Tekla Podcast #7 – Where Tekla Leaders are Going? AI, VR, AR… (Ricardo Farinha from Sweco)


24 mins read + 1 Hour 21 min interview

Ricardo Farinha, Chief Technology Officer at Sweco, joins us on today’s Tekla podcast episode. Sweco is the leading engineering and architectural consulting company in Europe. It has operations in 14 different nations, including Belgium, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Ireland, the United Kingdom, Poland, Norway, Sweden, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Germany, and Finland. Every year, it completes projects in 70 different countries.

This article will primarily focus on how Tekla is used in Sweco. We will observe its implementation and operation. Along with many insights about Tekla structures, there will also be details about the consulting firm. The highlight of this podcast was the demonstration of the Randselva bridge in Norway. It will be the biggest bridge ever constructed without the use of 2D drawings.

There’s a lot to learn about Tekla from Ricardo Farinha. He is the director of technology at Sweco and knows a lot about structural BIM software and industry work thanks to his years of experience.

Tekla Podcast #7 - Where Tekla Leaders are Going? AI, VR, AR... (Ricardo Farinha from Sweco)

or listen to it in audio format here:

Don’t have time to watch the whole pod? Skim the questions and answers summary in a written format below! 👇

Why do you & Sweco co-work with other companies (also your competitors)?

A single organization cannot fix all the issues because some are too large. You can’t handle these cross-border, cross-company, and cross-discipline problems by yourself. As a result, we must work together with others to solve big problems. We discovered this approach a long time ago. Today, we frequently gather in various business consortiums to collaborate and resolve issues.

Sweco tries to incorporate what we learn from others into our processes. Since I began working in this field 14 years ago, Finland’s work pattern has always been the same. It is integrated into this culture and produces successful results.

As an example, BEC is an organization in Finland that defines the standards (BEC2012 Modeling instructions for designing prefabricated elements_V103) for precast construction. We have sat together with different companies, manufacturers, designers, and universities for a couple of years to determine how design is carried out in Finland.

Now, you get the same result from different design companies. This makes standardizing and automating processes simpler. This makes things easier for everyone in the whole chain. Here in Finland, this kind of collaboration is fairly common. As I already stated, I’ve worked in this field for 14 years, and things have always been this way.

Additionally, this standardization raises construction quality and is both affordable and sustainable. For instance, you don’t need 20 different precast walls if you standardize how they’re made. Instead, you may solve the majority of the cases by working with just three of them.

How should a startup company successfully implement Tekla?

Training is fundamental. Have a good system to train your workforce. Before starting to automate or build on top of the software, you need a good training system. Also, you need an experienced team that can teach others and slowly push everyone to a higher level.

Different companies have different strategies. You need to find the one that works best for you. Find a training strategy that will help people improve all the time and make them faster and better. Client satisfaction is necessary. They will be happy if you provide good results.

Sweco is a decentralized organization with close to 3500 departments. And all of them work like independent companies, even though they are part of the same company. So yes, we need people who learn the software and teach it to others. 

This decentralized communication method does wonders for us. We only need a separate BIM team to guide these super users, who will then pass on their knowledge to others.

How do you get engineers more involved with Tekla?

Our industry is renowned for being resistant to change. One approach that we have especially for creating a new automization tool is that we involve users early on and get feedback. The more they get involved, the more excited they get and want to use it. 

This will make the work not only interesting for them, but they will also start giving more ideas, which can be beneficial. This is something we have been doing so far and will continue to do so.

Also, I would recommend starting with small steps and always trying to measure the added value it will bring to your company. Don’t just go for a three-year project without having a plan and measurable milestones in mind. See what processes and automation your Tekla users are using and make usage estimations. 

How to improve the efficiency of Tekla Structures to get more work done faster?

Here at Sweco, we don’t have conventional software engineers. There’s a blend of different fields in one guy. For example, there’s a software engineer who is also a civil engineer working on real projects. 

We don’t only have software engineers who don’t have domain knowledge. Rather, we have people who know how to code and also have knowledge about structural engineering.

As for the development benefits, one of the main aspects is Finland’s high cost per hour. Just 100 kilometers south of Finland, you will find the price to be half as high. Thus, we always need to be on our toes and keep improving the quality of our work. 

Sustainability is another area where we need to work in a smarter way. Finding solutions that can help our team reinvent the way things are designed is the motive.

Technology has helped speed up processes that before took a lot of time. Now you can work faster and then think about other objectives. For instance, you have time to think of more outside-of-the-box sustainable solutions for factories, schools or hospitals.

What is the total size of the development teams, and how are other teams divided in Sweco?

I am unable to give an exact number for the total size of the teams because there are so many. As I mentioned before, we are a decentralized organization. The teams I have been working with for last few years within Finland are

  • BIM development which is working for example on Tekla Structures environment.
  • Data science.
  • Digital services. They try to make innovative solutions to improve the way projects are delivered.

