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Technology developments facilitate architectural, engineering jobs

In Nashville, policemen and engineers work in tandem to help keep intersections collision-free. The unlikely teaming was brought about by technology implementing GIS (geographic information system) aerial photography, developed by Neel-Schaffer Inc. in Jackson.

The automated collision database and reporting system, one of several developed by Neel-Schaffer, involved developing an electronic data-entry application for real-time entry of collision reports in the field by officers in police cruisers, developing an automated database system for analysis of collision data collected in the field at the time of the crash, and analyzing historical collision data to determine the 30 highest collision locations within Nashville and Davidson County for more detailed engineering analysis.

“This unique system was designed to be seamless between the police and engineering departments,” said Hibbett Neel, president of Neel-Schaffer, one of the largest privately-held engineering firms in the Southeast, which is consistently placed in Engineering News-Record’s 500 Top Design Firms in the U.S.

“In the past, the patrolman would make a report on paper and it would go in a file,” he said. “Sometime down the road, it would be submitted to the traffic department, that would take it, compile it, and go out several years later and look at an intersection. This way, the data is transmitted immediately and is used between different departments. Police officers and engineers can go to a site with laptop computers and pull up aerial photographs. Police can do selective enforcement, say, if most accidents occur at a particular intersection between five and seven (o’clock) at night, they could put forces there. Traffic engineers can make traffic improvements rapidly to avoid accidents.”

With the software CollisionView, Neel-Schaffer has contracts with Metro Nashville and the City of Germantown, Tenn. “We intend to do this throughout our areas in the southeast,” said Neel.

Technology is playing a huge and vital role in project planning and design, and architectural and engineering firms rely on its use everyday.

“In the past, you’d draw something on a piece of paper,” said Neel. “If you wanted to change it, you’d have to erase or start over. When we started 20 years ago, we had one computer. Now, all our engineers have laptop computers and can make instantaneous changes and print out plotters, or plans by which contractors use to build things. It came in very handy on the (Ross Barnett Reservoir) spillway project with the bridge we put parallel. It was a great engineering project.”

Technology has transformed the imagery associated with architects and engineers, said Dr. Wayne Bennett, dean of the Mississippi State University School of Engineering.

“One of the stereotypes of architects and engineers is gathering in a large room full of huge drawing boards,” he said. “If you go back a few years, they have on eye shades and long sleeve shirts with elastic armbands. Well, the drawing boards are all gone. Everything’s electronic.”

CAD (computer-aided design for architects) and CAM (computer-aided manufacturing for engineers) programs have made perhaps the biggest impact in project planning and architectural work and engineering design work, said Bennett.

“It helps architects and engineers identify a critical path to deliver a project on time and on budget, and is linked with telecommunications, which enables us to share information in different locations simultaneously,” he said. “The combination of CAD and telecommunications has totally changed the way that engineers and architects plan buildings and carry out construction.”

When Cooke Douglass Farr Lemons/LTD Architects and Engineers in Jackson renovated McCain Hall on the MSU campus, the design was done entirely on computer systems linking CAD with telecommunications.

“They sent me drawings and diagrams electronically instead of putting a roll of prints in the mail or having someone drive them up here,” said Bennett. “We could actually see what they were doing and suggest modifications as the project progressed. The Nissan project is another good example. The ability to quickly create and modify designs, to see how the various systems of a building fits together, and to have accurate dimensioned elements of a building, has helped save time and money and ensure accuracy-and drive down labor cost.”

Robert E. “Rob” Farr II, AIA, principal of Cooke Douglass Farr Lemons, said the firm “certainly took advantage of the technology available to us.”

“On the McCain (Hall) project, we also used some pretty sophisticated imaging programs that, even more than AutoCAD, had an interactive fly-through of the complex and 3-D imaging that was integrated into the development of the renovation of the facility. We stretched it from McCain (Hall) to the whole engineering quad to show how it all fit together and were able to give virtual tours of sites and representation of the building. That technology’s been around, but it was great to use it at a desktop level. It really made our job more effective and gave (MSU) resources to use for fundraising efforts.”

Technological advances have in part led to a continual increase in enrollment at engineering schools around the country, and record enrollments at MSU. Last year, the number of freshmen engineering students — from the tech generation-swelled 25%. Current enrollment in the MSU engineering program is 2,096.

“We really bucked the trend by having an improved scholarship program and getting the word out about how technology is playing a role in engineering opportunities,” said Bennett.

Richard McNeel, AIA, a partner with JBHM, the largest full-service architectural firm in Mississippi, said the company recently completed the acquisition of technology that has revolutionized the way the company does business.

“For the last month and a half, we’ve implemented Revit, which we think will be the building design and construction industry platform for the future,” said McNeel. “It will enable our clients to better visualize the products we’re designing for them. It will help our architects and designers on staff do a better job. We’ll continue to use old tools, and we’ll still build models and do drawings by hand.”

In a Jan. 13 speech at the San Francisco BID Customer Event, Carol Bartz, chairman, president and CEO of Autodesk Inc., the world’s leading supplier of design software and one of the biggest PC software companies in the world, described Revit as “an architect-friendly interface that works the way you think.”

“But in the background, it’s also creating a robust, 3-D, highly functional building information model,” she said. “We’re convinced that the Building Information Model is the foundation for significant process improvements in the future. Revit can enlarge your focus from procedural improvements to larger-scale process improvements. The Revit desktop design platform paves the way for broad-gauge solution sets with dramatically improved downstream functionality. Drawings can be replaced by rich, interactive digital data.”

Implementing Revit software has already cost JBHM more than $100,000, excluding losses incurred during the week that offices were closed for training, said McNeel.

“We’re really fired up about it,” he said. “Whatever the total cost, it will be well worth it.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at lwjeter@yahoo.com</a.

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