I remember the first time I played the game SIM City on a friend’s PC back in middle school. The game allowed players to lay out roads and other basic infrastructure, design public spaces, erect massive skyscrapers, and create a digital metropolis—complete with prisons and taxes. Twenty years later I’m learning that the industrial specialists of today use simulation and modeling tools reminiscent of SIM City to help them design and build the sophisticated structures of tomorrow. Two such new SIM-esque technologies that have already had substantial impact within the industry are those of BIM (building information modeling) and VR training.
BIM aides in the modeling of electrical systems prior to actual physical construction, and therefore is immensely valuable not only to contractors and their team of electricians, but also the end user who is able to experience a product that has been refined via successive iterations. The process is similar to that of creating a model in autoCAD, but includes more information about the physical and functional properties of a structure, and allows easy collaboration across disciplines. Unlike other applications that may provide a static model or layout of a construction, BIM allows architects, engineers, and contractors to directly edit live models of the structure and confer on those edits.
In addition to allowing concurrent collaboration by experts, BIM provides live data on the feasibility and logistics of a construction by tracking material cost and estimated timetables. This information functions as a predictive model of the building as a living structure, meaning contractors can use BIM to estimate future operations and maintenance.
VR Training is another form of construction simulation, but rather than focusing on the development of infrastructure, it aims to model the hands-on components of assembly, installation, and safety that electricians are faced with in the field. Companies such as InterPlay Learning have developed software tools that enable apprentices or even licensed journeypersons to experience the steps involved in the installation of specific equipment on a job site.
Training opportunities like this are valuable for the industry because tradespeople can approach projects with the confidence of having already completed them in simulation. VR training is also about the safest way to learn a skill that—in the field—involves live electricity.
The world of electrical is inseparable from that of emerging technology; when new devices enter the market it creates a demand for the electrical industry to integrate these technologies into everyday life. Likewise, the electrical industry itself capitalizes on the new opportunities created by these advances. It seems appropriate that these opportunities are also emerging at a time when the building trades are looking to recruit young people who are tech-savvy but don't want to spend their career behind a desk.