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Design technology survey, by MEA and GAJ

by Nick Ames on Jan 14, 2017

A survey into the use of new technology across the design and build business has revealed that less than half of the firms that responded are using building information modelling (BIM), despite the fact that it is mandatory for certain projects in the Middle East.

In total, 46% of respondents said they were taking on board 3D technology, while 94% were using CAD as their principle design tool.

But 64% wanted the authorities in the Middle East to tighten up their mandates when it came to BIM use in order to provide a more rigorous and standardised framework for design.

Many of the respondents who took part in the survey were embracing the latest technologies. One commented: “Design of industrial products is going digital. In the era of digital manufacturing, smart factories and the Internet of Things (IoT), whereby machines will communicate and there will be high levels of automation, industrial companies need a robust platform for successful design, manufacturing and commercialisation of products.”

Of the 90 responses, a slight majority (38%) were interior designers rather than architects (30%). The rest were made up of senior management, including CEOs, IT specialists, and engineers.

More than half of the firms represented (56%) employed more than 100 people, with the vast majority having more than 25 staff members. As well as architecture and interior design firms, a small number of manufacturers and consultancies also participated.

To visualise an initial design concept, scale modelling was popular among more than a third of the companies, while BIM has been adopted by less than half at this stage.

But many felt the use of new technology would open up design and allow a greater interaction with clients, customers, and members of the public. Those who were already using BIM agreed it can save time, money, and manpower in roughly equal measures, while also improving the quality of the design.

One respondent stated: “Like in the car manufacturing business which demonstrates innovation and implementation of different technologies into an ultimate concept car, so the architectural design business needs to step forward in embracing and demonstrating its vision of applied science to the public in a more physical representation. This will inform the public and thus [boost] general acceptance and implementation of new technology in construction.”

The majority (70%) felt BIM should be utilised during the construction phase, while 20% wanted it to be brought in from the very beginning. Some respondents felt it was too difficult to get other sectors along the design and build supply chain to understand how to use the technology.

One stated: “Design technology overemphasises the digital model of the building to a high extent, and in some cases this is not always useful for the client during construction. Hence there is a waste of time, effort, and money when the BIM model is too advanced for some contractors to make use of.”

But other comments were more favourable, including: “Virtual design is here. Design technology is inevitable moving forward.”

Most respondents (56%) said their colleagues were accepting of new technology, with 38% saying they were enthusiastic. There was a small percentage who were not interested, and some of the comments suggested this may be due to older people being less willing to engage in change in an industry they may have spent their whole lives in.

One respondent commented: “Software is a tool like anything else, and it’s not going to change architecture, like a pencil is not going to change art.”

But another felt the use of technology was beneficial to all, saying: “Shared data will improve efficiency and streamline processes among a project team.”

Autodesk and Sketchup proved the most popular software providers, and 80% of firms required new staff to be able to use the latest design software. Just a slight majority (54%) felt that universities were teaching the right skills, however.

The same figure (54%) felt that internal training was the best way of bridging this skills gap, while 30% favoured sending staff out on courses. Supplier training was another option, although favoured by just 6%, while 9% felt it was acceptable to allow staff to gain experience while actually doing projects.

When it came to sketching, almost all said their team members had some ability – but it emerged that less than half actually sketch on a regular basis.

Also, just one third of the firms that responded possessed a 3D printer – yet all those that did were using it and found it an extremely valuable tool.

One respondent stated: “Using 3D printing is a way to design and manufacture products in completely new ways not possible with traditional manufacturing methods.”

Greater cooperation among the design and build industry – from concept designer to end user – was a recurring theme among the respondents. One requested “more openness between existing software to improve communication and exchange formats”.