The teams I’ve been working on for the past year have ranged from 10 to 14 people. Besides, we work with development in-house and with other partners outside of Sweco.

More teams work on projects. For example, if we have a massive hospital project, the project team handles the design of the project. They also have a part-time jobs to enhance the design process itself. All the teams remain in touch with each other and form a connected community.

Furthermore, if I talk about Tekla, then we built a core Tekla Structures team about eight years ago. Their main job was to support and help all the Tekla users. Currently, this team is handling 1000-1200 Tekla users across Sweco. They connect Tekla super users, organize events, invent new processes and teach people about settings, drawings, tools, and so forth. 

To sum up, their full-time job is to keep the Sweco Tekla environment up and running. They standardize the way things are done, so we don’t have hundreds of distinct ways of doing things. Having a certain standard makes the work easier and more convenient.

How do you get engineers input for the development?

Our people know about the teams and they know where to contact them. And there are some forms where you can present your ideas. Surprisingly, many people contribute ideas and as they see them put into action. This boosts their confidence. Another aspect is to educate the engineers about the developments for their benefit.

So whenever someone gives an idea, we include the person in the designing, automation, or tool-handling domains. They are always learning as a result. Now, the next time they ask a question or offer an idea, they do it better because of their previous experience.

It has been working pretty well for us. Now, everyone knows how to use Tekla Structures. And even if they don’t know, they can ask their colleagues for help.

How do you communicate in Sweco? Do you use newsletters or chats?

As I said before, we have 1000-1200 users across Sweco. Different departments have different methods of communicating. There are monthly technology newsletters. Furthermore, there is a feedback option inside Tekla itself. It provides automatic feedback, such as “Did you know about this or that?”

Besides, there’s training to help everyone. When we have a big project that involves the use of new technology. Now we will give certain training to the engineers to help them. A lot of development is done inside the project.

Moreover, there are some things that you can’t do in Tekla. You also can’t do them by hand because it will take a lot of time. So anyway, we have to build something and forward it to the development team. They will then derive a scaleable solution that we could use in future projects too.

Tekla Structures Artificial Intelligence and Data Science project that Sweco is working on.

Whenever you go to a technology conference, AI and data science are always hot topics. Here I will show you some slides that I present at these conferences. Tekla Structures were used for this project. The first slide shows you a real project – the Helsinki Olympic Stadium. We were assigned the task of extending the stadium so that it has a roof cover.

What I want to show is that in the current times, we have a lot of automation tools. Tekla Structures, to begin with, comes with thousands of in-built parametric tools. But engineers can also ask the coding team to build some tools for them and some companies (manufacturers) also prefer building their own tools and sending them to us to design with.

Without using these parametric tools, it would be very frustrating and slow to design in Tekla. There will also be many chances for errors.

The next slide shows you that in 2020 1,200 people were using Tekla in Sweco. Second, it shows that they have used 10,000 unique parametric tools. It even shows the tools were inserted 17 million times across 6,000 projects.

How to find the right tools in Tekla?

If we build a new tool, then how can we share it with 1,200 people spread throughout Sweco? We first have to filter the information and then pass to the users ONLY the information they need.

For this purpose, we built a system that extracts data from Tekla. When the designers are designing a structure, we extract all the information about how they are building it. We mined over 18,000 projects in 2020, and these data miners have been active for 900 years.

Then, we grouped people using the extracted data and Machine Learning. For instance, if you are a precast engineer who designs block buildings, then you will be grouped with people who do similar work. Similarly, if you are a timber designer, you will be grouped with other timber designers. It helps categorize the data.

Now when you come to the website, you’ll see, for example, that there are four people like myself (doing similar projects) from different regions who are using certain tools that I have never used before. These tools could be relevant to me. I don’t want to go through the 10,000 tools we used before and pick one from there. Rather, I will have a small (e.g. only 41) relevant tools category from which I can choose those that suit my work.

The systems can become even smarter. If you are working on a very specific project, it will reduce the data even more, letting you select tools that exactly match your work. Instead of showing these 41 tools, we could show only the 4 most relevant tools for your current project or situation.

And we see big software companies adopting these smart technologies. You can say that this concept of data science is still somewhat new, but it is present in many companies.

I have been seeing these advancements at technology conferences, especially in the AC industry. Again, it cuts down the huge amount of information to the details that are relevant to your work.

Making specific standards is also advantageous. For instance, if you have 10 engineers working on the same problem, you will have 10 different solutions. But if you standardize things, the chances of variability in solutions decrease. It also helps in making sustainable solutions and speeding up the process.

The design phase has the biggest impact on the project’s full life cycle and it`s still the cheapest to make the changes.

