One example of the use of expert systems developed in the Bechtel Group is a three-dimensional coordinate system that allows people to “walk through” a facility before it is built. It significantly benefits construction by reducing interferences because the facility and its systems are displayed in three dimensions, not just the two dimensions of traditional plan and section drawings. The system automatically raises a flag when two components in the drawings occupy the same physical space, and allows corrections to be made before the problem reaches the field. Future improvements in design capabilities will allow closer linkage of design to operations and maintenance, better life-cycle costing linked to design alternatives, and improved methodologies for cost estimating and procurement linked to electronic design program software.
These enhanced design capabilities allow earlier review of all designs from a constructability viewpoint, benefiting all members of the project team. Further, linkage of design documents to computerized simulation of the built facility is gradually becoming common, optimizing design from an operational viewpoint. These trends benefit the owner, who will push hard to include them as a standard part of the design process.
The drive toward CAD has implications beyond the improvement of the design process. For example, electronic communication of data among the owner, designer, material supplier, and builder of a project is a very significant trend, so the industry must prepare for all project team members to have common networked workstations and to meet electronically. Bar-code technology is now playing a role in tracking and locating materials and equipment, with identification codes linked directly to CAD systems.
Construction equipment, in general, assists in moving and assembling materials. Emphasis has been on moving larger pieces or on moving material faster, with greater reliability and accuracy. In the recent past, improvements in such conventional construction practices as slipforming—the use of a moving form for pouring concrete—have continued on an incremental basis. Heavy equipment for use at the job site, such as cranes, conveyors, and earth movers, continues to become more efficient. Dramatic improvements have been made on specific machinery, such as laser-based survey equipment, laser-guided excavation equipment, and new tunneling equipment.
Today’s job site also features the more prominent use of advanced materials: honeycomb structures and foams for greater strength; polyester fiber for improved durability in the refitting of sewage and water pipes; fiberglass fabric for rapid repair work; and specialized materials for arid, arctic, undersea, radioactive, and extraterrestrial environments. However, the basic building blocks of construction—steel and concrete—are expected to remain