It’s no secret that the AEC industry is suffering from a surplus of waste: wasted materials, wasted time spent on rework and change orders, waste from highly fragmented processes.
However, what the industry is beginning to realize is that it’s not the first group to think, There must be a better way.
The aerospace industry is one recent example; in the 1990s, companies such as Boeing began to look at technologies and processes used in other industries to tighten their supply chain and manufacturing processes. A switch to all-digital modeling made this possible.
Also necessary was a switch in mindset. Aerospace professionals had to switch their thinking from “project” to “product,” and adopt product lifecycle management tools that would deliver increased value to the end-user.
With these 2 steps, AEC professionals can likewise optimize their processes:
Step 1. Adopting Revised Business Models
According to Hector Lorenzo Camps, founder of PHI Cubed Inc., the industry is looking for ways to improve, but to truly move forward will first have to revise its compensation and business models.
Although design-build contracts are increasingly popular, there remains too little true partnership among all parties involved in the design, construction and operations processes.
Today’s typical contracts emphasize distinct roles for all players in order to help control liability.
“Many relationships in the industry are strained because of the adversarial nature of the industry standard contracts that pin professionals against each other to divide risk,” Camps says.
New collaborative forms of agreement—namely, Integrated Project Delivery—remain slow to take off as AEC professionals explore new liability rules and shift from a “best for me” to a “best for project” mentality.
Tied to this need to collaborate is another necessary step for AEC professionals: the need to shake their reliance on a 2D, paper-based management process.
Step 2. Adopting Tools for Better Integration
Until all industry players make the switch to 3D processes, there will be a problem with what Camps calls “two versions of the truth with documentation, one in 2D and the other in 3D.”
Many firms are working with a mix of 2D CAD and 3D BIM to accommodate all parties’ preferences.
“Contractually, firms go with the 2D documents, which often are obsolete and predate the model. Builders under pressure, wanting to build from the best available data, are asking to build from the model and produce 2D documents after,” Camps says. “The coordinated model needs to drive the dimensional and informational control of the project and the field implementation documents. The contractual language needs to reflect this.”
Camps believes owners—who ultimately stand to gain the most from collaborative projects—will drive this evolution to 3D.
“All they need to do is write into their contracts the information management strategy. As long as the roles, responsibilities and use case for information are defined, and intellectual property is dealt with, they should have no problem getting professionals to deliver digital documents,” he says.
Why Now Is The Time For Change
The good news? The AEC industry is already beginning to adopt the tools and processes that will make transformation possible.
“We have the perfect storm for real industry transformation as significant as the industrial revolution,” Camps predicts.
First, AEC professionals are beginning to borrow concepts from manufacturing. To further reduce waste and improve quality, the industry is looking to close the gap between design and fabrication. Lean construction is one such effort, as the industry attacks waste by taking lessons learned from Lean Manufacturing and Just in Time delivery models.
Second, Camps points to a number of technology solutions becoming available that may further speed improvement.
For example, the advent of cloud computing is making it easier than ever for all players to work together in a more tightly connected process.
As Camps points out, AEC companies generally have far fewer employees than manufacturing industries, making it potentially more difficult to invest in an expensive data management system. Cloud computing can allow even small firms to participate in building lifecycle management without having to invest in prohibitively expensive data management systems.
By putting data on the cloud, it’s also typically easier for various parties to share data and resources related to a project.
“This ad hoc approach to PLM makes it very easy for the AEC industry to adopt the benefits of integration and collaboration without all the forward structuring that would happen if they had to form a unique corporation in order to integrate their processes,” Camps says.
In addition, the Internet of Things is making it easier to move digital models from the drawing table to the field, giving contractors and designers rapid insight into potential problems. And Camps even points to rapid manufacturing, such as 3D printing, as a potentially promising technology for optimization, as these tools could someday make it possible to produce one off building components while maintaining the economies of scale of standard offsite production facilities.
Beyond technology, however, today’s growing engagement from public owners looking to spend more wisely is invigorating further innovation in connectedness.
The most carefully watched case in point is the UK’s Level 2 BIM requirement for federal buildings, set to become effective in 2016.
“It’s expected that by 2019, BIM Level 3 will be required. Level 3 in essence is ‘full collaboration between all disciplines by means of using a single, shared project model which is held in a centralized repository,’” Camps says.
He adds, “By that definition, they just described the 3DEXPERIENCE Platform.”