Article
Published on
July 12, 2021

Tech Convergence Brings Efficiencies & Profitability to AEC

Contributors

Charles de Andrade

Chief Financial Officer

A Dream Come True

I started my career in the AEC industry as an “electricians’ helper” in 1975.  Over seven years I went from being a “helper” to leading a team of electricians and eventually even doing work as my own fledgling company.  Those seven years were formative years for me, as I experienced all of the inefficiencies and profit-eating workflows that have plagued our industry for years. From learning my need to “beat” the Mechanical Subcontractor into the building so I could pull my main feeder lines into the building before their equipment and ductwork made that more difficult, to the fact that no matter how careful I was with counting what would be needed for a project, I always would miss something.

There is nothing like being in the field, juggling a team of tradesmen, working with inspectors, interfacing with material suppliers, juggling schedules, and at times arguing with other trades, to give one an appreciation of how important communication is between all of the parties trying to build a building. It gave me a new appreciation for the story of the Tower of Babel, and just how essential it was that we be speaking a language that everyone understood.  

“In construction that language needs to communicate the owner’s want and needs, the Architects and Engineer’s design intent, and then into the Contractors deliverables.”

There are few activities I am aware of that require as much coordination and communication as construction and even if we all spoke the same language (and that was not always the case), it still seemed like at times communication was still lacking.

I had always been fascinated by the processes that make our industry work and my twenty-five-year affiliation with Construction Market Data and later with Construction Data News, helped cement the understanding of the workflows that make the industry what it is. I loved taking researchers into the field and have them understand the language they thought they knew but discovered they really did not.  They were hearing from owners, designers, and contractors they were interfacing with and learned there was more to the language than just the English they thought they understood.

My last trip with a group of managing editors was to a bid opening for a police locker project, that had an amazing number of bidders (around 18) for a project with an estimate of $350,000. Listening to the clerk as she opened each of the bids, announced the given estimate from each of the contractors, and realizing that the low bid was $80,000 less than the next grouping of bids, was an experience.  Hearing the clerk say to the apparent low bidder, “Congratulations “George”, you are the apparent low bidder” and having that low bidder exclaim out loud, “@#&!, I need to find what I missed” was an unforgettable moment.

BIM Matures But Paper is Still Ruling

I moved from the information realm into the software side of the business as a natural transition. Since 2000 I have been watching the amazing number of software advances that were occurring. We had been talking about BIM in the late 1990s, and I had actually had the experience of walking around in a small building using a set of head-glasses tied to a mainframe computer in the late ’90s.  Most people do not realize how long varying forms of the technologies have existed even in pre-product forms.

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I watched as “BIM” became real coming out of the economic crash of the 2008 time frame.  Suddenly the efficiencies available through “BIM” were allowing the designers to create the “Design Intent” but those efficiencies appeared to be only allowing designers to create paper plans faster. Digital meant PDFs that then could be printed out. Yes, they could now create their design intent using less than half of the former staffing but the efficiency stopped there. The internet was allowing the sharing of those documents faster, but in the end, the paper was still ruling.

Working with BPM’s (Building Product Manufacturers) who represent 45–55% of the cost of the final building and explaining the importance of creating useable BIM objects for the designers, was both an exciting but often frustrating experience. It really wasn’t until 2016-2017 that more of the manufacturers were actually “believing” the importance of their BIM models.

But the industry was not standing still. In 2015 the contracting community understood the power of BIM coordination, and the birth of VDC departments represented the new contractor understanding of the potential profitability that BIM could bring. Getting to work with a subcontractor on a billion-dollar + building with a top 10 contractor was an amazing experience. Being in the weekly coordination meetings with the contractor VDC manager, demonstrated that the large contractors were adopting the technology and were exposing what we now call “Digital Twin” with the amazing number of efficiencies coming from the use of that technology.

BIM Tech is Converging

I had started into the early visual experiences in 2013. I still remember the “Oh Wow” experiences at the 2014/2015 AIA and AU shows, as we demonstrated what Samsung Gear VR could do.  But “Oh Wow” did not identify the workflow the technology would improve.

In 2018-2019 our work with Magic Leap brought the buildings into those glasses. Walking around a prison being designed and built-in Peru in South America, brought the finance minister there even more comfort in what was being planned and built. The use case for the technology was becoming clearer.

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In 2019 laser scanning began bringing even more reality to the “as-built” discussion. The merging of those point cloud files into the Revit world suddenly brought the new potential for renovations and improvements. And then drones flying carrying those laser scanners changed our understanding of what could be done.

COVID-19 in 2020 was a punch in the gut for everyone, but the technology did not stop. If anything, the virus accelerated the development of the software that is leap-frogging all our anticipations. A year ago, we could look at a single major building at level 400 BIM development, which was mind-boggling. Nine months ago, we were walking around a project that was a city block in size. Four months ago, it was a city-sized project.

In 2021 all of these technologies are coming together, and VIM is at the heart of these efficiencies. The ability to process and display these projects not in days but in hours and soon in minutes means that efficiencies and levels of profitability are now available that were simply a dream back when I entered the industry in 1977. The ability to get those efficiencies into and onto all devices means that the efficiencies will now be available to the trade contractors and to all design firms whether large or small.

Accurate counts with context, identification of system collisions permitting corrections done before anything is released to the field, and making an “As-Built” Digital Twin reality, meaning owners, their facility managers, and others like first responders, now have tools that were in the realm of fiction only a few years ago.  Linking the built model with all of the measuring and feedback devices means measuring actual performance is now possible. The age of one pocket for construction design and construction cost and another for the facility management price tag will shortly be behind us.

Construction Embraces the Digital Age

The industry that has lagged all other industries in the adoption of the digital age. I believe the industry is now ready for what the digital age really can produce. The need to improve the impact of our buildings on the global climate issues, the need to use our energy resources better, and the need to make the living and working conditions of the people that use our buildings is the impetus for adopting the change.

“Being more profitable is not at odds with the technology but is actually more likely with the technology.”

I have been blessed to live at this time! I have watched something similar to the “Moon Launch” that is now impacting our industry. I look forward to what the next year will bring to our industry, and I look forward to talking with as many of you who are interested in what the technology can do for your company as well.  

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