Cloud is around us
If you were to explore construction industry trends in 2022, you would notice the trend of more automated, mobile, and fluent industries. So, have you caught up with the cloud-based movement yet?
The birth of the pandemic has opened the potential to work and access information from anywhere. Our favorite BIM Software, Project Management software, or your familiar Microsoft Suite are now available on the cloud. You may be expected not to send your Microsoft file through email soon, finally.
For engineers, the civil and structural engineering industry is dynamic and ever-changing. It has to adapt to a booming market, a delayed project, or a lull economy. That is where cloud-based software or platform engineering shines in the industry with its adaptability. Still, not all companies have adopted this method over traditional software and engineering calculation design methods.
So the question worth asking is: Why not move to cloud-based engineering?
Why move to cloud-based tools?
Faster and lighter engineering design
To understand the problem more clearly, let’s compare traditional and cloud-based engineering methodologies.
For example, engineers have to abide by specific design codes in structural design. This determines design limitations like a wall's maximum and minimum thickness or the materials’ minimum strength.
Traditionally, structural engineers will build a model on desktop software to check if the designs abide by appropriate design codes and simulate real-life conditions like earthquakes. They will adjust or redesign structures’ components if they have not complied with the building code. Hence, engineers must repeatedly do design checks with all building components. And they have to repeat the same design code checking for new projects! Doesn’t sound very time efficient.
Cloud engineering software makes the design process faster by automating repetitive components. Cloud companies usually design platforms that incorporate engineering calculators (by code or API), and the users only need to input the dimensions to check the design results. This, by far, will be much faster than continuing to iterate on your design model all the time manually.
An example of an online engineering platform is CalcTree. We will soon launch our engineering platform, powered by a growing respiratory of calculations from engineers worldwide. Please join our waitlist to receive the latest updates.
The key to advanced technologies
BIM - A combination of software on cloud (Source)
Building information modeling (BIM) technology improves the efficiency of projects. You may have heard of some unique and complex constructions, but they are impossible to build without BIM untangling their sophisticated nature.
For instance, the Bird’s Nest Stadium in Shanghai, home of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, consists of hundreds of curved steel structures to create its unique bird’s nest shape. The production and installation of those structures were so intertwined and highly sophisticated that Arup started to implement BIM, a highly new technique at the time, to solve its technical difficulties. This enormous application indicates the future importance and potential of cloud-based software.
Bird’s Nest stadium with steel structures (Source)
In short, BIM allows users to generate computer renderings of buildings and utilities with different layers of engineering design, such as structural analysis, utility planning, and geotechnical designs. The model, which contains a huge amount of data, will be used on the cloud to share, making it easier to manage the model. This enables superior project analysis, prefabrication of parts or on-time updates, and accurate quality control. Autodesk describes it as “an intelligent 3D model-based process to help professionals manage buildings and infrastructure.”
BIM can also open up several innovative possibilities in the industry that you might have heard of, such as:
- Modular Construction: Prefabrication is a prominent construction trend where every building component will be manufactured off-site. Hence, stronger quality control and more detailed modeling are required to ensure accurate installment of the off-site components.
- Life Cycle Assessment: With a huge demand for carbon reduction from the industry, controlling the whole life cycle of a building will be a possibility in the future. You can find out more in CalcTree’s article about How smart engineering designs can reach a future without embodied carbon?
Life-Cycle Assessment steps of a product (Source)
- Digital Twins: a higher level of BIM is a model continuously updated in real-time. Imagine if the model can identify the damage from the building in real-time without engineers redrawing the model. This is something that can only be achieved by internet cloud technology.
Engineering Project Management Software
This may sound obvious, but tools like Google Documents, Outlook, and OneDrive are a part of the daily cloud-based tool lists that most engineers (and other industries) use. For the same reason that you like to see immediate updates from your teammate’s work in Google Documents, you would like to see the same dynamics and flexibility in project management applications. Hence, real-time tracking is required to manage hundreds of activities and deadlines in one project. People can:
- Log in and track what they're supposed to do and when.
- Record their progress on those tasks and add relevant details, such as notes regarding any changes.
- Track the whole project and manage the big picture.
These online collaborative applications are powerful tools in the budget, timeline, and people management of construction companies. Of course, their configuration is much more complex than a normal note-taking app, and there are requirements to consider when choosing the best project management software.
Unlimited storing capacity
Engineers might need to render and store hundreds of technical drawings and modeling files for a typical building on their computers. One 3D modeling file can range from 1 to 20 Gigabytes (GB)! So a few projects and your laptop is already out of capacity.