In short, we have to collect the data, analyze it, extract the information, and then target it efficiently.

What kind of information do you focus on while using Tekla?

Our main focus is on HOW the users use Tekla Structures. We always look to see if there are any certain patterns when creating a design. Let’s say designing a wall in a specific manner can increase its sustainability. So, we might ask the users in the future to reproduce this wall in another project or even improve it.

Few companies use historical data to recreate products, even though it is very important. Imagine you have a three-year project. Now you start making its BIM, and finally, you have the final product. 

But where are all the steps you went through over these three years? They are gone. People don’t save this data. Contrarily, we are looking to save this information. This is the brain of a structural engineer, right there in the database.

From this historical data, we create template files for specific objects to increase the design speed or decrease the amount of steel. You can also measure and see if this change helped or hindered your next project. 

You may initially have a minor impact, such as using 5% less steel or becoming 10% faster. But again, it is due to the historical data that you saved.

Of course, the workers would remember what they did on a project. But if we can somehow digitize this silent knowledge from people’s heads so that everyone would get the benefit. If you look at it, there’s now your own knowledge and the combined knowledge of others. This is like a superpower and this collaboration will help in making better designs.

How do you make the solutions presentable and visualizable for everyone?

The job is to make tools that are easy to use and not complex. Try to split them into smaller ones. For example, you want to design a full truss. Making small tools that can design particular parts of the truss is now better than making a tool that makes the entire truss. You can always have a master tool that combines all of the smaller ones.

Making user-friendly tools and processes is the way to go in Sweco. We can see that people are using these tools and giving feedback for further improvement. So we are constantly learning.

Which requires more effort? Modeling or making the drawings?

I can’t tell the exact numbers, but I think the ratio is 70:30, with 70 being the modeling side and 30 being the drawing side. But it wasn’t always like this. The 70:30 ratio currently exists because we have a lot of automation on the drawing side.

We don’t just work on simple 3D models. We have building information (e.g. statuses) models, which take a lot of time. Also, we have some projects for which there are no drawings. One of our drawing-less projects won the Trimble Global BIM award.

Have you worked with Virtual- or Augmented Reality?

As of now, we are developing and working in this field. We have developed some things ourselves, but we are also in collaboration with companies like Trimble and VTT. The idea still requires a lot of research and development. However, some teams have used Trimble Sitevision to see a 3D model on the project site in Norway.

We are also trying to use mobile devices to see 3D models through their cameras. This helps people see the project clearly and investigate particular parts of it.

How well have VR and AR worked up to this point?

We are already using them in drawing-less projects. If we take the example of the Randselva bridge, it had many parts with complex structures. And since we didn’t have any drawings, we needed these systems to zoom in and see the structure.

We didn’t only use it for this project. We previously used it in the E6 project two to three years ago. The job was to design 40 bridges without drawings, and it was Norway’s first drawing-less project. We have been using this technology since then. When you don’t have drawings, you require these systems to investigate building information models.

It is the longest bridge in the world to be built in Norway without any drawings. I have been working on the development side of this project. Sweco people from different countries are playing their parts in the design.

It is primarily a Tekla model, but we also used other parametric design software. The bridge is 643 meters long, and its highest point is 13 meters high. Fully detailed model with 20,000 rebars.

Randselva Bridge Tekla BIM Awards

Randselva Bridge Case Study (closing the gap on drawing-free design)

As I mentioned before, this is not our first drawing-less project. We have learned a lot from our previous projects, and it helped in building this bridge model. We are entering the phase where all the information is in a 3D model instead of drawings. The design of this particular project is finished, and now it is being built.

What was the reason for not making any drawings for this project?

I have been personally involved in only two drawing-less projects. The first one was the E6 project, where we had to make 40 bridges. In that case, the deadline was strict, and we had to rush things. There was no time to make drawings. Therefore, Sweco proposed this new, drawing-less workflow. It turned out to be very good, and we had more projects like that.

I am not sure why there was no drawing for the Randselva project. Although, I believe it was again due to a strict deadline. And I also think it was the demand of the contractors.

What were your biggest lessons from the first drawing-less project?

We learned how to communicate with the stakeholders. I was on the technical side of the project, building small tools and doing automation. But others said that communication was the biggest improvement while doing the first project.

Secondly, the project didn’t have any drawings, but it sure had parametric designs. If we change something in the geometry of the bridge, then there’s a script that automates part of the design.

Here, 95% of the piles are parametric. So, if there’s a change, 95% of piles will change automatically. Similar is the case with concrete, reinforcement, tendons, and details. A certain percentage of work in these categories was done using parametric designs. 

Without this technology, it will take a lot of time. Parametric design speeds up the process. Without this technology, if you want to change the raw geometry in the middle of the project, then it will be impossible to do so. You’ll have to start over.

