Engineering and construction projects are by necessity complex undertakings. The numerous stages of planning, design, development and construction with multiple parties involved means communication needs to be flawless. With deadlines, budgets and client expectations to be met, it’s imperative that everyone is on the same page and working as effectively as possible. Miscommunication not only endangers project goals but operatives’ personal safety so finding a way to accurately and effectively share information is paramount. In engineering, drawing and modelling plays a pivotal role in this.
At Lyons O’Neill, drawings are involved right from the very beginning of the design process. We encourage our Engineers to sketch their solutions at an early stage as we’ve discovered that presenting our ideas in this visual format works best for clients. The drawings lend an air of finality to initial ideas and help clearly communicate the complex requirements and specifications of each design. These drawings, combined with bespoke kick-off workshops, allow us to ensure every party truly understands the project and the plan.
Visual representation of the project is essential throughout the construction process, not simply at the consultation stage. Our use of modelling is playing an increasingly large role in what we do day to day as we embrace digital tools. The BIM process allows us to create a coordinated 3D model of the project, using data inputted by the design team as they finesse and finalise their original ideas. This model can then be examined intuitively to see if there are any areas of weakness or potential problems which were missed in the original plans – issues which, if left unaddressed, could lead to problems and costly delays. Visually depicting project plans therefore have a direct and positive impact on a project’s budget and schedule.
We are increasingly providing access to the BIM model once work begins onsite. It acts as a point of reference for the on site operatives to allow them to visualise the structure they are building and to ensure it doesn’t deviate from the careful plan. With the design information being presented visually, it’s easy to see if an installation begins to go wrong and any issues can be quickly rectified. At Lyons O’Neill we use a pioneering technology, Kubity, which allows our BIM models to be easily shared and accessed by the on site team. Each model has its own unique QR code meaning operatives can pull up the plans on their phone to assist them with their work. This digital method has aided our work on many projects, including our extension at St Nicholas SEN School: you can find out more about the project and even take a tour of our Kubity VR model here.
We’ve seen that drawings and modelling are crucial throughout the construction process yet in the future it seems they could play an even bigger role too. 3D printed structures are still a novelty but the concept is quickly gaining traction. Last year a French family became the first to move into a 3D printed home and the world’s first 3D printed steel bridge, in Amsterdam, was unveiled as part of Dutch Design Week. Although 3D printed structures still require support from traditional techniques, these projects offer a glimpse into the future: one where visualisation merges even more seamlessly with construction.
Whether or not 3D printed properties become a mass reality, drawings and models continue to shape the role of an Engineer. Whether you’re building a digital model or first sketching out an idea for a client, the value of drawings in our trade is undeniable. Engineers may spend hours on careful calculations but we are also visual artists too!