For nearly 30 years, the internet has been a defining feature of modern life and has transformed various industries such as banking, communications, and defense. Despite this, some industries still have yet to utilize the full potential of the internet and web-based workflows, even as the next wave of artificial intelligence (AI) rapidly approaches. The architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) industry is one sector that could greatly benefit from integrating more web-based tools into its workflows to increase efficiency and encourage greater collaboration.
Some advancements have been made in the AEC space to digitize traditional workflows. Building Information Modeling (BIM) and cloud systems enable the sharing and collaboration on 3D models by multiple parties. Additionally, construction administration is moving online due to the implementation of platforms that allow architects and engineers to make punch lists from their mobile devices.
Despite these advancements, calculations supporting the design aspect of the construction process remain largely local and isolated. This blog post will highlight the key benefits of web-based load modeling and the many new possibilities design teams can gain from implementing online tools into their workflows.
Benefits of web-based load modeling platforms
Mechanical heating and cooling load calculation, or simply load modeling, is an aspect of building design that is most often performed by an engineer locally on their workstation or even via pen and paper. The design is shared with the design team as needed, but most of the information remains confined to a single workstation or a shared network drive. By moving these fundamental engineering calculations online, new efficiencies and opportunities emerge. Some of the advantages of going digital include the following:
1. Increased Efficiency
With a web-based platform, users can access models from any location with an internet connection, including a client's office, a construction site, or while working remotely. And access is not limited to exported reports but rather the entire model, which allows for a full review of inputs, assumptions, and results. Engineers can start new simulations from anywhere and receive speedy results to answer questions in real time, reducing delays and increasing productivity.
2. Improved Accessibility
Web-based load modeling tools enable multiple users to access the model at once. This increased accessibility allows work to be done in parallel, supercharging a team's ability to meet deadlines and work collaboratively. Engineers won't have to transfer large files to collaborate on projects. The issue of work interruption due to sick days or the need for engineers to work on other projects is also resolved, as the model is no longer only accessible on a single workstation.
Here are a few possible workflows using a web-based load modeling tool.
A senior engineer reviews internal gain assumptions while the project engineer completes the creation of the air systems.
One engineer updates the models' geometry based on architectural changes, while another creates new room templates that cover the new scope.
The engineer of record reviews results, and the project engineer picks up all comments in real time.
3. Reduced IT Overhead
IT professionals are often the unsung heroes of an efficient organization. With the tools engineers use daily, IT pros work hard to manage license keys, test and install new updates, and file storage. With a web-based platform, much of this work is offloaded to the web service itself. For example, new updates can be pushed out globally, and all users receive them simultaneously. Web-based platforms also handle licenses, often by company email address or a single sign-on integration.
4. Heightened Scalability
A single engineering spec workstation can possibly run two simulations in parallel. While the simulation is running, often the workstation cannot perform other tasks. This process will be sufficient for some projects, but it can also interrupt the team's workflow. Conversely, a web-based platform that uses cloud computing, such as AWS or Azure, has practically limitless computer power. This means that several simulations can be run in parallel and that local workstations can be used for other tasks while the calculations are completed.
5. Enhanced Data Management
Information sharing is at the heart of the internet, and this ties directly into the needs of modern mechanical engineering. Each load model for even a simple office or residential building will have hundreds to thousands of inputs that must all be based on either a standard, a reference, or past project experience. Collecting this information for each project can be time consuming, and once collected, much of this valuable information is held within that model. With web-based platforms, inputs and their basis can be saved and shared from project to project. This feature allows the information and knowledge used in one project to be re-used on the next one, accelerating workflows as the team completes projects within the platform.
6. Increased Accuracy
When conducting load calculations, accuracy is of the utmost importance to ensure heating and cooling systems will function as intended and meet the energy needs of the building. Web-based load modeling platforms built on trusted building energy simulation programs like EnergyPlus can increase accuracy by providing a consistent, centralized platform for engineers to perform mechanical heating and cooling load calculations. This eliminates the possibility of discrepancies or errors when working with multiple, disconnected tools. EnergyPlus is a well-respected and widely used simulation engine, and web-based platforms built on EnergyPlus can provide access to its advanced algorithms and modeling capabilities, allowing engineers to perform more accurate and sophisticated calculations.
7. Better Interoperability
A final, high-growth aspect of web-based platforms is the ability to connect data directly to other tools via application programming interfaces or APIs, allowing different software to communicate directly. Much like email, which revolutionized written communication, APIs have the potential to completely change the way data is shared between software. One possibility already available is connecting load model results via API to another platform, such as a BIM authoring tool. This facilitates smoother workflows and data exchange between different stages of a project and helps ensure all stakeholders have access to accurate and up-to-date information.
Web-based tools are ubiquitous in our daily lives. From how we bank to how we connect with others, the internet is at the heart of modern life. By moving fundamental engineering calculations onto web-based platforms, we unlock a myriad of benefits. From simple benefits such as less time installing updates to complex and far-reaching advancements like parallel workflows, working online helps engineers deliver projects on time and within budget. As more tools become available and design teams adopt web-based platforms, new, more streamlined and connected workflows will become standard practice in the industry.
Check out our recent E-Book, Understanding Thermal Load Modeling’s Impact on Cost and Time Savings, to learn more about load modeling best practices.