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Rise of the Stormwater Design Machines? I Don’t Think So.

 

by Zach Sample, P.E.
Stormwater Products manager

Conversation at the 2016 SESWA Stormwater BMPs, LID and Green Infrastructure Seminar in Atlanta GA that I attended recently touched upon the idea of computers taking our jobs and ‘Engineering Bots’. This has of course happened in other industries, but I didn’t anticipate it happening in the stormwater planning, design and management world.

During a session break I chatted with a few colleagues who saw information on the ‘one click’ Runoff Reduction optimizing feature we implemented as part of the xpdrainage 2016 release. There was a lot of interest in what it can do and eventually someone made the joke that one might ‘optimize’ their way out of a job, which led to a discussion about what IBM’s supercomputer ‘Deep Blue’ would look like as a civil designer.  Considering that my profession centers on the development of software tools to help engineers do their job faster and more efficiently, I got stuck on the idea that (even in jest) - would automated stormwater design harm the people we hope to help? Could we actually ‘optimize’ someone’s job away?

The answer: absolutely not.

In fact, I see the creation of these tools as only creating less flawed, more elegant solutions to infrastructure problems that we often address rather clumsily. These tools are created with the idea of a human being making the creative and educated choices while the software conforms the design to those choices.

Here’s what I mean:  with our latest release of xpdrainage, the focus is on clarity, automation and optimization.  Rather than having separate tools for different teams (spreadsheet, AutoCAD, hand calcs, maybe a hydrology software program) in order to design a treatment train or multiple-BMP site, we’ve created a solution that brings it all together so that the entire design is transparent and easy to understand. Input for treatment and conveyance systems are locked into the plan view so that all stormwater controls are represented on plan, to scale and in the proposed location.  This frees the designer from risk of inappropriately placed or sized BMPs in the final deliverable.

Runoff Reduction reporting and sizing automation take another big step toward automated optimization. Select the facilities on the site that are targeted to retain the site’s water quality volume and click a button to match the facility dimensions to meet the connected Inflow Area runoff.

While this is a foolproof (and fast) sizing tool, the design isn’t done! The Runoff Reduction event is only the start of the stormwater design process. The larger Protection Events need to be accounted for and safely, responsibly managed. In addition to Runoff Reduction and Protection Event sizing, xpdrainage provides a single place for streamlined high flow bypass conveyance, outlet configurations and treatment train configurations.

xpdrainage reduces the potential for mistakes and makes parts of the workflow faster so that you, the engineer, can spend your time making creative and educated decisions.

In summary, the 2016 release of xpdrainage will let you…

Save some time?

Yes.

Improve your reputation and help you feel more confident in your stormwater design?

Yes.

Lose a project bid to an Artificial Intelligence Super Computer?

Definitely not.


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