In this four-part series, we’ll explore four themes in a broader context.
Over the past few weeks, several major construction trade shows and user conferences are taking place (albeit in their virtual forms due to the COVID-19 pandemic). Between Autodesk University (AU), INTERGEO digital, Bentley Systems’ Year in Infrastructure (YII) and AEC Magazine’s NXT BLD Conference, there have been a plethora of panels and presentations on the AEC industry and its future.
Usually, these conferences illuminate some wider trends in the AEC industry, but this year, there has been a surprising amount of alignment in their commentary. Over the next four weeks, we’ll explore four key themes that will be driving the AEC industry over the next few years, according to experts in the field and companies on the forefront of technology development.
The first is a challenge to which many companies have devoted their time and energy to solve – breaking down barriers between “siloed” information that is either inaccessible, incompatible, or just hard to find or access throughout the design and build lifecycle.
1. Siloed data is a villian worth vanquishing
One of the key problems in completing complex AEC projects is the accessibility of information. The design/build/operations flow of information should be a seamless one, in theory, but right now there are challenges and choke points at the handoffs between these stages, when designers provide information to construction teams, when construction companies hand over to operations teams, etc. Solving this problem is on the mind of many software – and hardware – companies in 2020 and will continue to be a priority pushing forward.
We have a goal of stopping people from getting a model from their design partner, and as a contractor having to totally remodel it. –Mark Hattersly, Bentley Systems
Historically we’ve reduced all of the intel we created as a design unit down to paper, and we hand it off and say, ‘Here, good luck.’ Blaine Buegner, Foth Infrastructure
Blaine Buegner, Senior Technology Manager at Foth Infrastructure and Environment, said one of the barriers to digitization and construction progress are information silos and the transfer of information during a session at the Year of Infrastructure.
“We have to tear down some of the silos – i.e., our surveyors use this product, our designers use this product and our inspectors use this product and our contractors build it with a completely different product. And oh, by the way, none of those products talk to each other. We spend so much time doing two things; either looking for data or transferring or transforming data into a usable format that will benefit whatever we’re working on moment.”
Some of the progress has come in the form of creating common data environments, whether that’s the promise of NVIDIA’s new “Omniverse” platform that allows for real-time 3D modeling to happen from a variety of platforms simultaneously, to even more robust cloud solutions that allow for all of the models to have a commonly accessible location that is made available to all.
Mark Hattersly, Bentley Systems Senior Director of Construction Operations says that the handoff – and the unfortunate reality that a handoff can often result in re-modeling – is something they are specifically aiming to solve with their SYNCHRO portfolio.
“We have a goal of stopping people from getting a model from their design partner, and as a contractor having to totally remodel it. People often underestimate how tech savvy construction companies are, and they’ve been willing to spend all this energy because they see the benefit. But now with our SYNCHRO model or component of SYNCHRO 4D, there is no longer a need to ‘remodel’ the design in a sense, you can easily – as a contractor – add the attribution, add the information they need and make the constructible components, right out of the design delivery. It is rapidly advancing into what they’re good at. And if we can get out of having folks remodelling, then we know we’ve done a great job.”
In the same vein, Buegner adds that the handoff step is improving, and there’s more of a back and forth (at least) happening at the handoff stage.
“I think we’re getting better at the handoff from design to construction – and I think we’re seeing some gains there we’re seeing technology match up together. We’re providing the tools to our construction individuals that they didn’t have before. We’re giving them … advanced rugged tablets in the field where they can view a 3D model, and they’re tied into GPS where they know they can position themselves on their project sites. That hasn’t happened before. Historically we’ve reduced all of the intel we created as a design unit down to paper, and we hand it off and say, ‘Here, good luck.'”
At AEC Magazine’s NXT BLD conference, in a session focusing on digital fabrication and advances in 3D printing for construction, Bruce Bell of Facit Homes spoke to the need to bridge the gap between BIM and the supply chain, as well as through other disciplines.
“I’m looking to break down the silos that exist, and the separation between design, architecture and architects and products and manufacturers, I see a very distinct line that exists. To actually be able to do what we do, for example, we need to understand manufacturing and we need to understand architecture, and we need manufacturers and product designers working side by side. So it’s that collaborative aspect that is a critical factor in enabling it.”
Similarly,Buegner mentioned that these walls are barriers that can be overcome with more unified workflows.
“We shouldn’t have to design with construction in mind technology should not be in the way we should be designing to construct the project of course. But we shouldn’t have to be thinking about okay so what technologies do our construction professionals use? That should not be a barrier that we have. So we’re working to find systems and find workflows that are going to help us out in that endeavor.”
Some of the pathways forward might be in the cloud, and we’re seeing more investments by AEC companies (including Bentley, Kaarta, and more) in creating common data environments that are agnostic to industry, so that they can be accessed by more people, more readily and seamlessly. In recent years, there have been several startups that have jumped on missing parts of the workflow as a whole, but as the digitization of AEC matures, we may be seeing more partnerships and convergence as the best tools to take down these barriers to data.
This article is Part 1 in a 4-part series on trends in the future of AEC. Read Part 2.