Research Report: Technology and Innovation in Today’s AEC Community

In this year’s AEC technology survey, we measured the acceptance of technology by structural engineers, architects, civil engineering professionals, designers, and people working in the construction and building trades.

The majority of participants were at the managerial level or had some degree of leadership within their organizations. This included managers, team leaders, and owners or proprietors of individual firms. In addition, there were a number of individual contributors who were technology users, and they provided us with some useful insights and feedback.

The organizations we spoke to varied greatly; however, most had more than 50 employees. In order to gauge a better and more diverse assessment, we felt that it was important to get input from smaller firms that had between six and 20 employees, as well as even smaller ones with just a few employees. All of these firms were located worldwide, with most in North America, and a smaller number in Europe and Asia. We asked participants about their use of new and emerging technologies as well as archaic and legacy technologies within the AEC industry. We asked specifically about their usage of the following:

•  3D modeling

•  BIM

•  Cloud data storage

•  Aerial laser scanning

•  Ground laser scanning

•  Photogrammetry

•  Point cloud technology

•  Rendering technology

•  Scanning technology (scanning legacy paper drawings into a raster or vector format)

•  Triangular irregular network (TIN) surfaces

Many of these technologies are advanced and are used by peripheral professionals to the AEC community, such as mapping specialists, 3D printing and additive manufacturing designers and others. Because 3D modeling was the overwhelming majority of technology usage, much of our report is dedicated to building information modeling (BIM). We have exhaustively researched BIM and extracted commentary and perspectives from many different users at all levels. Thus, this report provides the deepest coverage of BIM as it’s not only commonly used, but is also central to the business of building and construction and is related to many of the other technologies that we examine.

The survey explored data storage. We found that almost everybody was using some degree of storage technology or cloud-based data storage real estate to house their files and ensure that such data is not only backed up but is secure due to the merits of modern-day cloud data storage technology.

Our study found that fewer and fewer of the participants were using some of the more sophisticated technologies previously mentioned—primarily because such technologies are more specialized and are not necessary or part of their daily design and modeling efforts. For example, for more complex laser scanning—both aerial and ground-based—many respondents indicated that they have plans to use the technology in the future but aren’t using it currently. In addition, not as many were using photogrammetry or point cloud scanning.

Many respondents were using rendering and also maintain the ability to scan paper drawings to CAD. However, much of the AEC community works in digital technology and maintains that data and its associated renderings and drawings in a digital format. Thus, it is not always necessary to have that scanning capability. However, there are plenty of situations where archaic and legacy paper drawings still exist and where it could be beneficial to an architect in a redesign. As a result, the technology is still being utilized. We found that the triangular irregular network surface technology is being used by very few in our dataset of participants and found only a limited interest in this technology by those we queried. This is probably because it’s being used by specialists outside of the AEC community. When such technology would be valuable and beneficial, it’s more likely that the specialists—or firms that have this specialty within their service offerings—will be brought in.