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What’s the Role for Building and Electrical System Consulting Engineers and Specifiers in an Age of Computational Design?

Great design and engineering used to take equal parts of science, smarts and hard work, with a good dose of inspiration. Certainly, technology – from slide rules to today’s advance CAD and 3D modeling tools – were there to make the grunt work of calculations, and drafting endless design tweaks and changes easier, faster and more precise. But at the center of the design process were always people – the designers, engineers and specifiers working to solve real-life challenges that affect people’s work and lives. Over the years as we’ve moved from “traditional” design methods (design to spec with high quality) to “design thinking” approaches (user-centric and empathetic design), to emerging “computational design” technologies (a computer language-like approach to harnessing massive data and computing capacity to create millions of iterative solutions) – yet at each stage the role of “human” insight and creativity has shifted.

Computational Design – Evolutionary or Revolutionary?

The field of computational design is both relatively new and diverse. Computational design can mean different things depending on its application and can employ of both established and evolving technologies.

A range of technologies fall under computational design concept from current parametric and emerging “algorithmic” design where parameters or rules are readily manipulated, to new data and computing-intensive tools such qualified experience design (QED), generative design and AI-powered tools.

Others describe computational design in terms that parallel software coding – creating (or encoding) powerful rules-based methodology for defining, refining and manipulating design parameters.

But common to all approaches and technologies is the use of massive data and computational capacity, linked to “instruction” approaches (e.g., algorithms, code-like rules, etc.) and 3D modeling and visualization tools. These approaches automate and generate hundreds, or even thousands, of design interactions and create new, faster and, perhaps, more innovative, insightful and personal design.

Changing Roles and New Opportunities

If computational design is churning out new “ideas and options,” what is the role for, and creative value of, building and electrical system designers and consulting specifying engineers? How will computational design shape the strategic directions in our industry over the next 10 to 15 years?

  • Role in the Value Chain? – If computational design is accelerating time and options in the middle of the “define-engineer-execute” problem-solving value chain — will tomorrow’s consulting specifiers and engineers play a more important role up front in defining parameters? And then evaluating and executing on options and alternatives created by computational design?
  • The “Craft” of Building and Power System Design: Will AI-enabled computational design tools take the “craft” out of design – or accelerate options and expand interactions between end users and engineers and specifiers?
  • Design Assets as a New Commodity: If automated design “assets” become commercial commodities, will that create new product and revenue channels for electrical system designers, consulting engineers and specifiers?
  • The Value of Data: Powering these massive computational design engines rely on new and exponentially growing data sets. Who will own, and manage, this data and does this create new roles and opportunities for consulting engineers and specifiers?

The impact of design technology over the next 5, 10 or even 20 years on the building and power distribution industry can be discussed with experts during one of the upcoming Schneider Electric Innovation Summits.

Together we can explore the challenges – and new opportunities – that will define our industry and new market leaders.

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