by Carol Hagen, Hagen Business Systems Inc.
Where are you on your path to a completely digital, connected firm? If you haven’t begun your journey, you’re at an extreme competitive disadvantage. This is where the rubber hits the road for your future survival. For those who are further along, what’s your road map? How quickly can you adjust to new technology or know whether to ignore that shiny new object? How can specialty contractors prepare for their digital future and ensure they’re moving forward with enthusiasm, not trepidation? As BIM has different levels, so does the digital construction journey.
Level 1—Low Hanging Fruit
Most have started their digital construction journey. For those beginners out there, that low hanging fruit is actually affordable. Mobile solutions collect employee hours in real-time, from the field, and import that into payroll. Creating and distributing fillable forms for safety, HR, etc., so your employees can submit them from their mobile devices are prevalent. Many firms sign contracts, perform estimating take-off, compare document revisions, and navigate plan sets digitally. These get you quick wins and expose your team to technology, yet these are the bare minimum to keep your business viable today, even if you aren’t using Building Information Modeling yet.
Level 2—Workflows, APIs and CDE
Workflows keep information moving and Common Data Elements are vital for data exchange. Couple this with an Application Programming Interface and your level one work, and you eliminate all double keying of data. Workflow puts data on a path of review, approval, distribution and archive. It can be automated with rules using decision tree logic. Implemented well, your archive is your searchable filing cabinet where anyone authorized can retrieve their data from anywhere, anytime. This could be a project management solution or file system like OneDrive, Box, Egnyte, ShareFile, Sharepoint, depending upon your requirements.
Recently, Archicad announced how a plan set exported to PDF, could be redlined using markup tools in Bluebeam Revu and the markups could be brought back into Archicad 21 as editable markups into the model. This eliminates the need to manually enter all PDF redlining into BIM and will significantly speed up the Request for Information and Request for Change process by supporting round-trip workflows. It also makes it easy for team members without CAD or BIM software familiarity to perform markups. (“Redlining PDFs: Bluebeam Revu and BIM,” Hagen Business)
Having common data and APIs allow you to leverage numerous mobile and cloud-based applications to connect, collaborate and communicate efficiently between people, equipment, and software systems. The data exchange is seamless, using manual sync, a scheduled sync or a real-time data exchange. Data exchange frequency is based upon the data value and priority or internet connectivity availability. Common functions include QA/QC, design and constructability reviews, submittals, RFIs, photos. The key is not having this information trapped in a silo.
Platforms as a service can help accomplish data interoperability. Data may be collected in one application, then the data is disseminated to a central repository, shared across platforms or has data exchanged bi-directionally, creating a communication loop. Larger software firms may have fully integrated solutions while niche software applications are dependent upon data exchange for survival. For subcontractors choosing how you approach this is critical. Planning and strategy is necessary as silos are often created inadvertently. Disparate systems and separate developers are not on the same roadmap, and can take you down the road of dead ends, or experience acquisitions that create an end of life for an application.
Level 3—Automated Data collection and the Internet of Things (IoT)
Level 1’s timekeeping systems have an element of automated data collection with automatic check in/out and may use a project geo-fence perimeter to determine the project to assign the hours to. If the employee only performs one task it can be set as a default, but for those who work across tasks (sometime called cost codes by finance people), there’s a human intervention to select what task or cost to assign the hours to on the job. So how can this be assigned automatically? What if it were tied to the tool or equipment they were using? Pairing between resources can switch a carpenter to a laborer (pick up a hammer or a shovel) with an RFID chip, Bluetooth or near field communication attached or built-in to each resource. The employee could wear a wristband, have a device clipped to their belt or affixed to their hardhat.
Speaking of tools, imagine never walking to the Conex box to find the tool not there? Being able to walk to where the tool is will save hours of time on the jobsite. Tool manufacturers are vying for loyalty with systems that pair with vehicles so it’s inventorying simultaneously as well. One of my favorite tools is the electronic Total Station delivering faster and more accurate layouts, with real-time accessibility and eliminating errors and rework. Survey existing conditions, site stake-out, verify work in place and perform surface analysis all while documenting as-built conditions this tool is a must for the concrete trade.
