After working as a designer in the consulting engineering space for 25 years, you pick up on a few things. We are all a unique breed – efficiency is incredibly important in our industry, particularly now as we are recovering from a bit of downturn in the economy. While the points below certainly don’t apply to everyone in the industry, I find it to be shockingly consistent in my career:
- Engineers want to cut costs and come in under budget
- Engineers don’t necessarily embrace change
- Engineers are generally not very organized
- Engineers need to manage incredible amounts of data
Looking at the list above, you can start to see a few conflicts. Since most consulting engineering firms go through a bidding process to win contracts, every bit of time charged to a job increases costs. The best way to decrease costs is to become more efficient and organized – researching methods and techniques that will promote continuous learning. So, you can see this is a bit of a conundrum.
Technology can play a big factor in decreasing costs. During the design development phase, powerful desktop software like Revit has sparked a renaissance in engineered design. For the construction and project management phase, Bluebeam and PlanGrid are starting to become common in the field, with managers using tablets in the field to check their construction documents. This is all leading to a massive increase in efficiency and organization, something each firm must have to survive in a competitive environment.
THE SPARK BETWEEN YOUR PAPER AND HAND
For the past six months, I have been working closely with engineers and designers to find out how they are collecting site data during the early design phase and schematic design phase of new projects. Surprisingly, this process has experienced almost no significant changes over the past 20 years other than digital cameras.
Even with the prevalence of powerful tablet computers, almost everyone I have talked to (and worked with) is still using paper and pencil in the field to gather data and explore design ideas. The reason? Usability. While there are portable CAD packages and .PDF editors out there, none of them provide the ease of use or tool set required to compete with the trusty pen.
Like I said earlier – engineers don’t necessarily welcome change; they love the comfort and reliability of having that intimate connection that lies between a sheet of paper and their hand.
PUTTING AN END TO PEN AND PAPER
The problem we have gathered through many interviews is pen and paper sketching and data gathering is slow, messy, outdated and entirely inefficient. Some engineers complain that they have to redraw field notes twice just to get clear data into the CAD department for drafting where it needs to be drawn again in digital formats. Associated photos taken in the field are not organized well and take a lot of time and effort to present into a usable format.
Our goal is to satisfy the four conditions listed at the beginning of this article. We are working on a portable app that will dramatically reduce time spent in the field by providing a software solution that organizes and simplifies data gathering and concepting in the field. At the same time, we realize the importance of making our app as simple to use as paper and pencil.
The technology we are developing converts freehand drawing on an iPad into measured, scaled vector geometry in real-time. We have one simple goal in mind – massively increase efficiency in the field by eliminating pen, paper, drawing sets and digital cameras from the field investigation toolbox.
Our app can be used as an infinitely sized sheet of graph paper or a platform to load and design over engineered .PDF files. Investigators not only have the power to mark-up existing conditions, they can draw (in perfect, measured geometry) equipment variances from what is shown on their prints to what actually exists in the field.
Since ArcSite has the ability to draw to scale, the tedious task of dimensioning everything in the field is eliminated. Everything an engineer or designer draws in the field can be directly exported to a .PDF or .DXF (CAD) file.
Our focus, however, is to keep this as simple as sketching on paper. We don’t have a bunch of complicated icons or tools. Anything you draw can be accomplished with our pen tool, just like you would do it on paper.
PHOTOS ARE PEOPLE, TOO
In addition to our patent-pending drawing tool, we are implementing a location based photo solution that allows investigators to identify exactly where and what direction the photo was taken and enables precision drawing, measuring and notation capabilities on top of the placed photo.