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From the Editor: A Brief Glimpse at Useful AEC Pocket Tech

Mark Scacco on May 7, 2019 - in Articles, Column

Living with tech is a lot like living with a new puppy: it’s not easy to recognize changes occurring through time until you step back and look at where we were not long ago compared to where we are today. Every couple of years, I see a graphic (or sometimes a video) showing how the number of devices on a typical literal desktop has reduced through the years, thanks to advances in smartphone technology. You can see one from the CATO Institute at bit.ly/2Im7ThI.

As the graphic illustrates, it’s not just the smartphone device itself that has replaced other hardware (e.g., camera, phone, GPS), it’s also the thousands of apps that obviate other tools we used to rely on. In addition to generic replacement tools, there are many aimed at the AEC industry, and this column provides a short roundup of a few that are particularly useful (some obvious, others not).

Cloud Storage and Access

Regardless of the vendor selected by your firm or client or extended team, there’s an app with which you can access all your files saved in the cloud. This ranges from generic documents and spreadsheets to PDF engineering and construction plans to full-blown CAD and BIM models. Many of these services work together to make life even easier.

For example, Dropbox integrates with AutoCAD, making it easy to open and view design files on your phone. If your firm is using Google Docs (online spreadsheets, documents, slides, etc.), you can easily access all these files from your phone, make edits, print and even present via screen mirroring. Microsoft Office 365 and OneDrive has similar functionality. For many, this ease of mobile access is as significant as gaining the ability several years ago to access corporate email from your phone.

Dropbox: Android: bit.ly/2XfUSKi
iOS: apple.co/2XcJqyP
Google Drive:
Android: bit.ly/2XcXA35
iOS: apple.co/2XfBPQg

Measurement and AR

Whether you’re an architect, engineer, contractor or anyone else needing to take field measurements, there are a number of powerful tools available. AR Ruler App from Grymala is a powerful augmented reality (AR) tool that uses your phone’s camera to take a variety of 3D and 2D measurements, including distance, height, length, volume, area, perimeter and more. ARki is a fascinating app for iOS and Android used to import, create and view 3D models overlaid in real space. The app also integrates with Dropbox, Google Drive and OneDrive.

AR Ruler App:
Android: bit.ly/2XeqgZG
iOS: apple.co/2X9tai0 (fee)
ARki: Android: bit.ly/2XgCuB4
iOS: apple.co/2XdBVb0


Hydraulics and Hydrology

Available for Android only, Hydraulic CALC is a comprehensive hydraulic and hydrologic calculator for civil engineers. It contains hydraulic formulas for calculating flows in pipe, channels, weirs and orifices, and pumps. It does hydrologic calcs, including runoff, time of concentration and peak discharge. Similar in purpose is the iOS app Hydrology Formulator. Focused more on hydrology and less on hydraulics, this app contains tools for runoff, time of concentration, peak discharge and a host of others. It also costs $5.

Hydraulic CALC:
Android: bit.ly/2XdM7Ai
Hydrology Formulator:
iOS: apple.co/2Xgm23o (fee)

Structural Steel Design

There are dozens of apps for doing field calculations for steel beams, joists, columns and more. In fact, the available choices can seem overwhelming, and the app that best fits your needs likely will come down to personal choice and needs. One popular Android app is Steel Beam Design. For iOS, check out Steel Beams Bulk Checker.

Steel Beam Design:
Android: bit.ly/2X9FbE8
Steel Beams Bulk Checker:
iOS: apple.co/2Xf0kge


Did you know the American Red Cross has an app with a plethora of emergency first aid techniques? This isn’t specific to the AEC industry, yet seeing how jobsite safety continually ranks near the top of the list of industry challenges, an app such as this certainly can be useful. Another helpful tool for those spending a lot of time in the field is the Heat Safety Tool from OSHA. This app provides real-time heat index and temperature information for your location as well as tips and recommendations to prevent heat-related health problems.

Red Cross:
Android: bit.ly/2XfU1t4
iOS: apple.co/2XbwZDt
OSHA Heat Safety:
Android: bit.ly/2XfVyPQ
iOS: apple.co/2Xg4q7X

Your Favorites?

Obviously, this isn’t a comprehensive list, and there are many other useful AEC apps. Do you have a favorite? Is there an app you frequently use or find indispensable? Please drop me a note, and we’ll share it.

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About Mark Scacco

Mark Scacco, P.E., is a 25-year veteran of AEC technology and design consulting. He is an AEC Industry Consultant with Scacco LLC and can be reached via email at [email protected].

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