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Alex Kruger

Electrical Project Engineer

Before my time, in a not-so-distant past, engineers and drafters spent hours chiseling away with paper and lead, carving out eloquent hand-drawn depictions of pumps and processes that can rarely be replicated today. Don’t you hate when you receive those faded, unsearchable, scanned PDFs for as-builts drawings? Modern engineering has changed drastically over the past few decades and even more so in the past four to five years. Nowadays, we sit behind three screens with super computers pumping out tedious calculations for us. Our programs have been refined with templates and system types to make our jobs easier. But as we’ve all heard from Ben Parker, “With great power comes great responsibility.”

 

Jobs now seem to be faster paced and larger in scope, and clients expect greater coordination among teams. We are now more capable, and therefore more responsible, for greater accuracy, better clash detection, and more information-imbedded designs. The implementation of object-based design requires more information to be inserted into the design process than ever before. Hence the greater need to expand and develop design automation workflows.  

I see design automation as the solution to some of my personal doldrums in modern engineering. I don’t want to know how much time I’ve spent on repetitive tasks like placing receptacles or updating title blocks for client submittals. Nowadays, I work secluded in my home, hidden away in an upstairs office. I’ve traded coffee talks with colleagues for the distant sounds of my children breaking things around the house. Repetitive tasks in isolation (and with children) should drive anyone mad. The question is, when are you going to get so fed up with a task that you learn how to eliminate it?

During my first engineering internship, a manager tasked me with taking 40 to 50 pictures of production graphs and putting them on a PowerPoint every Monday morning, so our line managers could review run time, quantity, or defect ratios from the previous week to identify improvements or potential issues in the production process. Each week it took me about one hour to get everything sized properly and sent off to my manager. Many would consider this “grunt work”, and it wasn’t what I would consider fun or exciting. So, I took that tedious task and dabbled in some automation. I programmed a simple recorded macro in Excel, and boom, my boring, Monday morning task became as simple as clicking “run” and letting my computer do the work for me.

It's easy to lose passion in a project when you are up against a tight deadline, you’ve finished all the major distributions and now all that’s left is to lay out and circuit thousands of receptacles and light fixtures. We all find ourselves, at times, stuck with tedious tasks. So instead of waiting for someone to release a free plugin that solves all your problems, why not offload some tasks and processes on the unfeeling robot sitting in front of you? I’ve learned that spending one to two hours developing a script often saves me 20 hours of work spent on repetitive tasks—that’s time I’ve saved myself, and my client, for whom I can then spend that time on working on more important tasks. Plus, in addition to streamlining basic functions, design automation minimizes the margin of error.    

Revit and Dynamo are now my tools of choice and I have learned enough to cobble together some nifty automation scripts. These scripts aren’t going to change the world of engineering, but they’ve saved me a good portion of time and an immeasurable amount of sanity, and I’d recommend that all my colleagues consider utilizing these tools as well. They are both well supported online and have many plugins and packages that can be used to implement design automation into your workflow. The main entry point into design automation for most users is answering a simple question: how can I use the computer sitting in front of me to implement a simple repetitive task, so I don’t have to do that task? After completing a script in Dynamo (and seeing it doesn’t crash my computer), I think of how a drafter might have felt after completing one of their works of art. Then I go grab another coffee.