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Five tips for successful design automation Fraser Macdonald

Since the dawn of engineering, the industry has been refining the design process, chipping away at the time and effort it takes to deliver quickly and safely. However, productivity in construction has not increased in line with other industries, and it’s time to rectify this. Automated design is the next stage in the evolution of the design process and promises a step change in the speed with which new assets are created while freeing up engineers to focus on innovation and creativity.

And it’s already making an impact in the industry, with an automated app we developed reducing the time it takes to design a water pumping station from 15 days to just 15 minutes; almost 1000 times more efficient! While still a long way from becoming widespread in the industry, these are our tips for those taking the first steps in automated design:

1. Get perspective

Before diving into design automation, put the mouse down and step away. Then ask yourself: “Are we doing this the right way?” This is the time to challenge the status quo and reinvent the way you work. Avoid embedding ineffective delivery processes that work for traditional design, but have no value in automation. Only then look at the technology, as adding technology to a flawed process simply speeds up failure.

2. Get techy

The breadth and capability of technology evolves on an almost daily basis. But the shifting sands of technology can trap unwary designers in vendor hype. To the person with a hammer, everything looks like a nail – so don’t take their word for it. Be vendor and technology agnostic – just focus on the outcome. And challenge vendors on interoperability; after all, you should be building for the future, not for now.

3. Get building

Automation requires the right tools for the job. This means not just understanding what’s available, but being able to combine technologies like building blocks. Mash up commercial software with in-house tech to create powerful bespoke tools that serve new uses. Make the most of the components you have to hand and assemble them in new and interesting ways to find unexpected solutions to today’s challenges.

4. Get savvy

In particular, get data savvy. Our design processes produce increasingly high volumes of data. But manual data manipulation is painful and error-prone, while siloed data is near valueless. Put data front and centre of design and use the right tools to store, transfer and automate data processing. This alone will result in significant improvements in cost and quality.

5. Get creative

Focus your automation efforts on the repetitive and mundane so you can use the value unlocked by automation to focus human efforts on creativity and innovation. Automation promotes agile delivery, and provides space for a more collaborative relationship with asset owners, gaining their input earlier and more often and promoting a successful project outcome.

It’s still early days for automated design, and there will always be an element of trial and error in navigating these uncharted waters. Keeping these steps in mind will reduce wasted effort and create the best environment for success.

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