efficiently, and minimize potential inefficiencies. A recent McKinsey survey revealed that 79 percent of all industries and activities reported cost decreases as a direct result of AI adoption and 66 percent of respondents even saw revenue increases.
  2. Virtual reality and augmented reality. Virtual reality makes it possible to perform a safety walk-through in a completely controlled environment. This kind of solution comes with no risk, reduces costs associated with worker injuries, and may soon become the default for assessing hazardous situations on the job site. As much as VR/AR can seem intimidating or cost-prohibitive, 34 percent of firms still expressed interest in investing in VR or AR for project execution.
    Wearables supported by VR/AR technology are becoming increasingly common because they allow clients to explore rendered designs before they are built. This technology enables more informed decisions based on visuals that reduce expensive redesigns after construction has begun.
    Most importantly, VR and AR technology improves safety on the job by reducing the situations where human operators need to physically be present at the most hazardous job sites. Improving job safety also reduces the number of worker injury claims, which can also save costs.
  3. Robotic process automation. While it is still relatively new to the market, RPA is experiencing rapid adoption since it provides a supplement to manual labor during the ongoing labor shortage – much like AI. RPA can help minimize tedious tasks, leading to increased job satisfaction and employee retention. Architecture and engineering firms that use RPA can also benefit from increased productivity and reduced costs.
  4. 3D modeling. 3D modeling enables architects to explore their designs with the ability to provide limitless project solutions and prototype models for customers. When powered by AI, 3D generative design technology can be optimized to offer materials that will meet budgeting and scheduling requirements.
    The ability to offer clients digital twins with visually dynamic 3D models has become an important offering in the market around the globe. Using 3D models for city planning, it is possible to present a constellation of data regarding surrounding transportation infrastructure, flood or shadow modeling, and how solar panel or bridge installation would impact surrounding areas.
    The real-time remote access to digital 3D models and the ability to visualize variations in cost because of change orders for varied materials or other modifications also supports congruency between project management and the stakeholders throughout the entire project. Like AR/VR, these complex 3D visualizations during the planning and design phase can reduce the need to make changes after construction begins.
  5. Cybersecurity. As more companies transition to adopting innovative technology, they can be particularly vulnerable to cyberattacks if the proper cybersecurity measures are not taken. Cybersecurity infrastructure is critically important to avoid expensive ransomware attacks which can cost an average of $4.24 million.
    While the AEC industry has been historically slow to adopt technology compared to others, the pace of adoption has recently increased out of necessity following the pandemic shutdown. The risk of cyberattacks has increased as well. AEC industry professionals are more than twice as likely to be the target of ransomware than other industries using the same digital services because they lack familiarity with basic cybersecurity measures.
    To change this negative impact, AEC firms need to update their best practices for digital security by teaching employees how to recognize potential threats and investing in advanced cybersecurity tools to help detect or prevent attacks altogether.
  6. Laser scanning. The AEC industry has been incorporating laser scanning technology for years and with teams preferring to continue to work remotely, they rely on laser scanning services now more than ever. This service helps capture high-quality scans of work sites to measure and survey the area with incredible accuracy that is virtually unlimited in size. Not only are laser scans more convenient than traditional methods of manual data collection, but they are also faster and safer than physically traveling to the work site.
    Laser scans can support 3D model creation for as-built models, which provides crucial information on the existing conditions of a facility or job site prior to starting any work. Laser scanning can also be used for calculating the volume of building materials that will be needed to help reduce project waste.
  7. Drones. Most commonly, drones are used to capture site images and aerial survey data throughout the life of the project. This data can be used to create other 3D models, monitor material waste, track progress, and inspect the site for maintenance follow-up even after the job is completed, especially for structures in hazardous conditions. Using drones for these surveillance tasks saves both time and money.
    Since drones are so small, they can access hard-to-reach places and can map projects accurately in a fraction of the time it would take a human operator. Drones are much more precise and can capture video in real-time compared to the previous method of using satellite imagery to remotely capture worksite visuals that would often be months old and therefore unreliable. Not only that, but drones can zoom in to see details that can drastically reduce costly revisions and mistakes. Improving project data at the source will improve the analysis, insight, and decisions based on that information.
  8. Green technology. Climate change has created the need for sustainable practices that are eco-conscious across every industry – including AEC. AI can be used for green initiatives by optimizing sustainable energy solutions that reduce emissions and material waste. Companies using AI have reported a 15 percent reduction in waste over the last couple of years alongside an 11 percent improvement in power efficiency.
    Using VR, AR, cloud data management powered by AI, and drone technologies promotes remote work which can also support sustainable initiatives since they reduce the need for teams or clients to travel to sites to monitor progress in person. Client demand and increasing environmental regulations are also driving the need for creating additional green buildings.

The adoption of new technology relies heavily on stakeholder perception and justifying the costs of adopting new systems. Showing investors how technology can improve cost and performance is essential to convincing them of their long-term value in the AEC space.

Kevin Johns is shareholder, Architecture & Engineering with Clayton & McKervey. Contact him here.

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Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.