Customizing Design Workflows: Creating a lean design process to achieve more with less

The AEC industry is accustomed to a shortage of skilled labor. Yet combined with an aging workforce, the effects of the pandemic, and considerably changing industry and environmental dynamics, pressures on design firms are only set to increase. Even today, there are too few designers within the industry, particularly within the infrastructure sector. The result is that firms are often told that there is a need to do more with less. Yet at the same time, projects are only growing in complexity and thus require more time and resources. Let’s looks at how this can be accomplished with existing staffing levels.

Customizing the Digital Design Approach

Design customization is a potential solution. Allplan includes many built-in automation tools which can be saved with company settings as an initial step towards customization. By customizing tools to be more aligned with the designer’s process, efficiencies could be found. Additionally, these tools could be refined to fulfil broader workflow or systematic needs, such as quality checks.

The tools designers use are just one part of the solution; design knowledge is the other part. If more of the designer’s knowledge could be integrated into the process, this could enable options such as rule-based design modifications, for example. With customized tools such as these, repetitive, time-wasting tasks in the design process could be minimized, freeing up staff to undertake other value-adding activities.

Technologies for Design Customization

Allplan provides several possibilities for design tool customization, enabling both usability and productivity to be increased. These include:

  • Visual Scripting: Integrated technology allows designers to create their own workflows and automate tasks without any coding knowledge by using an easy-to-use graphical user interface.
  • PythonPart (API): With this API, a developer can create complex customized and automated workflows with code. Python is a well-known and easy-to-use scripting language, making it easier to find a developer to help with the development.
  • OPEN BIM: Using the OPEN BIM approach, content from other software (external data sources) can be processed and managed to support numerous workflows.
  • Bimplus API: This technology enables external partners to customize their own specific workflows and further enhance project data.

We’ll focus on the first two approaches with some examples that can be used for rapid design automation results or further customized for added benefits.

Customized Design in Practice

What follows are some examples of how a customized design approach using some of these tools could look like in practice, with a particular focus on common design challenges.

Accelerated Design Deliverables

For bridges, the Allplan Bridge solution already provides integrated parametric modeling, analysis, code-based design, and detailing. Nevertheless, when designing bridges or other structures with standardized shapes, workflows can be even further optimized. For example, the creation of standardized bridge elements can be automated within Allplan. 3D shapes such as bridge piers and foundations can be created and easily adapted to the desired geometry, including reinforcement. Sections and views can then be automatically generated from the model, together with drawings. As this video demonstrates, this can provide an estimated time saving of 90% in some cases — thereby maximizing design productivity.

Watch the video: Python Parts - Optimize your workflows and save time

When designing vaults (bespoke precast buried drainage structures), there are an unlimited number of variations possible. However, using a customized solution, a fully detailed vault can be created in a few clicks. This includes the ability to modify the geometry to specific needs, such as adding openings and baffles. Lifting inserts and reinforcement can also be automatically modeled with just a few inputs.

Watch the video: Allplan Vault APP: Automatic Precast Vault Design & Reinforcing

Rapid Reinforcement Detailing

For many projects, it is necessary to reinforce the structural elements according to structural design requirements. Here, customized solutions can also save time and increase accuracy — especially over manual approaches. Taking shear studs as an example, using a customized solution, values can be simply typed into an interface and the shear studs can be automatically laid out around the column. A 3D representation is created automatically. Another benefit of this approach is that the model is also intelligent. Therefore, with the click of a button, an intelligent table can be quickly generated that updates with the model for improved accuracy. This can be included on fabrication drawings, and even used for invoicing.

Watch the video: Allplan Studrail Smartpart

Allplan comes with a default installation library containing many useful pre-modeled, adjustable parametric building elements. This includes parametric reinforcement objects that considerably speed up the reinforcement design of beams, columns, and other structural elements. Users can specify reinforcement rules with regards to minimum and maximum spacing, minimum diameter, or permissible reinforcement ratio, and define offsets, connection reinforcement, and different bracing areas. The automatic comparison of the design with the stored reinforcement rules helps to detect errors at an early stage. Finally, views and sections can be conveniently generated from the model and placed.

Automatic Modeling Validation

Customized solutions can also be used for validation and checking, such as checks for specifications, quality standards, and safety issues. If there is something to compare against, then there is the potential to develop a solution. For example, automated schedules can show the quantities of bars for releases and ensure that loading quantities and weights are not exceeded for shipping to site. This removes some of the manual checking time that would be required, as well as improves project quality.

Repetitive Workflow Automation

With customization such as Visual Scripting, even relatively simple but repetitive tasks can be significantly — and easily — reduced. For example, when detailing buried vaults and junction boxes, openings are required for variety of services. These openings can be defined with just a few scripting nodes to create a function that enables the designer to parametrically create the openings required. This removes the need to manually model each opening, instead using just a few values to create a model in much less time.

For more inspiration, watch the video:

Another common problem is the manual adjustment of objects when importing IFC data from third parties, which takes up valuable time and increases the risk of errors. However, using Visual Scripting, something like visual representation can be modified automatically based on pre-defined rules from a .CSV file for instance, saving a large amount of time and effort. Allplan includes several useful default library templates for Visual Scripting, so getting started is easy.

Standard functionality, within Allplan, used for the creation of bills of materials can be customized, removing time-consuming, error-prone, manual workflows. With all the component information from the model, an intelligent schedule can be easily created within Allplan which can be customized to include all the information required for a bill of materials. This can then be included on the drawings for easy reference and will update automatically as the model changes.

Unlimited Potential

Customizing design workflows can significantly benefit infrastructure and building design projects by removing repetitive time-wasting activities within the design process. By so doing, it enables designers to achieve even more in the same timeframe. 

In Allplan, four methods exist for customization. From parametric elements to automating workflows, both experienced developers and non-programmers including architects, engineers, drafters, and contractors can benefit from the options available. Additional assistance from included libraries gives users practical examples to help get started. With these tools and an OPEN BIM based approach, Allplan empowers businesses to create customized approaches.

The practical use case examples that have been described here give a very brief overview of what is possible. For a tailored demonstration of what Allplan could enable you to achieve, book an appointment with an ALLPLAN specialist.

About the Author

Frank Holz is a Senior Technical Consultant at ALLPLAN Inc. based in Tampa Bay, Florida.  He is a structural engineer specializing in precast/prestressed structures including bridges, buildings, parking garages and buried structures.  He is also a software developer who has worked on the creation of algorithms, interfaces, and QC documentation for computer-aided engineering software.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in AECbytes sponsored articles are those of the sponsor and do not represent or reflect the views of AECbytes.

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