Contributed by Eric D. Lussier
While hosting a Let’s Fix Construction workshop at the AIA Conference in New York City this past Friday, a theme struck me during a discussion after a team was presenting their real-world solutions to the question that was posed to them. By nature, this theme seems opposite of the AEC industry in general.
One of the many reasons why Cherise Lakeside and myself have been travelling and presenting over the last year is to help eliminate the phrase “we’ve always done it this way” in construction. The industry remains stuck in many ways and tends to not implement changes easily, nor quickly.
So, I find it nothing short of ironic that the theme that struck, the term “FAST” seems so prevalent, including one long term usage, one definition that is on the cusp and one that I’m declaring.
While not an official project delivery method on its own, the term fast-track construction seems so common in the industry nowadays, that one almost assumes the term refers to the overall pace of the construction schedule.
However, according to the CSI Project Delivery Practice Guide, ‘Fast-track (construction) is the process of overlapping activities to permit portions of construction to start prior to completion of the overall design. The project schedule may require that portions of the design and construction occur concurrently.’
It’s my belief that the presumed definition and the true definition of fast-track construction are now blurred. Overall project construction schedules and durations have been shortened for years now, even while lead times are longer than ever for certain material procurement and the workforce isn’t supporting these timelines.
Before a shovel can be put in the ground and create the new blurred definition of fast-track construction, demands are being put on designers more and more in 2018 by Owners to create what I’m going to call “Fast-track design”.
The first six (of eight) stages of the life cycle of a facility traditionally moves from project conception to project delivery to design (schematic design and design development) to construction documents to procurement to construction. While these phases could take anywhere from a few years to upwards of twenty years in the past, a new norm has compressed this timeline upwards of eighty percent in some cases. While discussing public school design with a specifier recently, they recollected how a new high school design used to be allotted eighteen to twenty-four months for design in the past and what has become all too common is the same design is now being drawn and bid in as little as six to nine months.
Contributed by Eric Weisbrot
Construction as an industry has noticeably lagged in moving operations toward a more digital realm compared to other business verticals. A report published by McKinsey in 2017 highlighted this truth, citing a near stagnant rate of productivity growth among construction businesses. Comparing that to the 1,500 percent growth of industries like manufacturing and agriculture, it is clear construction is ripe for disruption. But those who have earned a living from the construction business, including licensed and bonded contractors and project managers, have been slow to adopt new technology over the years.
Now, however, the industry is in dire need of change. Many statistics show a labor shortage in construction, high occurrences of waste and inefficiencies on job sites, as well as skyrocketing budgets and capital spending for substantial projects. In order to combat these growing concerns and bring technology into the fold, the construction environment is starting to grasp the power of the following revolutionary changes fueled by technological tools and resources. Here are seven ways technology is influencing construction today.
Countless technology firms are focusing their energy on developing autonomous construction machinery, some led by former tech company engineers and designers. Self-operating machines, including bulldozers, excavators, and cranes, are already operating on sites around the world. Their mainstream entrance into the market is imminent in the next several years. Machines that do not require a human touch can be used to tackle repetitive, simple tasks that take skilled workers significant time and effort to complete. The inclusion of robotics in construction has the potential to reduce waste and inefficiencies across the board.
Drones and 3D Printing
In addition to self-operating machinery, the technology behind drones and 3D printing is also making its debut in the construction field. Drones have been used to help monitor job site progress, as well as lend a hand in the inspection process for projects both small and large. 3D printing offers a new way of designing projects and creating some structures that would otherwise require ample time and effort by individual construction professionals. These technologies have other far-reaching implications in construction as they become more developed and more widely used.
^^ A very typical stock image for "construction" ^^
Contributed by Darren Lester
For as long as I’ve been involved in and around the construction industry, there’s been an underlying consensus that we need to clean up the public's perception of the industry.
Disasters like Grenfell Tower and scandals like the Carillion collapse tend to bring this into sharp focus and we see a renewed energy to show people the positive stuff in construction.
The legitimate worry is that all of the negativity, combined with the image of the stereotypical construction worker, complete with hard hat and hi-vis jacket, will limit our ability to attract younger, smarter, tech-savvy professionals and the must-needed next generation workforce.
So the logical conclusion is to try to push the good stuff even harder.
But perhaps this is the wrong approach.
Unfortunately, the truth is that the public image of the construction industry exists for a reason — it’s mostly accurate.
To portray anything else would be misleading.
Our industry has huge issues, from top to bottom.
We’re embarrassingly inefficient. Rarely deliver as promised. We overspend. We’re huge polluters. We're wasteful with resources. We put people’s physical health and lives at risk on a daily basis. We have a terrible record of mental ill health amongst workers. We’re rife with corruption and 'old boys' clubs. We treat women unfairly. We lack any sort of competent leadership. And we’re pretty much the worst of laggards in adopting digital technology.
