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Inside the Ever-Evolving World of Electrical Design

June 17, 2024
How the AI evolution is poised to transform the electrical design industry

Every June, we present the results of our annual Top 40 Electrical Design Firms survey, which, for the most part, asks the same set of questions each year in an effort to establish historical trends in certain areas, including business climate, backlog, revenue performance, hot and cold markets, recruiting/hiring trends, and technology. Based on total revenue related to electrical design work performed in 2023, the 2024 Top 40 Electrical Design Firms special report is featured in the June issue.

One of the most impactful technological developments of 2023 that affected not only society as a whole but also the electrical design industry in particular was the emergence and normalization of generative artificial intelligence (AI) tools bursting onto the scene in the form of chatbots. One of those (ChatGPT) gained 1 million users within five days of launching in November 2022, and many others also went viral quickly after their debuts. How does this relate to the electrical engineering profession specifically and to the electrical industry in general? There are many predictions from experts that attempt to scratch the surface regarding how AI will transform our world going forward. “I believe AI is going to change the world more than anything in the history of humanity. More than electricity,” said AI expert Kai-Fu Lee, Chairman & CEO of Sinovation Ventures, in an interview with 60 Minutes and CBS News in 2019. 

Whether that turns out to be true or not, the idea is intriguing. How do Top 40 firms plan to harness the power of AI in the short and long term? Although we’ve asked questions about respondents using augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality VR) tools in electrical applications for years, this is the first time we’ve asked specifically about AI. Whereas AR and VR enhance real-world objects on a virtual platform to create immersive environments, AI enables computer applications to mimic human-like intelligence and resolve problems, make predictions, and provide solutions. We asked respondents this year: How long will it take for AI to become a viable component of electrical design work? According to this year’s results, 43% of Top 40 firms say they’re already using it.

Just for fun, I decided to ask ChatGPT the same question with the exact same wording — it will be interesting to watch and see how accurate the following prose proves to be when we look back a few years from now in future Top 40 analysis reports. After typing the question into the prompt, the machine spit out the following synopsis in less than 5 seconds: AI is already making strides in electrical design, but its full integration into the field will depend on several factors. These include the development of AI algorithms tailored specifically for electrical design tasks, advancements in computational power to handle complex simulations and optimizations, and the acceptance and adoption of AI tools by engineers and companies. Given the current rate of progress, it’s reasonable to expect AI to become a viable component of electrical design work within the next 5 to 10 years. However, this timeline could vary depending on the pace of technological innovation and the specific subfields within electrical design. As AI technologies continue to mature and demonstrate their capabilities in tasks such as circuit design, optimization, and fault detection, engineers will increasingly rely on these tools to streamline their workflows, improve efficiency, and uncover new design possibilities. Additionally, the integration of AI into design software platforms will likely accelerate its adoption within the industry. Ultimately, while AI will undoubtedly transform the practice of electrical design, human expertise and creativity will remain essential in guiding the design process, interpreting results, and ensuring that designs meet the required standards and specifications.

Turn to the Top 40 cover story for more commentary and analysis on this year’s survey results, including specific ways in which these leading electrical design firms are using AI. Predictably, their top answer was “optimizing processing and improving efficiencies;” however, the second most popular response (marketing and promotions) did surprise me a bit. Digging into this concept a little deeper, don’t miss Freelance Writer Tim Kridel’s feature article, which contemplates the future of building information modeling (BIM). Although combining AI with BIM can obviously make design engineers more productive, this piece takes an in-depth look at what it will actually take to get there as well as evaluates the other business benefits and pitfalls that could come along with the AI evolution.

About the Author

Ellen Parson | Editor-in-Chief - EC&M

Ellen Parson is the Editor-in-Chief for EC&M. She has a journalism degree from the University of Missouri-Columbia. She's been a business-to-business writer and editor for more than 25 years, most of which have been covering the construction and electrical industries. Contact her at [email protected].

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