Firm Profile: Wright Engineers AECbytes Profile (October 22, 2018)
Wright Engineers, ranked as one of the fastest growing engineering firms in the US, shares its perspective on AEC technology in this Firm Profile.
What is the history and background of the firm?
The Wright Engineers legacy began in December 1997 when it was founded in Las Vegas, NV. Brent Wright was a principal and partner at a Las Vegas structural engineering firm and had just completed several high-profile projects in Las Vegas including the Stratosphere Tower, the Circus Circus Adventuredome, and the UNLV Lied Library. Brent took out a home equity loan for $75,000 to cover start-up and operating expenses, gathered a combination of cheap new and used office equipment, brought computers from home, and set up shop in a small open office space with blue carpet and a roof that leaked whenever it rained. Thanks to a strong Las Vegas economy, a staff of talented, hard-working people and lots of happy clients who kept coming back for more and bringing their friends, we paid off our start-up loan and even turned a small profit by the end of our first year. We grew quickly and in a short while we’d become one of the largest structural engineering offices in the West.
We added civil engineering in 2001 and MEP in 2002. In 2004, Scott Jones founded our Orange County office. Tye Havey founded our Phoenix office in 2005. In 2006, David Winn founded our Salt Lake City office. Scott, Tye, and David all joined Wright Engineers early in their careers and became (and still are) exemplary in doing things the “Wright” way. In 2014, we opened a Tucson office and began offering geotechnical engineering, material testing, and inspection services in Phoenix and Tucson. Also in 2014, we opened a Las Vegas geotechnical office and testing lab. Beginning in 2015, we made a strategic decision to eliminate disciplines where we could not consistently be world class. The Las Vegas civil department was closed. The MEP departments in Las Vegas and Phoenix were sold in December of 2015. The Las Vegas, Phoenix and Tucson geo departments were sold in the fall of 2017. Today, our focus is providing world class structural engineering in all our offices and world class MEP engineering out of our Irvine office. We’ve been recognized nationally as one of the country’s fastest growing engineering firms, and more importantly, as one of the nation’s best engineering firms to work for – a distinction that we’re particularly proud of. Wright Engineers has five regional offices and principals are licensed in all 50 states.
What is the firm's current focus? What are the key projects it is working on?
Our current focus is on structural engineering in all of our offices – Las Vegas, NV; Irvine, CA; Phoenix, AZ; and Salt Lake City, UT. Additionally, our Irvine office specializes in MEP engineering for retail and restaurant projects. We are working on medical facilities throughout Nevada, Arizona, California and Texas, as well as hotels all over the country. A major industry trend towards multi-family housing projects, including student housing, assisted living and apartments have led to our work on those types of projects to be significantly higher over the past few years. Some of our projects are shown in Figure 1.
When did the firm start using AEC technology, and how is it being used today? How important is AEC technology to the firm?
We utilize AEC technology every day and have been using it since the first day we opened. We began in the late 90’s with AutoCAD and slow pen plotters and smelly blueprint machines. Laser plotters came in around 2000 which eliminated the need for the blueprint machine. From computer modeling structural analysis software to AutoCAD to Revit, there is not a single project we work on that doesn’t involve significant usage of AEC technology. The biggest change that we have seen in the industry since we opened twenty years ago has been the implementation of Revit 3-D modeling. When we first implemented Revit, architects seemed to love it but it was clear that the engineering applications had a long way to go before they would work as smoothly for engineers. Because of this, we were often forced to do a sort of hybrid Revit/AutoCAD work-around.
Today, Revit is much more efficient for us to use, partly because it has evolved and advanced and partly because we’ve become more proficient in its use (Figure 2). The biggest limitation with Revit today is that almost none of our clients - or the owners of the projects who are the clients of our architect clients - are willing to pay for the level of detail needed to fully take advantage of Revit’s capabilities. They seem to believe that using Revit will eliminate conflicts, clashes and the subsequent added project costs and delays, but they’re only willing to pay for a minimum level of detail in the model. This shift in limitation can create unique challenges for us that are different for each project and require us to find workarounds and solutions in different ways.
It would be impossible to be competitive in the engineering world without taking advantage of the advances in AEC technology. These advancements provide us a great opportunity to create competitive advantages by ensuring that we are constantly up-to-date on the latest trends and well-educated in all aspects of those programs.
Does the firm have a specific approach and/or philosophy to AEC technology? If so, what is it?
We consider our approach to AEC technology to be strategic. Wright Engineers was founded during a time of a revolution in AEC technology. In the late 90’s and early 2000’s, the pen plotter was giving way to the laser plotter. The CRT monitor was giving way to the LCD. The cost of memory was dropping steadily as the size was increasing dramatically. Cell phones were becoming smarter. Big data was becoming, well, bigger. It was becoming visually obvious when walking through a firm and looking around if they were riding the technology wave or sitting it out. We decided we would ride it—and thus formed our philosophy around principles of:
Always having the best available technology for our team. This principal is important both as a matter of work efficiency and also as a matter of branding and fostering team member happiness. We wanted our engineers and CAD Technicians to know they had better tools than the firm down the street. Because of that, they knew we expected them to be more productive and to put out a better product than the firm down the street did.
Finding ways to garner savings through technology. The old adage of “it takes money to make money” holds especially true with technology. You have to spend money to access the technological efficiencies that allow you to make money. We invested heavily in AutoCAD automation in the early years and we continue to do so today. That automation allowed us an efficiency advantage over our competitors that which benefits us today and will continue to benefit us for many years to come. We switched to laser on printers and large format plotters as quickly as possible. We jumped into IP phones and even self-hosted IP phones well before that was common in the industry. When Revit emerged we stuck to our principles. We hired and trained the best talent and invested heavily in automation.
These timeless principles have served us well thus far and we strongly believe that continued adherence to them will provide us with continued success. Consistent and continuous investment in talent, technology and training puts your business on the best trajectory to success. In the engineering world, that led us to becoming early adopters of cutting-edge developments in AEC technologies (Figure 3).
What are some of the main challenges the firm faces in its implementation of AEC technology?
One of the biggest challenges is the expense associated with staying on the cutting-edge of new technologies. Licensing fees are very expensive and every engineer needs to have multiple licenses of software. As the software continuously becomes more powerful, hardware needs to be upgraded in order to operate effectively. These upgrades, in tandem with software costs, lead to difficulties in maintaining our place as an early adopter of these technologies.
How does the firm see AEC technology evolving in the future?
As technology evolves, we will see the line between engineering and drafting continue to blur. Since the Revit model is the design, anyone working in the model needs to understand design principles. This ongoing evolution will mean that the level of engineering required on a project will increase and pure drafting on a project will decrease.
If the firm had a wish list for AEC technology, what would it be?
We would love to see more intelligent design software that operates in 3D without a keyboard, so we could work in a more gesture-based environment like Tony Stark does in Iron Man!
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