Design - CAD/CAE in the Construction Industry (Archived)

RT-008a Topic Summary
RT 008a


The primary purpose of these studies was to examine the efficiency and cost effectiveness of the use of computer aided design, engineering, and construction management, and the challenges that companies faced with its implementation. Despite the studies reported in these documents having been completed in 1989, there were findings made that are still very applicable today, though some of the predictions understandably were inaccurate.

The data for these studies was gathered by the use of surveys, interviews with selected CII firms and software vendors, meetings with the CII Design Task Force subcommittee, and workshops with participants from selected CII firms.

The participants in the studies unanimously agreed that the investment in the implementation of computerized systems was cost effective, though the difficulty of establishing quantitative proof varied with the applications. The use of 2-D CAD systems, analysis software, and project management systems was easily proven to be cost effective, but the use of 3-D CAD systems, linked to a database, was more difficult to evaluate.

The initial computerization of the industry involved implementing 2-D Computer Aided Design systems, Computer Aided Engineering systems for data analysis, and project management and administration systems. The CAD systems made for quick revisions to engineering drawings and simplified reuse of designs. The CAE systems improved accuracy and consistency and saved time. The systems used for project management and administration improved efficiency. All of these changes reduced man hours, which saved time and money, and additionally improved the deliverables.

Engineering companies considered it was worthwhile to implement the “intelligent” 3-D CAD systems, but that the true beneficiaries of the savings that were made were realized by their downstream customers, which are procurement, construction, startup, and the owners. Due to competition between engineering companies, they were not willing to pass costs associated with the implementation to their customers. The result was competitive bids, which resulted in more jobs, with the added benefit to their customers of more accurate, complete data. Again, this made these types of systems desirable to the engineering companies.

To summarize, although this research was conducted in the late 1980s, the industry then was poised on the brink of a major change in how engineering information was developed and managed. The advancements in hardware and software since then have been phenomenal, yet many of the challenges faced at that time with implementing design technology in a cost effective way are still valid today.

CAD/CAE in the Construction Industry is part of a group of research conducted by CII in the over-arching area of Design published in 1984-1989.

Key Findings and Implementation Tools

1 : Computerization Benefits

The benefits that increased the overall cost effectiveness of computerization for the engineering companies included the following: (RS8-3, p. 12)

  • Streamlining and integrating the engineering process. The quality of the design was improved by maintaining consistency, accuracy, and economy of design.
  • Reduced engineering costs due to easy revisions and easy reuse of engineering information and documents from prior projects.
  • Intelligent models that generate accurate, reliable quantities of materials and components could be created.
  • Improved efficiency and shortened engineering schedules by responsive information management and the utilization of central databases.
  • Elimination of the need for plastic models (these were widely used until the advent of computer models).

The potential downstream benefits to the customer of computerization were:

  • Better materials management and control which reduced the incidences of shortages and surpluses.
  • Improved constructability through easier incorporation of construction knowledge fed back to the design houses.
  • Improved construction project schedules.
  • Less field rework and fewer change orders due to more accurate drawings.
  • Improved plant operability and plant safety.
  • An electronic database that can be valuable for continued facility management.
  • Lower life-cycle plant costs by reducing operating and maintenance costs, including energy costs, through additional engineering capabilities.
  • Better communications between owner, engineer, and contractor with better design documents.
Reference: (RS8-3)

2 : Implementation Challenges

The studies pointed out that the industry faced many challenges when implementing computerization, and it is noteworthy that many of these same issues face companies today, such as: (RS8-3, p. 10)

  • The costs associated with the acquisition and maintenance of systems.
  • The cost of training and system support.
  • The time and costs involved with preparation of menus libraries, databases, and utility programs.
  • The tendency of software vendors to make the effort of evaluating the cost effectiveness of new design tools more difficult for company management by inflating the projected efficiencies of the systems and downplaying the difficulties necessary to use them, especially the upfront configuration and training.
  • The lack of understanding of design technology by the company management that is making the purchase decisions.
  • Incompatibility between design tools that made sharing of information between companies more difficult, reducing the value of that information.
  • Resistance to changes in design technology by company personnel. Users tend to be satisfied with what they are most familiar and reluctant to invest the time to master new software and hardware, even when that technology is faster, more user friendly and more productive.
Reference: (RS8-3)

3 : Cost Effectiveness

Because of the front end costs of implementing design tools, the cost effectiveness is realized more by the downstream users than by the engineering company. Still, the industry as a whole benefits when procurement, construction, startup, and the owners are more efficient. (RS8-3, p. 12)
Reference: (RS8-3)

4 : System Incompatibility

There needs to be great inter-compatibility between engineering software to avoid losing some of the benefits of the tools when companies share information. The lack of standardization and software compatibility are major obstacles to realizing the total benefit of a computerized construction industry. (SD-50, p. 91)
Reference: (SD-50)

5 : Information Flow

The integrity of design can be improved by the advance planning required for organizing the flow of information between different engineering disciplines, and between preliminary engineering, vendors, and detail design. (RS8-3, p. 14)
Reference: (RS8-3)

6 : People Issues

The study analyzed the trends in computer skills, including: (RS8-3, p. 9)

  • Training – Project and corporate functional managers will require training to understand the technology and importance of design software, and the investment in time and resources required for implementation. 
    • The education of experienced, qualified technical personnel in the use of the computer is the cost effective way to develop trained personnel. The use of personnel who are knowledgeable in computers to solve engineering problems for which they are not technically experienced does not work well. 
  • Training Documentation – The value of training documentation and support for the users of software tools in engineering cannot be underestimated.
Reference: (RS8-3)

7 : Implementation Tool #1

RS8-3, Framework for Evaluating Cost Effectiveness

Is an example of a framework for evaluating design effectivenss as suggested by a workshop group.
Reference: (RS8-3)

Key Performance Indicators

Improved cost, Improved schedule, Improved quality

Research Publications

CAD/CAE in the Construction Industry - RS8-3

Publication Date: 09/1989 Type: Research Summary Pages: 32 Status: Archived Tool

Cost Effectiveness of Computerization in Design and Construction - SD-50

Publication Date: 08/1989 Type: Source Document Pages: 166 Status: Archived Reference