So, these technologies have a huge role in designing the best models.

What kind of software do you use for parametric design?

In this project, it was Grasshopper. Usually, we use multiple software programs. For instance, we use Dynamo for Revit models and Grasshopper for Tekla. There are more software programs we use that are not mainstream. But in the Randselva bridge project, Grasshopper was used.

Parametric Design Specialists in Sweco

A complex project requires more effort. You need conventional software engineers for Tekla OpenAPI plugins. But for parameter designs, we have normal people, engineers, and architects, all of whom are using the software. So now we have parametric design specialists. 

Back in the day, we only had software engineers. These specialists support the company’s development needs. Moreover, it is easier to train these people than software engineers.

A software engineer studies for five years at a university gets two years of experience and then learns how to code properly. The parametric design software, on the other hand, is easier for people without software development skills.

As projects become more difficult and technology advances, these parametric and computational design specialists become valuable resources. Not only for only complex structures, but we use this technology also for small automations that give massive results when combined. This full automation system includes a lot of blocks and scripts.

What is the key to implementing and using Tekla successfully?

Training and empowering people is what will work for anyone. Also, giving people time to learn new things like parameter design will be beneficial. Another thing is to build communities where people with similar ideas can meet and learn together. Afterward, they can start teaching others and this way raise the whole company level. This has shown massive results for us.

When you see that Tekla Structures out-of-the-box basic functionality or tools are not enough anymore for you, you can also form a development team to design company-standard tools for you. I’ll recommend always starting small and measuring to see the results. People like to see numbers. If you can show the investments and benefits, it can motivate others. Like you had 18,000 projects, used the tools 17 million times, and the client’s satisfaction rate is higher now.

Also, try to collaborate with others. That’s something that has worked very well for us. You won’t find everything on the Internet. Sometimes you have to ask someone who is doing similar work to find a solution together.

This is a 10 trillion-dollar industry per year. Seven percent of the world’s working population works here. Therefore, we need to unite and solve the problems together.

Can engineers do their engineering projects and at the same time develop company systems/tools?

Yes, it can work to an extent. However, it will affect your full-time job. For example, if you are doing 80% of the work on the project, then you can give only 20% to the other task. The top management has changed its mind. Previously, people saw development as a cost, but now they see it as an investment for the future.

Still, there are people with multiple titles but the same work hours. The management, however, reduces their main job hours to let them work with the development team. Be that as it may, you don’t want to overstress your workforce, or they will simply leave.

That’s why we maintain a good and friendly working environment in Sweco. Besides, we are always teaching and educating people, so they are constantly learning. We are like a second family here. This is the way things are done in the Nordic region.

Innovative companies attract more better employees

The younger workforce, involving the millennials and generation Z, needs a mission to join a company. Boomers were the opposite. They wanted to remain with a single company all their lives. It isn’t like this anymore. Besides, education will change in the future, and one will have to learn different skills to be on top.

There are countries still adopting BIM as the technology keeps moving. Everyone will need to reskill themselves in the future. People are already being trained this way to keep improving. 

An iPhone will have 50,000 more apps five years from now, and people will be buying it only to remain up-to-date.

Our industry is quite resistant to change. But I wish I had a time machine to go forward in time and see how they will change when these younger workforces arrive in 10-20 years.

What are the future plans of Sweco with Tekla?

I am the director of technology at Sweco Findland, so my role is not software-specific. But still, I know we will continue with automation and keep improving our workforce. Another job will be to keep finding smarter ways to share knowledge with others.

So, doing smart work, improving quality, and creating sustainable solutions are the plans.

How do you see the future of the construction industry?

I can’t talk about the construction industry worldwide. The reason is that I don’t have enough knowledge about work in Asia and the US. But in Europe, you’ll find mainly automation

Besides, companies are looking to enhance their processes. Some countries and companies are a bit behind, but their direction is the same.

The future is of building information models. There will be no more 2D drawings in the future. The machines will do the heavy computations while the humans work on creativity. We will get information from the machines and work in accordance. That’s how I see the future. 

For me, climate change is a reality. Construction industries account for 40% of total carbon emissions and 25-40% of energy consumption. Using these new technologies and systems and collaborating together, we can save our planet. I hope we can derive solutions for the problems that have been in the industry for years.

Any last words, recommendations, or wishes?

I do have a request for the listeners. If you are working on similar projects, then do connect with me on LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/in/ricardo-farinha-6852b321/ and we’ll chat about it. These are some of the issues that we need to solve together. No one country, company, or individual can fix everything. Share your ideas and the work you have been doing in your company.

Listen to Ricardo another interview about AI in another podcast https://aec-business.com/ai-gives-engineers-superpowers-an-interview-with-ricardo-farinha/