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The evolving role of the engineer

15th Dec 2016

Whenever you glance through your latest issue of an engineering or construction magazine, you can’t help but have a quick scan of the latest job descriptions to see what’s in demand. Curiosity is a part of our human nature - remember that. More and more you’ll notice all the buzzwords for Building Information Modelling springing up in job descriptions. BS1192. COBie. EIRs. Some of the most common you’ll see is Revit and Navisworks, but ultimately the description requires proficiency in some form of building information modelling software. Why? Should a technician be doing this?

This is where part of BIM’s wider ethos comes in, and it comes down to efficiency. If an engineer is creating a data-rich model within this type of software, modelling as they design, then an obvious problem is avoided: ideas getting lost in translation. The avoidance of providing designs to a colleague to model means the avoidance of misrepresentation and mismanaged expectations.

As our engineers become more and more seasoned in use of BIM, it becomes the engineer that uses the model to communicate their solutions to stakeholders and team members in design meetings; it becomes the engineer that runs through clash detection and identifies ‘pinch points’ within the design, meaning a leaner process.

But we need to consider the whole picture. If Building Information Modelling allows us to output designs with greater ease and more intelligence, then what happens if this progresses to the point of technological singularity (the theory that machine intelligence could surpass the productivity and intelligence of humans) - especially if we use programming to streamline data processing using formulae we could otherwise carry out ourselves, on paper.

The use of data will become more important than ever, as the availability of user data collected by corporations and government bodies is made easier through wearables ranging from temperature to location that can inform a building management system to respond to users’ needs in real-time.

How can we, as humans, compete with a modelling program that is capable of developing thousands of different solutions for the simple task of arranging rooms within a building once the code is developed? Rather scarily, it’s already here (via Project Fractal from Autodesk). But as humans and designers, we still need to input into the concept and design. We are the creative thinkers with the power of thought. Could a machine realise the excitement of a client when the vision is exactly how they imagined it to be?

This article was written by Lewis Cullinane, BIM Manager, as part of a wider series of thought pieces.