Five ways AI will transform infrastructure design engineering

As Artificial Intelligence (AI) and ChatGPT dominate headlines, it’s tough to avoid discussions around how these technologies will transform the role of engineers. While AI is often mystified, Transcend has been working with engineers to incorporate automated design tools into their lives for over 10 years, and has learned a lot of lessons along the way.

Rather than fight the inevitable, EPC firms and engineers embracing Artificial Intelligence enhance their design capabilities, bring more value to clients, and also save money and time on preliminary design phases of projects. As climate change and rapid development continue to accelerate, the world’s demand for improved water and power infrastructure is bottomless. AI-assisted tools like the Transcend Design Generator (TDG) will help the world’s EPCs rise to the occasion, not make them the next forgotten about companies as technology changed the world around them.

Based on our experience, Transcend sees AI changing critical infrastructure design in five ways.

New Ideas

Utilities & their consultants often can’t afford to consider more unique, innovative, sustainable solutions for their projects. EPCs are incentivized to complete preliminary designs quickly and stay within budget. To achieve these tight deadlines, it’s common for EPCs to use similar designs from past projects. While this practice is time effective, it inconsistently delivers the best solution. AI-assisted tools like TDG can generate diverse design concepts for an upcoming capital project by repurposing existing infrastructure and iterating on proposed plans that engineers prescribe. AI tools give EPCs holistic insight into how a project could be completed, providing a ‘crystal ball’ to predict bottlenecks and inefficiencies at various phases of the design process. As utilities look at new water treatment & power generation technologies, as well as construction methods, EPCs wanting to lead designs must change their conventional thinking and start to assess more options in the same amount of time and budget they have been allotted.

Time Savings

Computers are now capable of automatically generating drawings, modeling, and preliminary documentation in minutes, as opposed to the days or weeks of years past. Once AI completes the necessary work for an EPC’s latest tender pursuit, the team can use this newfound time to analyze, critique, and modify the generated design. In the same time it takes other EPCs to complete their proposed design, your team can present fully developed, quality plans on bid day without expending more non-billable hours. From a business development standpoint, this means fewer “No-Go’s” as AI assists your EPC in managing the monotonous side of documentation.

Documentation Automation

Automated design software like TDG seamlessly connects and integrates each engineering discipline to develop thorough preliminary designs. During a traditional design process, the engineering disciplines work together in a ‘waterfall’ fashion to bring a project to life; in the case of wastewater treatment, process engineers will hand off their work to mechanical engineers, who then pass it over to electrical/controls, and finally to civil. But as clients request revisions, immense coordination and communication are required and designs often need a complete ‘do-over’ from each engineering team.

AI automatically integrates the process, mechanical, electrical, and civil engineering decisions and calculations needed for infrastructure projects, creating comprehensive engineering plans without the back and forth between engineering disciplines. Once the decisions and calculations are completed in the cloud, required drawings and models for preliminary design reports are generated within minutes once a user runs a design. The tedious documentation routine of initiating design is automated, giving drafters time to perfect drawings and engineers time to dig into details at an earlier stage.

Shorter Timelines

With the time savings from design generation, AI will inevitably influence the timeline expectations of global infrastructure projects. AI design tools will enable contractors and utilities to add their input earlier in the design process. The gap between preliminary design and construction will narrow as the preliminary design takes on a more mature role in the initial stages of capital expense projects. For EPCs competing globally, AI provides the tools needed to keep up with the fast-paced developing world. For example, projects in Asia-Pacific and Africa generally keep much tighter timelines than western infrastructure projects. Western EPCs interested in conducting business in those regions can leverage AI to meet these shorter timeline expectations.

Design Democratization

AI empowers a larger group of project stakeholders to design infrastructure. With tools like TDG, the power to create preliminary infrastructure design is now in the hands of utilities, manufacturers, contractors, salespeople, project managers, and more. This shift in access has implications for the future of EPC’s involved in design since preliminary design reports are expensive and require a consulting engineer. For example, utility engineers can now leverage AI to brainstorm their preferred path for a capital project and hire an engineer later in the design process, or influence the bid spec with options that already include process flow diagrams and 3D BIM models. Access to design is critical for the future of water & power infrastructure because each party involved can bring their perspective. A more complete take on design also mitigates miscommunication earlier in the process.

Ultimately, AI is a tool, and one that isn’t after engineering jobs. New technology will shift engineers’ tasks and roles, as it always has. The world needs dedicated infrastructure engineers to harness AI when selecting a project’s best path forward so that more innovative, sustainable options can be assessed for projects rather than what was designed for years past.

Tools like TDG need guidance and adjustments from engineers’ real-world expertise. Together, AI and engineers can introduce a new way of designing and completing infrastructure projects that match the world’s demands.

If you have questions about how tools like the Transcend Design Generator can help you design better infrastructure, reach out today to see how we’re reimagining water and power infrastructure design.


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