There are safety solutions to record worker trips and falls automatically, from what looks like a pager clipped to your belt. Dozens of sensors and communications devices available on heavy equipment and trucks perform safety alerts (proximity detection), record usage into back office equipment management systems, and relay maintenance and compliance issues. Caterpillar now has autonomous haulage for mining operations, using advanced guidance systems and CMD command, which can even back into dump sites. You can imagine what’s coming for construction.
Practically every manufacturer is adding IoT connectivity to self report out of threshold conditions for everything imaginable that construction installs; chillers, pumps, valves and AC units. In manufacturing plants, refineries and critical systems IoT is becoming a standard, and a tidal wave is coming. So where does this data go? It’s heading to the manufacturer who then opens a service ticket to dispatch to the installer or service provider of record. Firms with facilities maintenance need to rethink their work orders as clients won’t need to call you, you’ll be notifying them, or better yet the manufacturer’s app reports to the customer and says “a tech is on their way.” Proactive service is born.
Level 4—Machine Learning, Photos and Augmented Reality
Machine learning is a subset of Artificial Intelligence and is already being used in autonomous vehicles but it can be used for so much more. BuildingSP has their Revit Plug-in learning how to create clash free MEP, routing ductwork, conduit trays and pipe from point A to point B. Put this into collaborative design and a clash coordination meetings becomes final design reviews.
At Microsoft’s 2017 Developers Conference they showcased how using AZURE and cameras mounted in two side-by-side simulated rooms, representing a typical jobsite, they could identify people, tools and unsafe uses or storage of tools. The software behind the scenes was developed with machine learning from photos, which could locate tools and then send a photo via text of the unsafe condition and what to correct to the nearest employee. Big brother is watching.
With Microsoft HoloLens there’s software to overlay full-scale BIM models into real buildings. BIM Holoview is a new mixed reality visualization tool for Navisworks and Revit and the use cases are sure to expand beyond seeing inside walls and seeing where components should be installed. Why not have it self-report the percentage of completion? Add time collection from check in/out together with material deliveries for your stored material and this info could be an automated AIA billing.
Machine learning can be built-in with software that learns keystrokes, to help them understand how you use their applications, then develop business processes to automate those tasks. This same technology will also be able to help you learn and I suspect, make BIM software easier for everyone to master. Like macros is Excel, taking numerous tasks and combining them into a push of one button, scripting promises less button pushing and promises easier adoption for field workers. With the Level 4 the need for buttons are completely eliminated.
The digital construction promise is about what will advance productivity. It’s really about investing in our people through workforce development. Online learning systems, integrated with virtual and augmented reality will break down barriers, reinforce safety issues, and accelerate the time it takes to master a task. Whether you want your team to know how to avoid email phishing scams, work in a confined space safely, learn new software, hone their emotional intelligence and communication skills, work with new materials, or master new methods, the best-in-class firms will have a mix of digital and hands-on training accessible to their workforce. By combining AR and VR, the hands-on learners can advance as quickly as the book learners. They’ll incorporate game theory to encourage participation by showing how they rank compared to their peers. By offering a career path to excellence, it may also attract more people into the construction industry.
Carol Hagen, Hagen Business Systems, Inc., is a construction software sales executive with broad experience in all aspects of construction accounting, project management and estimating, document imaging, enterprise content management, email management, e-discovery, electronic forms, mobile time collection, travel and expense apps, cybersecurity awareness, and Web-based construction billing/payment (alternative to Textura). She helps clients in the construction industry navigate digital transformation using technology. Hagen also assists clients with social media strategy and is available for professional speaking engagements. For more information, visit www.hagenbusiness.com and read her blog at www.hagenbusiness.com/blog. She can be reached on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/carolhagen, on Twitter at https://twitter.com/carolhagen, by phone at (602) 570-7289, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.