After decades providing IT and product lifecycle management consulting services to the aerospace industry, Mohamed Ali El Hani saw an opportunity to apply his experience in that mature industry to a new sector just beginning to adopt similar processes and tools: the AEC industry.
Interested in exploring how aerospace technologies and a PLM approach could help improve the productivity of the design and construction industries, El Hani founded Impararia Solutions Inc. in 2009.
With Impararia, El Hani set out to become a leader in PLM, helping AEC customers optimize their business processes by looking at IT investments that address the full lifecycle of their projects.
However, the CEO of the Montreal-based company quickly recognized that despite the many similarities between aerospace and AEC, significant gaps still exist.
Impararia is setting out to narrow these gaps through change management, and by helping AEC companies create a vision for their future.
Shifting From Project to Process
While technology providers see the AEC industry at the cusp of an efficiency evolution already completed by the aerospace industry, many architects, engineers, and contractors struggle to change their mindset from “projects” to “products.”
According to El Hani, the shift in thinking about a building as a manufactured product is an important step in optimizing design and construction. It requires a focus on reusable building processes, rather than on seeing each project as a separate entity.
With this shift in thinking, more design and construction companies are turning to manufacturing tools, such as simulation and 3D modeling software, and concepts such as PLM.
Impararia describes PLM as a process covering every aspect of a product’s lifecycle, from the first design to the end of the product (or project) life. The PLM concept relies on the control of all product information, processes, roles and information systems involved in the product lifecycle. This broad view is put into place to shorten the overall project duration and reduce costs.
Although many AEC professionals see PLM as interchangeable with building information management, PLM is a much broader concept that encompasses BIM technologies. While BIM focuses on digital mockup creation, the scope of PLM includes total project and supply chain management.
The Shift to a More Collaborative Approach
Helping AEC professionals understand the applicability of PLM is one of the challenges Impararia has faced in moving into the building industries. While the technologies and practices being used in aerospace — such as 2D to 3D migration, and certain business processes — are applicable to AEC, El Hani found they couldn’t be immediately transferred until the industry’s unique challenges were addressed.
One of those challenges is an ill-defined supply chain compared to aerospace.
“In some cases the architect is bidding, in other cases it’s the owner, and in other cases it’s the contractor,” he says. “The result is that we’re seeing each actor in this supply chain think only of its own benefits and scope of work — and the owner at the end pays the cost.”
Another challenge preventing a shift to more optimized construction is the way projects contracts are defined. Current contract structures make it difficult to define ownership of shared BIM data.
Further complicating this optimization, El Hani says, is a gap between the expectations of AEC players and technology providers.
“Our conclusion was that AEC customers were expecting to get technology for better management and collaboration from traditional AEC software providers, but what they were getting was only 3D mockup capabilities,” he says. “This gap in expectations was a big problem.”
It’s one reason Impararia partnered with Dassault Systèmes. Impararia found that the 3DExperience platform better integrated modeling tools with project management capabilities, providing the collaborative approach needed for true PLM on building and infrastructure projects.
El Hani adds that he is seeing a slow shift toward greater collaboration and optimization in regions, such as the United Kingdom, where governments are launching initiatives to help companies reduce construction costs and improve productivity.
Their vision of BIM Level3 overlaps with a PLM philosophy. El Hani is supporting similarly focused research initiatives in Quebec to help define new policies for PLM adoption by AEC building manufacturers.
How Impararia Is Helping This Shift
To narrow these gaps, Impararia first sets out to help clients to develop a vision for their future. By helping define a roadmap of where they want to be in the next 10 to 20 years, Impararia aims to assist clients in better planning their technology investments.
Moreover, Impararia helps companies to implement PLM by first defining why the need for PLM exists and what problems this process will solve for them.
“We help them, based on our experience from other industries, refine their vision for their market and how they need to be structured internally, from business practices to technology, to support that vision. PLM does not exist without vision,” El Hani says.
Once a roadmap is in place, Impararia helps to introduce the processes, best practices and tools that will help clients to achieve their goals over the long term.
Cases in Point
In the beginning, when working with architects and contractors in the Montreal area, this process began not with vision but with convincing companies that manufacturing technologies could truly improve their processes.
The company had to explain how aerospace, and others, used the migration from 2D to 3D, model-based definition simulations, long-term archiving and other tools, to build better projects, more efficiently.
From convincing, Impararia moved to decision-making. For one French engineering company looking to migrate from 2D to 3D, but not sure how to make the move, Impararia helped capture the company’s true needs.
They came up with a solution using a 3D modeling tool with a capability for advanced relational design. With one technology investment, the engineering company found it could create a single advanced model that could be easily adjusted to meet the needs of the majority of its clients.
Increasingly Accessible Technologies
AEC professionals are becoming convinced that the aerospace roadmap can optimize their industry. Meanwhile, the incoming generation of designers and contractors are expecting more from technology.
“I often ask myself ‘why is there a gap between Aerospace and AEC?’” El Hani says. “In truth, I think it’s in large part due to technology accessibility.”
“Today, I see students born with technology in their hands. Advanced design using new equipment and collaborative technologies is already second nature to them,” El Hani says. “Mobile technology deployment took well less than a decade. PLM adoption in the AEC industry could accelerate in the next few years.”
He predicts software manufacturers like Dassault Systèmes will offer more collaborative solutions at a more rapid rate than ever, it will be up to AEC companies to put those tools to work to improve their projects.