AutoCAD 2022: Autodesk Transforms Small Design + Build Firms’ Capacity to Deliver Major Projects

Autodesk’s software suite has been game-changing for my Boise-based design + build and remodeling firm, Ethos. Autodesk products serve customers across the manufacturing, architecture, building, construction, media, and entertainment industries. All while aiding in the development of robotics, Augmented and Virtual Reality, and 3D printing. Practically speaking, Autodesk offers powerful planning tools and GIS systems to build projects, enabling site mapping from multiple sources overlaid in one spot. For 40 years, not much in our industry has changed on the tech side. But because of Autodesk we can now spot mistakes from vendors (like if the wrong plan was sent over) and it offers ways for multiple vendors or contractors to collaborate for the higher good of delivering on homeowners’ dreams.

Figure 1: 122-acre residential project using Autodesk Infraworks

For our small but mighty team of nine, this tool means we can compete with much bigger firms, instead of being the perpetual underdogs in our community. Autodesk tools allow for accuracy to improve our bids, allowing for 3-D models of projects, which means fewer mistakes than traditional 2-D drawings that can cause cost overruns later.

Figure 2: Rendered project

Figure 3: Actual build

Tape Measures Be Gone

Autodesk is advantageous for remote teams or hybrid organizations because it allows our team of contractors and designers to use a cell phone to scan homes and take entire work site scans using Apple technology. This technology used to cost tens, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars, but now, with a $1,300 Apple phone we are able to seamlessly upload point clouds and model meshes directly into our project plans. Autodesk makes it easy with Recap, Civil 3D, AutoCAD Architecture and the entire suite of products in the AEC (Architecture Engineering and Construction) collection. This LIDAR scanning involves a remote sensing method that I previously used at a large power utility job years ago to plan for infrastructure. Right now, I use an app called PolyCam to export files for use within the AEC Collection, which can export 15 file formats and is user friendly.

Figure 4: Site Plan and project cover page from Civil 3D project. We use the aerial imagery from Civil 3D and the location maps from the set location feature that is available out of the box

This also has major benefits to small firms that use the AEC Collection for drafting, which is now far more affordable than drafting with the AutoCAD programs of the past. This AEC Collection allows small teams to enjoy the bells and whistles that previously were available only to large firms. What used to take hours, multiple visits over days, or even weeks because of hand-measuring and re-measuring, now takes 10-20 minutes and a cell phone. This efficiency saves money and is more effective because, in construction, when mistakes are made, it’s due to improper planning. Autodesk products offer accurate models, drawings, and therefore, accurate costs.

Stop Unwanted Surprises in a Historic Home Remodel

Recently, our firm was tasked with a major remodel to the kitchen, primary bedroom and bathroom, and living room of a large historic home in Boise’s North End. The couple had moved in from another state and wanted to know what exactly they were dealing with when it came to the structural issues of their home. As eco-minded consumers, they did not want to cut corners when it came to the environmental health and energy efficiency of their remodel.

We uncovered a structural issue in the middle of remodeling and using Recap we were able to upload a scan and communicate with the structural engineer in a virtual meeting where measurements were made.

As you can see in Figure 5, with the floorboards removed you can easily measure distance between floor joists and make other structural observations.

Figure 5

Our team knew there was a structural issue because the floor was sinking near a door about an inch and a half, but the crawlspace was inaccessible when we first took on the project making it hard to see the root cause of the sinking floor. While in the demo phase, we realized a major wall was completely unsupported with heavy material resting solely on floorboards, which was very unsafe. This was during the height of the pandemic, so it wasn’t easy get an engineer into the home to inspect it, but because of Autodesk and our scans, we could work with them virtually, determining measurements, lumber needs, and saving weeks of time.

Autodesk has helped us reduce costs and save time by merging preservation and technology. When you take on a project involving a house that is 100+ years old, there is a lot of uncertainty. This technology allows a small civil engineering, architectural and design firm like ours to serve the needs of our clients. There is a lot of value in this technology because we can answer homeowners’ questions without leaving the office. It tells the story of how a home has changed over time, and we can document it with records that inform each aspect of the design and build project.

Figure 6: Rendered project

Figure 7: Completed project

Erin has a Bachelor of Science in Engineering from Boise State University and has a Credential of Readiness from Harvard Business School. she holds coveted eco-friendly certifications, Zero Energy Ready Homes and Passive House Builder (pending), is an OSHA 30 card holder and a certified Renovation, Repair and Painting (RRP) remodeler as are others on the team.

Erin has launched several businesses including a community preschool, residential and commercial property management company, and affordable housing made from shipping containers. From 2018-2020, working as a member of a design and development team, Erin helped build 93 affordable living units in the states of Idaho, Colorado, Virginia, and California. At Ethos, Erin leads development and construction projects. She oversees design, engineering, entitlements, permitting, and construction of historic preservation projects, new residential and commercial structures. 

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