I could go on.
If we continue to try to put a positive spin on things, or suppress these issues in order to exemplify the glimmers of hope there are within the industry (and don't get me wrong, they do exist), then we’ll end up with another generation of workers who simply knuckle down and accept that this is as good as it gets.
Ironically, shining a light on these shortcomings, by making them painfully transparent to the whole world and by holding our hands up to say “sorry, things aren’t great”, perhaps we can give ourselves the best chance of driving change.
Because all of the sh*t that’s wrong with our industry is actually what could attract the smartest, most ambitious young professionals and entrepreneurs (and the capital to back them), who see an opportunity to really disrupt and rebuild a huge industry.
Yes, we should continue to educate young professionals about the industry, and show them that there are more options to a career in construction than working on a cold, wet building site. But all industries have their stereotypes - that in itself isn't holding us back from change.
But perhaps we should also share with them our biggest failings, and present them as rewarding opportunities for those willing to challenge the status quo.
Not an easy thing to do, but maybe we'd end up with real change, rather than a slightly improved public image.
Contributed by Jake Ortego
Within the last few months, I have heard each of these statements:
I’m sure that each of these statements is rooted in a truth relative to a certain point in the AEC process. But buried in many of the comments is an increasing feeling that the quality of the design documents themselves are on a downward slope despite the notion that technologies such as BIM should be improving the designs.
Many will admit that the idea of BIM is fantastic. Albeit, a true single building model is a dream that may be unrealistic. These concepts are then quickly countered with criticism that the technology creates nearly as many problems as it fixes. Even the most outspoken BIM supporter would agree that it is not a perfect system. So, should we abandon it for the “old school 2D” model?
Put that thought aside for a minute and set the way-back machine to the 1860s. Back then, chemists figured out a way to duplicate a drawing using ferro-gallate. Construction reprographics was born…with a blue tinge. And with that, an entire profession was eliminated. The once critical job held by tracers and copiers was now a thing of the past.
What does this have to do with BIM?
While drawing reprographics seems like simple technology to us now, imagine how revolutionary it was when it was invented. There were many who undoubtedly thought it created more problems than it solved. Somewhere I recall reading that the design professionals of the time criticized early blueprints for being “…inadequate and free translations of the author’s original lines.” It took 20 to 30 years for the cost of the blueprint to drop low enough to make hand copies and tracing uneconomical. And it wasn’t until the 1940s that someone figured out how to drop the blue and go to the white sheets we see today.
Now, we can’t imagine not having instant reprographics of the drawings. This clunky new technology changed AEC forever. Then there was CAD. This technology got its start in the 1950s and you better believe that it was not an instant hit. CAD was criticized for inhibiting the brainstorming process and viewed as much slower than traditional sketching. But at the same time, it spawned libraries of standard steel shapes, doors, patterns, and that “person” that is put in the drawing for height comparison.
Contributed by Sheldon Wolfe
In the last few years, it has been proposed that owners might benefit from hiring specifiers directly; it has even been suggested that specifiers might help owners choose architects. Specific aspects of these ideas, and of related issues, were addressed by member presentations at the Construction Specifications Institute's (CSI) annual convention over the last handful of years.
In 2014, at the convention in Baltimore, several Institute directors and interested members met to discuss a report that had been submitted to the Institute board by Ujjval Vyas, PhD, of the Alberti Group. This report, titled "The Risk Management Value of Specifications," was prepared at the request of CSI. The report's Executive Summary noted conditions that would surprise few specifiers: Specification software is beginning to replace activities traditionally done by a specifier; contractors are becoming more involved in specifications, especially in design-build projects; and specifiers suffer from the Rodney Dangerfield syndrome - their value often is not appreciated by their employers, with commensurate effect on stature, compensation, and opportunity for advancement.
What will happen to specifiers in the next decade? Will they be replaced by software? Will they shed the grunt work of word processing and become even more valuable, devoting their time to product research, coordination of documents, and adding intelligence to the building model? Or will they simply fade away?
Just as has happened with drawing - we moved from linen to vellum to digital images, and we moved from drafting to CAD to building modeling, yet all of these options remain in use - all of the above possibilities for specifiers will exist in some degree, and it's possible someone will continue using a typewriter to write specifications. But which of these possibilities, or what combination of them, will be most common?
What I see suggests the answer won't be to the liking of most specifiers. Specifying software will get better, it will extract more information from the building model, it will get easier to use, it will further automate editing of specifications, and it will be seen as a replacement for specifiers. Contractors will continue to increase their importance during construction, and designers will continue to lose credibility with clients. Will specifiers soon find themselves in the unemployment line?
What happens, both to specifiers and to specifying as a career, will be affected by what specifiers do to influence the discussion. If they do nothing, they will be further marginalized, and though they might not be laid off, they may not be replaced when they leave. Based on what I've seen, that is the likely course.
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