By Jonathan Lindblom on February 22, 2022Categories: Civil Infrastructure
“I’ll never forget. An article in 1998 proclaiming it’s a 3D world caught my attention.” - Matthew Vega, P.E., Interview – National Director, Infrastructure and Government Business Unit, U.S. CAD –
For Engineers Week 2022, I interviewed our very own Matthew Vega. You’ll hear about the state of the infrastructure industry, his 2022 civil technology outlook.
What’s your background and your current role at U.S. CAD?
I started my career at a civil engineering and survey firm as a draftsperson. Most of the work consisted of large residential subdivisions, public works, and commercial projects. Primarily, land development projects. It was a fun and exciting time to become an engineer using new technologies that helped us complete our work efficiently. Within a couple of years, I became a project manager and always had an affinity for being on the cutting edge of technology. After that, I transitioned to a national architectural and civil engineering firm where we focused primarily on the commercial sector, big-box shopping centers. Again, it was exciting because the advances in technology gave us more tools to accomplish our work faster.
Over the years, technology started to change. I’ll never forget. I think it was around 1998 that I read an article that said, “it’s a 3D world, are you designing in it?” I kept it as a reminder of where the industry was going and the available tools. We had all this new technology that started popping up, and with that new technology came Building Information Modeling. The industry morphed, and with that, there were new titles like BIM Manager and then VDC positions. Loving technology, I took a BIM manager position for a civil/survey firm. It was exciting being on the cutting edge of technology, how we use it, how we work with it to create 3D models of the projects.
We were actually designing in a 3D world.
From the BIM Manager role, I accepted a position as a Regional Director for a national firm specialising in environmental, architectural, and civil. I suppose that brings us to today and my position at U.S. CAD as National Director for Infrastructure and Government.
A large part of my role includes keeping a pulse on new technology and monitoring the industry’s direction. It’s key to preparing our customers for disruptive technologies that present themselves. Our goal is not only to stay on the cutting edge of technology but also to evangelise the practicalities with a pragmatic approach to our customers on how they can use these technologies for efficiency gains and save stakeholders money. I truly enjoy my position here because we can unleash our clients’ potential and empower them to achieve more.
What trends are you currently seeing in the infrastructure and government space given your 2022 civil technology outlook?
I hear a lot from our customers and the industry at large that there is a need for the automation of repetitive tasks. Certain tasks involved in the design of an infrastructure project can often be repetitive, and it takes valuable time and resources to complete. I see an increasing need for automation for efficiency gains. We can achieve this using customised scripting and tools like Dynamo within Civil 3D.
Another trend is around staffing. Most of my colleagues I’ve spoken to are having difficulty finding qualified candidates to fill critical positions within their firms. I believe we as an industry need to address and inspire the next generation of engineers and surveyors to choose civil engineering and surveying as a profession.
In my 2022 civil technology outlook, other trends revolve around the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA). That’s going to have a considerable impact on the industry. I see the effects reaching into bridges, roadways, and water/wastewater. Many of our bridges are in poor shape and will need to be retrofitted. How are we going to do that? How are we going to do that efficiently, effectively? We have a lot of technology out there, cutting-edge technology that can help us do that in a timely fashion. I believe there will be significant investments also going to our roadways, water, and wastewater. It’s a little early to thoroughly understand the impact the IIJA will have on the infrastructure community. Still, we’re certainly keeping our ear to the ground to keep our customers well informed of what it means for their businesses. Those are probably the three most significant trends I’m currently seeing: automation, staffing, and the IIJA.
How do you see the industry changing in the next 10 years?
This is a tricky one. If I only had a crystal ball! Technology is advancing every day. One disruptive technology that immediately comes to mind is the more widespread use of LiDAR (light detection and ranging) for surveying and capturing reality in our designs and as-built conditions. LiDAR has had a positive impact on the industry. We have LiDAR on drones, and some DOTs are using mobile LiDAR on their vehicles to capture information quickly in a less feasible and much more time-consuming way. I also see combining LiDAR captured data in augmented and virtual reality.