Imagine how time-consuming it is to compress every large file and email it to other engineering teams, clients, and managers several times daily. So, cloud document storage saves you the hassle of directing any stakeholder to the original file by introducing the “share” button. Many traditional modeling software is already moving onto cloud computing, such as AutoDesk’s BIM 360. The emerging structural engineering platform like WeStatiX also permits you to model straight on the cloud.
Cloud software can also offer incredible flexibility. When companies subscribe to various cloud services, they only need to sign up for the functions or capacity they need. If you need 1 TB per year, you can always upgrade to 2TB per year later. Hence, the cloud system can quickly adapt to the companies’ business growth, which is something that traditional desktop computing cannot do.
Cloud storage is also a central point of information and document storage across the company. This eliminates the need for team members to continually check with each other for the latest design model version.
Easy accessibility - work wherever you go
Accessibility will be a game-changer for engineering operations. Engineers can design at home, manage projects and meetings and perform site inspections remotely. Hence, the ability to access the work and data from anywhere, anytime, and share it with everyone is a productivity booster, thanks to cloud-based tools.
Yes, software nowadays provides more and more flexibility in device access. Namely, AutoCAD mobile permits engineers to view and make edits on mobile devices and access the large models on a laptop.
With cloud software, whether you are on-site, at your desk, or away from the office, you can:
- Access and update project information
- Order supplies or request services
- Make design edits
- Review the technical model or information
- Track time and input timesheets
- Pay bills
- Collaborate with the team
Maximise team transparency and collaboration
A construction project can go through dozens of designs and reviews and take months to complete. And checks from varying stakeholders and design disciplines are dependent on each other. Suppose the structural engineers want to make design changes. In that case, geotechnical engineers must be notified and recheck their soil capacity checks. So overall, the complexity of changes compounds the more groups are involved.
Without shared data repositories, this process can be very slow and prone to mistakes. With documents and designs updated in real-time on the cloud platform, multiple stakeholders can efficiently review and evaluate changes. This speeds up the decision-making process without unnecessary back and forth.
Now, the structural engineers can make fast changes, and all other teams can react to those changes immediately because everyone can see their work.
That transparency will reduce the risks of miscommunication, errors, and delays in project management and, at the same time, increase productivity, team cohesion, and efficient decision-making. It sounds like a dream team for engineers!
Why not move to cloud-based tools?
If you've reached this point, you must be convinced of the cloud's potential. So then you're probably asking, why hasn’t it been widely adopted? It involves data security. The online environment contains high risks of data loss or theft, especially when you are using storage from a third party. Even big firms today are still having data security issues in their systems. The consequences of security issues are particularly prominent when it involves government infrastructure projects.
Also, you most likely have heard about the complaint in the online environment: service connection cut up due to weak internet or over capacity. To engineers, it is not as simple because the model needs real-time updates, which means a glitch in the system can cause a decrease in productivity, especially with rendering heavy CAD files, which is a difficult task even for the most powerful PC. The online cloud might not be able to maintain that smooth functionality for the software all the time if there is no strong network supporting it.
Otherwise, the performance of the cloud software is to be questioned, as traditional computer software is usually configured to handle more complex and powerful tasks. You can easily compare how Microsoft Word in the browser has much fewer features than Microsoft Word on the device. Like structural modeling software on the cloud, we would be expected to have simpler features than traditional modeling software. Therefore, the risks of cloud software not meeting the demand of structural complexity is something that not all firms can take.
Finally, many organizations benefit from cloud services' agility, scale, and pay-per-use billing. But in an industry with embedded traditional software usage like engineering, transitioning to new software can change how the whole team designs and plans. Of course, that is why firms always carefully consider strategies and processes for cloud migration when the business is ready.
With the advancement of construction methodologies and the increased need for collaboration, cloud technologies are boosting the industry. CalcTree is proud to be a part of the technological advancement with our cloud engineering platform, which combines project management and designs aspects of engineers to permit even faster and lighter design.
- BigRentz (2021 ) "Top 10 Construction Industry Trends To Watch For In 2022".
- Hubstaff (Apr 4, 2019) "How to Increase Profitability for Your Engineering Firm".
- Realprojectives (May 6, 2019) "The Advantages and Challenges of Modular Construction" .
- OneClickCLA "A guide to Life-cycle assessment for green building experts".
- CalcTree "How smarter engineering designs can help achieve a future without embodied carbon".