Have the Right Tool for the Job: My Father’s Solution to a Complex World
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Have the Right Tool for the Job: My Father’s Solution to a Complex World

The holiday season is upon us. At this time of year we’re looking forward to spending time with our loved ones and are offered rare opportunities to learn about the perspectives of different generations.

Generational perspectives and the associated challenges are also pervasive in our industry. As many of the baby boomers begin to retire, they take with them years of experience, as well as a singular adeptness or know-how—not an easy skill to replace. It will take time for my generation (Millennials) and Generation X to truly take their place. Not only that, the focal point of our industry has shifted from the physical “tangible” world to the less visible, and often times virtual, tech-driven world.

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As I start my holiday shopping, it’s easy to see how generational influences come into play. My father is a retired carpenter and baby boomer whose personal motto has always been “have the right tool for the job.” For his gift this year, I’ll try to find a tool missing from his toolbox (although at this point he has two or three of everything). For my younger cousins, I’ll probably buy a video game or some electronic device.

These differences make me think about the generational parallels to our industry and how the technology behind video game platforms (no longer viewed simply as toys) has been harnessed to provide us with the ability to create virtual worlds. It’s quickly becoming a powerful tool used to highlight not only what exists now, but what could exist in the future. It’s also clear that people commonly rely on the younger generations to bring to light new innovation. A recent example that rocked popular culture was an innovative technology that dragged everyone out in the streets looking for Pokémon® and Pokémon Go®, fueled by Augmented Reality (AR).

Interestingly, professionals in our industry have been using this same technology for quite some time. Some clients are using AR with their operations staff, providing them with tablets or cell phones that allow them to look behind walls in newly constructed facilities, and to strategically perform asset management and condition assessments. AR also can also bring a design to life in the field as it illustrates a Building Information Modeling (BIM) rendering.

Another innovation, (already being used to some degree in design and construction) is a virtual reality (VR) headset, such as the use of Oculus®. Once again, the architecture/construction/engineering (AEC) industry has been ahead of this technology and employed VR— to do things like allowing an individual to virtually stroll down the halls and inspect the layout and functionality of future buildings. This immersive experience enhances the owner’s ability to understand what the final product will look like and ensures the best value possible.

We now have vastly different tools at our disposal, with innovation happening much more quickly than what our predecessors could have imagined. Something that was once viewed as a gimmick by our industry is often just a year later considered standard practice; this is the pace of modern technology. Recently, BIM has surpassed CADD as the go-to technology. BIM models have been enhanced with 4-D models that incorporate time progression, to show what components will be built when and to enhance scheduling and phasing during construction. The list of applications for this tool, especially when combined with other advancements like AR and VR, goes on, and grows every day, challenging us to stay on top of this dynamic world.

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As virtual design and construction evolves we’ll use these technologies to better serve our respective clients, whether utilities or the public. As engineers and designers, it’s imperative that we keep a finger on the pulse of the industry and keep our toolbox filled with the best tools for the job. By implementing these exciting technologies we’ll improve our work today and attract the engineers and designers of tomorrow.

Image #1: Kenny, as a toddler, budding carpenter and future engineer, is pictured with his father and the tools of the trade.     

Image #2: BIM modeling for the Pure Water Program's North City Conveyance System (NCCS) Civil Engineering Services project.

Water/Wastewater EIT