The Architecture, Engineering, and Construction (AEC) industry has been on a steady growth trajectory for some time, buoyed by increased urbanization and the rising demand for commercial buildings and massive infrastructure in towns and cities. According to a McKinsey Global Institute Report, there's much more room for growth in this economy, which can generate an additional $1.6 trillion by adopting productivity-enhancing technology.
But what operational aspects or processes do you need to automate in AEC to achieve a healthy growth rate alongside your industry peers or competitors? Let's examine critical pieces of advanced digital technology that are transforming workflows and boosting productivity in architecture, engineering, and construction.
1. Why BIM Software is Taking AEC by Storm
Building Information Modeling or BIM software is a digital resource that gives AEC professionals accurate spatial and structural intelligence (or data) for the creation of life-like, multi-dimensional (3D, 4D, 5D, etc.) models of architectural structures. These computer-generated, physical designs help with the planning, construction, and management of AEC projects. About 82% of contractors using BIM reported a positive ROI, according to an Autodesk survey.
Here are some of the positive transformations BIM technology is having on AEC projects:
A typical construction project has multi-disciplinary teams (mechanical, electrical, and plumbing) working simultaneously or at separate times and even across distributed geographies. By levering BIM software, these MEP professionals are collaborating in real time to enhance design quality and project delivery workflows. It's much easier to do that with digital models and design processes than with 2D drawing sets
According to Autodesk, integrated BIM processes in construction projects enable various teams working together to reduce design errors by 61%. For example, the system can automatically highlight an electrical conduit that extends into a beam. Everyone involved in the project can see this during the building design phase, and with review and markup provisions in place, all teams contribute to necessary design iterations and refinements before they're ready to execute.
Simulation, Visualization, and Presentation
BIM software includes tools for simulating and visualizing anticipated design outcomes based on various parameters, such as the physical environment. For example, designers can take into account the impact of sunlight when calculating and optimizing a building's energy performance. Such incorporation of physics principles and best practices into BIM workflows can improve the chances of a project's approval by clients and regulators.
2. How Additive Manufacturing is Driving Digitization in Construction
A 2018 SmartTech Publishing report forecasts that additive manufacturing (AM) will account for $40 billion in revenues generated in the construction sector in 2027. The researcher attributes the anticipated growth to, among other factors, the potential rise in the adoption of AM technologies in materials production between 2017 and 2027.
What is AM?
AM encompasses technological tools that manufacturers deploy to create physical 3D items or structures by introducing construction material in multiple successive layers. In a typical AM setup for a construction project, a designer uses a computer and 3D software to design a three-dimensional object. A 3D printing machine produces the object based on the design data.
AM has numerous practical and potential applications in AEC, including 3D printing commercial and residential houses. Contractors can also use it to build massive infrastructure like bridges. The technology offers several perks, such as:
Architects can fast-track prototyping with 3D printing by iterating scale models multiple times, quickly. They may showcase different design ideas, allowing clients to study spatial relationships and volumes before making a final decision. Prototyping can take hours rather than days or weeks to complete!
It can take a few hours to 3D-print an architectural model, depending on its complexity. Such a project usually involves minimal or no post-production assembly at all. Additionally, a 3D modeling and printing system minimizes wastage of raw materials and money as it highlights most design flaws early on in the process.
3. Asset Management and Tracking Software "Retires" Pencil, Paper, and Cumbersome Spreadsheets
Mechanical, electrical, HVAC, plumbing, and general contractors can no longer operate profitably and efficiently if still using pencil, paper, and spreadsheets to manage their assets. Little wonder that, in an industry where technology is streamlining production processes to drive business and revenue growth, AEC firms are increasingly turning to software to monitor and control their equipment and tools, on site and remotely.
Examples of asset management and monitoring technology are Quick Response (QR codes), Radio-frequency identification (RFID), Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) beacons, and GPS/GSM. Cloud-hosted software (usually available as Software as Service) underpins these tracking systems in critical ways, including providing quick, real-time access to asset location and status information.
