The AEC Productivity Revolution
We need a productivity revolution – Now.
Jim McCarthy, Director of Preconstruction – VDC & Solutions Engineering, M & W Group
It has become an almost academic statement that the global AEC industry is in dire need of a revolution in productivity. Several studies have demonstrated that global construction productivity has been essentially flat since the late 1960’s, in stark contrast to manufacturing productivity that has improved dramatically. As an industry, construction generally follows a great cyclic economic wave between awesome highs – of which we’re experiencing the benefits of lately – and crashing to abysmal lows, as with the great recession.
As one of the largest industrial sectors on the planet, making some $10 trillion annually, one of our largest obstacles to investments in greater productivity revolves around this grand cycle. However, even at times like this when revenue is fine, there’s the natural investment in talent, training, operations platforms, etc., yet too little investment in leading edge construction technologies that would make a productivity difference in the long run, such as more capable VDC-BIM applications, selected construction oriented IoT or advanced field management applications. Put another way, for most construction firms there is far more investment in sheer talent and staff-oriented systems than new sector specific technologies, dubbed ‘ConTech’, that would support near-term and consistent gains in productivity.
This is the path toward catching up with the rest of the planet – One strong option
On the need for dramatic productivity gains in the AEC industry, there is little argument; yet on the means, there is important and increasing discussion all around. Amid the many suggestions surrounding how to increase construction productivity (such as targeted design, better risk scenario planning, delivery optimization around site constraints, adopting pre-fab and modular standards wherever possible, to name just a few), my own go-to, given my professional bailiwick, is the development of a best possible VDC capability.
Virtual Design and Construction (VDC) has become a standard element in nearly all large industrial and commercial projects globally. Yet VDC is largely a standard in task name, not in practice. VDC applications, standards and quality vary widely, thus, so does the effectiveness of a project or program. VDC engagement as a sure means toward better project design and delivery productivity – but the question remains, as technology leaders, how do we influence this change in approach?
What’s Currently Possible for VDC?
Our firm’s evolving standard is to have the best possible VDC platform accurately defining project scope, cost, schedule in a fully parametric platform that connects the baseline project charter, contract estimate and master schedule with the reference visual representation of all required project elements.
However, this requires investment in many emerging construction technologies. Portions of a parametric VDC model can be used in Augmented and Virtual Reality / AR-VR studies. Beyond this, project site IoT sensors monitoring site and building spaces for activity, safety and security can be linked to the model via secure communications using blockchain fabrics. Artificial Intelligence (AI) can then be applied to the collected IoT data for project performance and risk analytics.
Achieving the level of VDC deliverable described here is of course no easy feat though, and in fact represents the current leading-edge paradigm for our AEC industry. However, it is also where we should strive to arrive sooner than later to accelerate the productivity revolution just beginning.
But this is only one example of why the future for VDC is simply awesome, and will be explored further as one of the many in-depth discussions to be had at the up-coming Advancing Construction Technology 2018 conference to drive better productivity and continuous improvement for the construction industry. It’s certainly time to come together and be change agents, to lead our industry to get ahead of the productivity curve as soon as possible.