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AEC Call for Automation

This article is written by Ligia Trindade, Digital Coordinator at Willow & WIB Regional Lead for Brisbane, Queensland.

Some time ago I was reflecting on my career and wondering what the next step in my digital journey would be in terms of knowledge. We breathe technology and there is no way to separate software from processes and people. At the end of the day, technical skills are fundamental in any sphere, even at managerial levels. Furthermore, the streams of information, interfaces and data is getting considerably greater each day, especially in a collaborative environment, which represents an enormous challenge.

That is where automation makes all the difference.

Even within the Construction Industry, where programming languages ​​are not usually required, the training of new professionals in automation is beginning to gain relevance. This is thanks to the popularisation of technologies such as visual programming and generative design, which open a world of possibilities for professionals like me.

Today, working on one of the largest infrastructure projects in Australia, Cross River Rail in Brisbane, I can tell you with authority how important automation is. After all, to coordinate 10.2 kilometres of rail line, 4 new stations and 1 existing, plus 5.9 kilometres of twin tunnels under the Brisbane River and the CBD is not an easy task.

Cross River Rail Project Overview, viewed 28 October 2020, <https://crossriverrail.qld.gov.au/about/project-overview/>.

However, based on my own experience, I believe that in principle more than 50% of everyone’s tasks could be automated, and this is not just a guess.

In practice, Cross River Rail’s Digital Engineering team now saves more than 300 working hours per week, thanks to an extensive effort to automate a variety of tasks, from the generation or modification of over 270 models, clash detection and model federation to simpler solutions such as the creation of tasks triggered by standardised emails, generation of reports, and so on.

We are a team of 9 people working an average of 40 hours a week each, totalling 360 hours. If we work 360 hours and save 300, then we have reduced the team by almost half, right?

The answer is: no!

It may sound contradictory, but the more tasks are automated, the more work we can deliver! And you know what? That should always be the goal.

Over the last few months, the development in this direction has been resounding and, as productivity advances, there is more time to focus on activities that really add value to the project, those tasks requiring subtle human intervention and judgement, ultimately meaning we deliver more and better.

In my view, (wo) man and machine will always be great allies as we are good at different things. To ensure the success of their interactions, though, I put together some thoughts that I consider important to create and manage automated tasks:

• First identify repeatable, time-consuming tasks that obviously do not require enormous critical thinking. If you do not have to think through a task, then you can and should automate!

• Make sure that you have established a clear manual process before going on to automation.

• Test the new process in parallel to the previous one until it reaches the necessary maturity to replace it without causing any injury.

• Be aware that you will never get it right at the first time, so be persistent!

• Create a routine or notifications to check if the automated tasks run, as the whole process is subject to failures: it is important to investigate if the error happened for an isolated reason or if it is related to a software or hardware limitation.

Following the path of other industries, I believe that the ability to automate tasks is a great differential for professionals within AEC and I am very excited to keep exploring its unlimited possibilities!

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