Here are the key reasons why asset management and tracking technology is not a luxury that AEC contractors can survive and compete effectively without, going forward:
The Theft Problem
The theft of construction equipment is an issue that contractors throughout the U.S. have been grappling with for years on end. These firms are losing expensive assets like tractors, excavators, backhoes, and bulldozers through theft every year. A National Equipment Register (NER) report estimates the annual cost of such theft at between $300 million and $1 billion. Nationwide losses in the AEC industry might even surpass the $1 billion mark if you take into account the financial impact of business interruption due to the unavailability of mission-critical assets, or the theft of smaller tools like power drills and grinders.
How does asset tracking technology minimize onsite asset theft? Effective protection begins with tagging all tools and deploying fixed or mobile tag-reading devices at strategic points within construction sites. With automated check-in and checkout processes, contractors can track the movement of equipment in and out of project sites. Also, field construction employees may use mobile scanners to confirm asset availability during routine and random checks.
Routine Asset Inspections and Proactive Maintenance
Knowing the location of each tool at a construction site is vital to keeping it in good shape. Likewise, access to equipment maintenance history and status information simplifies routine inspections. As such, asset management systems automate inspection and service scheduling, and they enable supervisors, engineers, or inspectors to quickly search databases and find equipment that requires servicing or walk-through auditing. Leveraging these tools helps contractors to save money and time, enhance employee productivity, and prevent unplanned downtime.
Tracking technology can also prevent financial loss due to unused assets. It gives contractors unobstructed visibility into each tool's chain of custody, enabling them to identify underutilized or unused resources.
4. Data Silos Gradual Decline Paves the Way for Intelligent ERP
According to this Panorama Consulting Solutions report, 17% of organizations across industries like construction, manufacturing, logistics, healthcare, and education are adopting Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software to boost business performance. About 13% of the respondents consider ERP vital to system integration across locations, while 9% are eying improved regulatory compliance and reporting capabilities.
But why are construction firms abandoning legacy software for smart ERP? Still, how do Business Management Systems (BMS) upgrades drive enterprise performance, productivity, and growth in the industry? Here are some of the most plausible explanations:
Enterprise-Wide System/Data Integrations Drive Collaboration, Analytics, and Informed Decision-Making
Legacy software is synonymous with data silos, and undesirably so. That's because each department in an organization operates an independent software and database management system in such a deployment. Consequently, accounting personnel don't have direct access to the data available to operations, procurement, or sales and marketing teams. This way, it's difficult for a construction company to coordinate workflows across business units, or implement an enterprise-wide data and analytics strategy.
On the other hand, ERP eliminates data silos by integrating all digital tools and resources that contractors are leveraging to manage their business. It gives context to data, and it delivers information to relevant personnel at the right time to help with timely decision making.
For example, when a change order modifies contract deliverables, ERP software conveys the update across relevant business units, seamlessly and in real time. In the end, the construction firm's project manager can review timelines accordingly, and the procurement team has the necessary information to order different or extra materials.
AEC projects are subject to a broad range of rules and regulations. Fortunately, ERP software gives contractors enterprise-wide visibility into critical compliance issues, such as data security, enabling them to align their operations and practices with applicable rules and industry standards.
Other essential functions of intelligent ERP in AEC are:
- Analytics-driven cost estimates and control
- Streamlined inventory management
- Customer and market intelligence
- Financial analysis and reporting
- Intelligence-driven recruitment and human resources management
5. Virtual Reality (VR): Game-Changing, Architectural Data Visualizations
Architectural modeling and photorealistic data visualizations complement each other in many useful ways, powered by VR and 3D CAD or BIM technologies. How and why is it so?
When architects build digital multi-dimensional models of rooms or houses using BIM or CAD software, they may produce artifacts for presentation to owners, authorities, or other AEC project stakeholders. They may also take architectural modeling to the next level by using VR plug-ins for BIM software to create stunning, explorable virtual environments.
