Computer-Aided Design in Construction: Endless Possibilities?

While some designers still use physical drawings to map out a construction project, increasingly architects and others are turning to computer-aided design technologies and software packages to speed up the process, save money and increase quality

For centuries, construction projects large and small have been designed with physical drawings.  

Architects and designers have historically laid out their ambitions for a building by making to-scale drawings of floor plans and elevations, which a contractor uses to deliver the finished scheme.  

Such drawings are still in use. But for many architects and designers, the advent in the early 1960s of computer-aided design (CAD) technologies, pioneered by the likes of IBM and General Motors, have proved to be a significant advance, saving time, money and labour, among other advantages. 

What Is Computer-Aided Design? 

So what is computer-aided design? Basically, it is design activity using computer technology. Designers use computers and relevant software packages throughout the creative and design process, with the added benefit of helping to visualise the end result before a spade enters the ground or a brick has been laid. 

CAD in construction enables designers to create graphical representations of a structure. These can be two or three dimensional, and can be either delivered as inanimate schematics or full-on animations, allowing designers to “walk through” a proposed scheme. 

CAD in construction can also be used to create photographic simulations that are often required to go into environmental impact reports, or when putting a scheme out for consultation, when proposed designs of intended buildings can be incorporated into photographs of an existing environment, such as a street scene, to show what it would look like when the proposed development is built. 

As well as architects and designers, other disciplines such as engineering can use CAD systems to create a visualisation of an end result. CAD can also be incorporated into manufacturing processes, particularly with CAM, or computer-aided manufacturing. 

The Benefits of Computer-Aided Design 

The benefits of computer-aided design extend beyond the representational. They also include speeding up project delivery, improving the accuracy of plans—and thereby reducing the potential for errors—and bringing in a job on or under budget. 

Documents that are online and accessible to a range of stakeholders in a scheme can be amended more easily, with a record of such changes, enabling a wider range of options to be considered if something suddenly crops up on a development. 

A wide range of CAD software packages is available. Bluebeam’s Revu CAD includes smart plugins for 2D and 3D PDF creation, as well as tracking and managing changes, allows comments to be applied to plans, enables collaboration on PDFs in real time with shared markups and features “one-click” 3D PDF creation directly from AutoCAD, Revit, Navisworks Manage, Navisworks Simulate and SketchUp Pro. 

Saving time on reviews with Revu 

Civil engineer Arup wanted to create a common data environment where ownersarchitects, engineers and contractors could easily share jobsite information downstream, including 3D models and images. 

Using Revu and Bluebeam Studio enabled the firm to cut the amount of time spent of design reviews by up to 60%. 

According to Ben Taylor, senior technician at Arup, before using Revu there were occasions when the firm was unable to deliver information to the client effectively, as the native resolution and outputs were limited by traditional PDF products.  

“We receive a lot of PDFs from the architects and drawings, and being able to quickly measure areas, distances and links is really integral to what we do. Being able to take that information really quickly, annotate it and measure it is very powerful.”  

“Revu helped solve these issues by actually giving us the interoperability and the functions that we needed to actually be able to edit them on the fly and modify them to actually suit the client requirements,” he said. 

We are already seeing an extension of CAD and other technologies, where they become more immersive, allowing designers and their clients to experience a project prior to construction through the use of either virtual or augmented realities. 

Designing the built environment with the aid of a computer is only going to get smarter.

See how Arup cut Design Review times by 60%