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When effort pays off

What do you do when you know that your processes can be more efficient, but a tool doesn’t exist for your area of work? For Sajid Mahmood, MEVA UK’s MAC Design Manager, the answer was to teach himself a programming language and make it happen. With the introduction of his bespoke software plugin for Autodesk Inventor, the design efficiency of both his team and other design offices has increased dramatically. So, how did a civil engineer become a self-taught, in-house programmer?

Who is Sajid Mahmood?

Sajid began his drafting career in Dubai in 2007. Here, he worked on many high-profile projects, such as the Princess Tower in Dubai – which previously held the record for the world’s tallest residential building – as well as the International Towers (Barangaroo) in Australia. In 2013, Sajid moved to another formwork company, eventually joining MEVA UAE in 2015. From here, he led the team with regards to the design, delivery and installation of the MEVA automated climbing system (MAC) for YOTEL Tower and A Tower.

In the summer of 2018, Sajid and his family relocated to the UK where he took up his position as MAC Design Manager at the Tamworth office. Here, Sajid advises the design team, with a particular focus on the MAC system. This climbing system is used extensively for high-rise buildings in the UK, which is an excellent fit with Sajid’s design experience.

The Possibilities of Automation

For many years now, the civil engineering and construction industry has been moving towards implementing Building Information Modelling (BIM) – a 3D model-based method of working. Working in 3D provides a range of benefits compared to traditional, 2D plan-oriented approaches, not least of which are the opportunities for automating some of the repetitive design tasks.

For example, being able to view a 3D model of any building component or even the completed project provides better visualization compared to 2D plans. This helps engineers and contractors see how components fit together and identify any clashes before work starts on site. With some software, this clash detection can even be carried out by the software itself, as can drawing creation – saving valuable design time.

BIM for Formwork

However, BIM for formwork is still a developing area. Whereas other disciplines – such as architecture – have growing libraries of BIM objects and specifically designed tools, there is little available for formwork. Therefore, the opportunities to automate repetitive parts of the design process are much lesser – unless you develop your own tools.

When we started using 3D design tools, we tried to make some blocks to help speed the process up. It helped, but it was not enough. The problem with using out-of-the-box 3D tools for any specialised application is that it’s really generic – you have to put a lot of effort into getting your product to work as you want, and there isn’t always time on live jobs.

Explains Sajid. 

Sajid thought the process could be more efficient.

Every repetitive click that a designer does should be automated. That way, the focus of the designer can remain on the actual design process, not completing the model and the shop drawings. I really felt that there was a need for a tool that would take away all that labour – the mundane work such as copying the same hole to the same beam on every job.

The Art of Perseverance

Sajid had previously had just a taste of coding prior to the development of the MAC system tool  . “Since writing my first iLogic snippet, I have been hooked on this idea of automating processes,” he enthuses. “This led to the development of the plugin for Autodesk Inventor.”

However, with little programming knowledge, it was a daunting task – but one that Sajid took on willingly. “During the first lockdown when things were slower, that’s when the idea came to me. I asked my superiors if I could try this idea, and they said yes. I just tried, and within a few weeks, I realised that I could do it – and that was it,” he recalls.

Being self-taught presented challenges, but Sajid searched relentlessly for solutions. “I noticed that the online community of coders were happy to share knowledge – they’re very generous,” he says appreciatively. “To you, it’s an impossible problem, but someone has already tried it – or if not, they will try it for you. It’s amazing how many people are willing to spend hours just to help you. Now, when people put up questions that I have faced, I help them. It’s just giving back,” he says humbly.

The Result: Improved Efficiency and Accuracy

The result of Sajid’s hard work is a bespoke plugin for Autodesk Inventor which automates a large part of the design process for the MAC system. By inputting just a few dimensions and project information, the 3D model and associated shop drawings can be automatically created in minutes.

While adjustments and checks still need to be carried out, a proportion of the work is removed from the designer’s scope of works. “It’s a couple hours of work if the designer wants to model it conventionally,” Sajid explains. “Sometimes the client needs the 3D models, but the important deliverable is the shop drawings for fabricating the individual members – and it was that which was taking most of our time.”

Automation also improves the accuracy of the output. “When you prepare a model and start putting hundreds of dimensions on, you might miss some and there is a chance there are mistakes, like a typo. If the proving engineer doesn’t spot it, the parts get to site and the site supervisor finds the problem,” Sajid says, explaining a common construction issue. “With automation, the checks are already done – and you get that confidence that it’s right.”

Efficiency = Time and Cost Savings

The beta version of the software plugin has been shared with other MEVA teams and used on six projects so far, within the UK, Dubai and Singapore – with impressive results. “It’s not a mature estimate as I need more data, but the time savings are encouraging.  By reducing the design hours and modelling work, we can pass these savings on to our customers and show that our determination to develop and improve our systems will help them save time and money,” Sajid points out. 

Looking Ahead

For Sajid, the next steps are incorporating the feedback he’s received from the other team members who are trialling the beta version. “What Sajid has achieved for our team is nothing short of amazing – he’s done a great job for us,” comments Richard Harradine, Managing Director of MEVA UK. “And there are other benefits to our office – for example, we’re able to attract younger staff who have grown up with this technology.”

Sajid and his team members – both in the UK and abroad – are also pleased with the results. “I’ve really enjoyed this – it’s been very rewarding; it helps us, and everyone in the team is happy,” he concludes.

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