Reflections on Digital Transformation in Industrial Engineering

Oh How Our Industry has Evolved Over the Decades

By Ben Rand
Director of IT at Jōb Industrial Services, Inc.

My job title says I manage all things IT; but, my passion is writing software. I create digital tools that help make our team more efficient, more accurate and more productive, which ultimately benefits our clients. As someone who has worked in the industrial engineering sector for more than 20 years, I have seen a lot of changes … and lived to tell the tale of a few technology fumbles along the way. But, all in all, it is an undeniable fact that technology has made it’s mark on our industry. And I say, for the better!


3D Modeling

2001 marked the start of my career in industrial engineering. At this time, 2D drawings were still the most prevalent way of communicating design.

Although 3D modeling was starting to be more widely used, it was hotly debated. Those from the old-school mindset of 2D drawings struggled with the transition to 3D, and argued that an overabundance of 2D plans were still necessary.

To be fair, in those days, hardware still had a long way to go to display complex 3D models fast enough to make real-time interaction viable. 3D modeling tools were also limited in their capabilities, so modeling was a labor-intensive task. And Building Information Models (BIM), along with the whole idea of “smart” models, hadn’t quite made its mark on the world.

Eventually, plugins to AutoCAD, like Hexagon’s CADWorx Plant and Structure, and later Autodesk’s Plant 3D, made 3D design a much easier, more powerful option for designers. Hardware improvements (CPU, GPU, and memory) enhanced the design experience, and powerful model viewing software like Autodesk’s Navisworks really pushed the evolution from 2D to 3D.

Although hardware is always in a race to keep up with the demands for bigger and more detailed models, today’s hardware makes it possible to create bigger and richer 3D models than ever before, thanks to the integration of point cloud scans, which draw on millions of data points. Now, digital walk-throughs with clients and plant operators drastically reduce review time while improving design and accuracy, and clash detection improves overall accuracy and reduces the chance of costly errors making it to the field.


Building Information Model (BIM)

BIM − a data-rich engineering model − is where 3D models can communicate with external databases, which can then be used to report information. With BIM, components aren’t merely “cylinders” or extruded shapes − they “know” they are a pipe or steel component with various characteristics. This intelligence can also be leveraged by other engineering software such as Hexagon’s Caesar II for pipe stress analysis, or Visual Analysis, or Risa Connections for structural steel analysis.

While BIM is typically a concept associated with the building industry, it’s a concept that Jōb has embraced since our doors opened in 2005. Tools such as Hexagon’s CADWorx Plant, P&ID and Structure, or Autodesk’s Plant 3D, write component “smart” data to databases, which we then leverage to produce various reports, or to link into our proprietary data-management system, Jōb Engineering Management System (JEMS).


Point Clouds (Scans of Facilities)

Point cloud scans have become a major game changer over the last 10 years in our industry. Scanning facilities reduces or eliminates the number of hazardous job walks our designers and engineers have to perform. Job walks entail gathering a huge number of measurements, which are difficult, error-prone and somewhat dangerous to perform in operating facilities. Scans can usually be completed in a few hours with a very small team and are much more accurate.

Although there is still a long way to go, tools to convert points into 3D models are becoming more prevalent and powerful. At Jōb, we have created our own in-house tools to make integration of point clouds with 3D models easier for designers. Although point cloud is challenging to work with due to huge storage requirements, the Jōb team is innovating with latest-generation cell phones featuring built-in LIDAR capabilities to create our own scans using only a cell phone.

Cloud

The Cloud enables sharing and collaboration of documents and makes them accessible from anywhere. This means construction teams can access 3D models and entire drawing sets from a cell phone or tablet device. Tools like Microsoft Teams, Zoom, etc. enable us to communicate better internally, as well as with external clients and collaborators. Jōb’s utilization of cloud technologies has enabled us to embed small engineering and design teams for extended periods of time in client facilities, as well as helped us communicate with our clients from anywhere, and at any time.


JEMS

JEMS is the proprietary data platform used at Jōb. This platform enables our project teams to create critical links between items so that data about a particular item (line, equipment, instrument, CAD drawing, etc.) needs only be entered in one place. It also automates many routine tasks and is built around standardized work practices. This makes training and onboarding of new employees much easier. JEMS also features a growing number of project management tools, which enables the analysis of time spent on projects in near real time.

The Future of Digital Transformation

Starting out as an architectural designer, my interest in programming stemmed from a desire to be more productive when faced with repetitive design tasks. The first program I remember writing was a plugin for AutoCAD that gathered a few inputs, then produced 2D section views of stairs. This reduced a time-consuming drafting procedure that usually took 15-20 minutes down to only the few seconds it took to input several criteria, and then click a “draw” button.

Since then, I’ve built my career as a CAD Manager, programmer, and now as Director of IT around the idea of automating as much of the tedious, repetitive tasks as possible. When I see my tools help our team of engineers and designers use their expertise to solve our clients’ most difficult engineering problems quickly, instead of spending time carrying out necessary but tedious tasks, I know that not only am I succeeding, but more importantly, Jōb is providing the best possible value to our clients.

Beyond the tools we currently utilize, we also have to keep an eye on emerging technologies, and to embrace new ways of working with digital data, such as point clouds, or live-linking Excel to databases for real-time pivot table reporting/analysis. It is also vital to experiment with ways to provide web-based viewing of integrated point cloud/3D models to provide the near real-time ability for our clients to review and buy into the development of their projects, as well as allowing multiple engineering teams to interact and collaborate.

The Jōb team and I are continually looking ahead to the next innovative solution. As our clients’ needs and the market changes, we also will continue to evolve.

The one thing that hasn’t changed in the past two decades? The importance of delivering results and value to our clients is still essential. That, of course, should never go out of style!


Ben joined Jōb’s IT department in 2013 and has worked in the industrial market for the past 20 years. He has a long history with AutoCAD software, starting as an architectural designer in 1993 and moving into CAD management and eventually programming. Ben has taught AutoCAD, 3DS Max and Autolisp/VBA programming classes at an Autodesk Training Center, and has presented at Autodesk University numerous times. At Jōb, he manages our servers, network infrastructure, computers and helpdesk; however, his primary focus is on writing software such as our proprietary data management platform, Jōb Engineering Management System (JEMS).