There’s also much talk about digital delivery and using a model as a legal document (MALD). Although widespread acceptance is still in its infancy, I believe we have the technology to do it today, but I see the industry moving toward this in the next 10 years. First, we will need to educate the entire industry, owners included, of what this means for them and how we will deliver a project digitally. That’s coming sooner than later, probably in the next two to five years. Down the line, it will become the new norm. It’s going to be a massive paradigm shift because we’re all accustomed to delivering designs on either a 2D plan set or by PDF. The FHWA (Federal Highway Administration) is championing digital delivery and aims to speed up the delivery of highway projects and address the challenges presented by limited budgets. They have the “Every Day Counts” (EDC) initiative, which is federal funding to help make design and delivery more efficient. It’s a big part of their 2022 civil technology outlook. It’s really inspiring and moving the industry in a way to help deliver projects faster using the tools that we currently have.
In 10 years, we’re going to see a lot more electric vehicles and autonomous vehicles. There’s going to be a push in Infrastructure for charging stations, but more importantly, we will have to have highways in mint condition for autonomous vehicles. Striping on lanes will have to cater to autonomous vehicles to understand their surroundings, requiring cameras to navigate. We must do everything we can as Civil Engineers and roadway designers to help these autonomous vehicles get to where they are going safely.
Asset management also plays a huge factor, and I think there will be a heavier emphasis in the years to come. Often projects are more expensive simply due to not maintaining and expanding the life cycle of our roadways, water systems, sewer systems, and storm drain systems. Asset Management Plans provide insight into expenditures and provide owners with the information they need to make well-informed decisions.
Smart cities are on the horizon to exchange information and communicate to increase operational efficiency. For example, if a storm drain fails or a water system fails, the response time is hopefully immediate so that somebody knows within real-time. Some of our water systems are aging and need to be maintained or replaced before a failure occurs. I think we’re going to see more smart cities with asset management plans to budget costs and avoid issues becoming larger problems.
As far as your 2022 civil technology outlook, what technologies do you think will provide firms a competitive advantage moving forward?
Light detection and ranging (LiDAR) technology allows us to quickly survey and capture our surroundings. Some of these devices can collect more than 2 million to sometimes 6 million points per second. It blows my mind how fast we can collect that data compared to traditional surveying methods. LiDAR has been a disruptive technology within the last 10 years or so. From a field perspective, firms gain a competitive advantage if they can go out and collect large amounts of accurate data within minutes.
The next will be real-time feedback from the field, lending a competitive advantage. Firms that can collect the data and expeditiously get it back to the office, hopefully in near real-time, will gain an advantage from a time perspective since the adage “time is money” rings true.
The ultimate competitive advantage is about doing more with what you have. A lot of our clients have cutting-edge technology at their fingertips. However, it’s not enough to have; it’s important to optimize your workflows using technology efficiently with a pragmatic approach. The technologies we have are fantastic, but it’s about using them effectively and ensuring that staff can use technology proficiently. That’s where firms really can gain that competitive advantage.
Most of the private sector uses Civil 3D. Many firms use the design technologies that their competitors have, so they’re on a level playing field. It comes down to how they’re using the tools. I really enjoy this position here at U.S. CAD because we’re able to educate the industry and help move it forward by working more efficiently and effectively with the tools they already have. That’s really where that competitive advantage comes in. Thinking outside the box with some of the products contained within the Autodesk AEC Collection creates a wide variety of possibilities to perform work more efficiently and collaboratively. The collaboration and coordination between products like Civil 3D, Revit, and InfraWorks are key, as well as working collaboratively through platforms like BIM 360. Maybe five or six years ago, I read an article about a construction company that stated every dollar they spent on technology saved them $6 in the field on one of their projects. That ROI is impressive. If you know a new technology is out there and pondering whether you should invest in that technology and training staff, focus on the ROI.
Final question. Do you have any closing thoughts that you’d like to add?
I’m excited about where we’re going within the industry. Technology is constantly pushing us to do better and complete projects efficiently. It’s not about using technology for the sake of using technology; it’s about focusing on how technology is used for efficiency gains. At the end of the day, when owners lay their heads down on their pillows at night, they want to know their project is meeting the time and budget constraints and they’re being delivered a high-quality project.
At the end of the day, it’s for the benefit and safety of the public. These projects need to be structurally sound. Our roadways need to be safe and efficient. Our infrastructure systems need to be maintained and serve the public safely well.
I’m excited to serve the industry and help firms enhance the public experience of our workplaces, travel to, and play. Our job here at U.S. CAD is to make sure firms are prepared by providing them with the technology they need and, more importantly, providing them with the training to be proficient and work more efficiently. Disruptive technologies that are still to come and efficiency gains are really what get me up in the morning. What’s next? How can we use new technology to our benefit, and what impact does that have on our industry to make life more enjoyable for the public?