Architectural designers are today using immersive digital experiences to explore and "feel" the implications of the BIM datasets they're developing, including at the conceptualization stage. With virtual exploration, architects can better appreciate how the structures they're designing, such as rooms, will work in reality. In a nutshell, VR makes it possible to visually convey quantitative design information that's otherwise difficult to qualify.
For example, designers can use BIM software to apply environmental data about a structure's interior sunlight illumination to a digital architectural model. They may incorporate the information into VR to sample anticipated daylight experiences. The experts can then critique their daylighting design from a more informed perspective, for instance, by observing and assessing the intensity and distribution of natural light within the building's interior spaces.
In architecture, VR visualizations services may also become a brand differentiation and competitiveness factor a few years down the line. That's because project owners or clients may soon start expecting photo-realistic, immersive representations of the architectural spaces or structures they're ordering. Therefore, the most competitive players in the AEC industry will include designers and engineers using VR presentations to bid and win more business, faster.
6. Why Cloud Computing is the Smart Way Forward for AEC Firms
More and more AEC firms are moving their IT infrastructure to the cloud to take advantage of high-performance computing resources that are essential to sustainable growth. Here are some of the most indispensable cloud-hosted applications and technologies that these contractors are leveraging cost-effectively:
- Smart ERP
- Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML)
- Big data analytics
- GPS Asset tracking and management software
The cloud lends itself to a host of computing requirements and functions across the AEC sector, including:
Closer, Real-Time Collaboration
The cloud provides a centralized database and system that promotes real-time collaboration on workflows and data in AEC projects. The industry is data intensive, and successful delivery requires close coordination among different professionals and firms. By leveraging cloud-based technologies, contractors are streamlining onsite and remote collaboration, saving time and money, and minimizing project management conflicts.
Scalable Data Storage
Data storage requirements in AEC are growing steadily as architects and engineers adopt advanced technologies like BIM and VR to create life-like architectural models. For example, graphical software generates gigabytes of digital files. All this data keeps increasing year after year with business expansion, which may eventually strain on-premises server capacities.
As such, contractors are better off storing their construction project data in the cloud to leverage unlimited digital storage. This way, they only invest in the server capacity necessary to meet their business needs within the foreseeable future. Such storage remains scalable to any size in tandem with future expansion or growth.
Cloud computing lets employees in the AEC sector access their companies' digital resources to work from remote job sites, home, hotels, or other places connected to the internet. If a contractor supports "bring your own device" or BYOD, personnel can use their laptops or even smartphones to complete mission-critical assignments after hours. Such a policy allows employees to be more productive.
Leading cloud providers guarantee service availability to prevent downtime throughout the project life cycle. For an AEC contractor, operational continuity means maximizing billing hours and optimizing staff productivity, both of which translate to more revenue. It also contributes to timely project delivery, which impresses building owners and clients.
A couple of measures support cloud service continuity in the event of natural disasters or denial-of-service (DoS) attacks, for example, multiple availability zones, network and server security, and regular backup. An in-house implementation of these contingency provisions is usually expensive or impractical.
In Conclusion: Major Technological Transformations are Driving Growth in the AEC Industry
AEC firms are increasingly adopting forward-looking technologies that are transforming design workflows as well as day-to-day aspects of project execution. Leveraging these advanced hardware and software solutions is vital to the attainment of long-term business growth and competitiveness in the AEC industry. Here's a summary of the technologies you need to deploy today:
- Virtual Reality: Delivers immersive design data visualizations
- Additive Manufacturing: Generates 3D building models and architectural prototypes
- Building Information Modeling: For designing multi-dimensional architectural models
- Enterprise Resource Planning: A business management solution that integrates independent software systems and databases within an organization
- Cloud: For the cost-effective deployment of and access to business management software and hardware
- GPS Asset Management: For tracking and managing construction tools and equipment in real time
Would you like to delve deeper into the subject of revolutionary technology in the AEC industry? At GoCodes, we have expertise that can help you make informed decisions on smart, cost-effective, and growth-driving digital solutions. Contact us today!