As with other AEC industry trends, rapid technological changes offer both threats and opportunities. While implementing new technology can be difficult, trailblazing firms that leverage innovative AEC technology can gain competitive advantages. Pioneering AE firms that invested in Building Information Modeling (BIM) technology a decade ago, for example, are today’s industry leaders. Those who didn’t were left in the dust.

Top 7 AEC Technologies to Watch 

How is technology changing the AEC industry? These seven AEC technologies will play substantial roles in shaping the future of the industry:

  • Virtual Reality
  • Artificial Intelligence/Machine Learning
  • Blockchain
  • Digital Twin
  • Cybersecurity
  • 3D Printing
  • Data Products

Let’s take a closer look at how these technologies are shaping the AEC industry landscape.

1. Virtual Reality 

Cutting-edge firms are using Virtual Reality (VR) solutions to bring together project teams, connect with clients, and onboard new employees through interactive 3D avatars that can speak to each other, move around, and even shake hands to make deeper connections than video conference screens can ever hope to. Employees who don VR headsets can gather in virtual conference rooms and social settings that offer more immersive environments than video calls. Internal project teams can use VR to view presentations, review models, and manipulate objects in a 3D environment, and studies have found VR more effective than e-learning and in-person classes for training new hires and staff development programs. For VR skeptics, the surprise is that the technology is an excellent platform to develop soft skills — with the bonus of no travel costs.

2. Artificial Intelligence/Machine Learning

Artificial intelligence (AI) holds the potential to radically change the AEC industry by allowing design firms to make better decisions about projects and operations, engage with employees, and strengthen client relationships. Autodesk is among the architectural design software companies that have invested heavily in machine learning, a branch of AI in which systems analyze data to identify patterns and generate solutions. Designers can input project goals and parameters, such as material costs and weights, and the software uses algorithms to generate thousands of design possibilities. Software companies assert that AI will be doing repetitive work, freeing up AE professionals to focus on high-level design.

3. Blockchain

Blockchain technology allows devices to securely connect and communicate with each other without the need for a central hub. The technology stands where the internet was 30 years ago. By slashing the inefficiencies of the intermediary steps inherent with the internet, it will drive down enterprise and supply chain costs while increasing quality and reliability. Blockchain-based technologies can make it easier for AEC project teams to track progress and verify identities.

4. Digital Twin

AEC industry technology has evolved from Computer-Aided Design (CAD) to BIM and now to the digital twin, which is a virtual representation of real-world entities and processes that employs data collected by sensors enabled by the internet of things. This software solution offers dynamic, virtual replicas of the build environment can be used by project teams to reliably test the real-life outcomes of various scenarios, which can increase buildings’ operational efficiencies, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and carbon footprints, and save costs through more efficient space utilization.

5. Cybersecurity

The work-from-home shift has proved to be a boon for cybercriminals who have learned to target the vulnerabilities posed by remote employees accessing corporate IT systems through their personal home networks. As the risk of hackers disrupting operations or extorting money through ransomware increases, cybersecurity has emerged as a major concern for firm leaders and clients, who are increasingly demanding the implementation of cybersecurity precautions to protect their files, drawings, models, and contracts. Research by IBM has found that human error is a major contributor in 95% of all cybersecurity breaches, which means that cybersecurity training can be one of the most effective precautions firms can take.

6. 3D Printing 

Although still in its infancy, 3D printing is becoming a reality in some AEC industry segments. Advocates predict the futuristic technology could help the AEC industry address its labor and material cost challenges by delivering construction projects faster, cheaper, and with less waste than with conventional techniques. By using only the precise materials required, 3D printing could save on scrap wood and metal dumped in landfills and reduce carbon emissions by decreasing the need to ship prefabricated slabs or mix and pour concrete on location. Grandview Research projects 3D-printed construction will experience a 91.7% compound annual growth rate through 2028.

7. Data Products 

Many AE firms are sitting on untapped revenue sources — their data. Although consulting revenue is fundamentally restricted by the number of billable hours that can be produced, there’s no such constraint with software or data products. Forward-thinking AE firms are packaging their data and developing intuitive interfaces for end users to access through software or apps that are enhancing their revenue streams and significantly expanding their customer base beyond the classic industry clients. Some firms have relied on employees who know how to code to build interfaces, while others have purchased software companies to acquire in-house expertise.

The Future of AEC Technology

How your AE firm reacts to these trends will dictate whether you are a disruptor or one of the disrupted. The successful adoption of new technology often dictates which firms become tomorrow’s industry leaders; the trick is picking the right innovations to implement. Contact us today to find out how Morrissey Goodale can help your firm profit from these technology trends.

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