8 Construction Technologies to Help Contractors Drive Project Value

Waste in the construction industry is a hazard. It’s detrimental to teams, to companies, and to the overall project. And we’re not talking just about physical waste. There’s a large portion of production or “human effort” waste as well: much of the “effort” waste is usually due to teams having disparate processes.

Digitization has often been cited as a potential solution for reducing waste and improving construction productivity. Yet, a 2017 McKinsey report identifies the construction industry as a “low digitization sector”, even though experts believe that the lag in construction productivity costs nearly $1.6 trillion per year.

So how can construction teams help reduce that $1.6 trillion deficit—or at least a portion of it? Having a common data environment or single source of truth is one step in the right direction. The other step that needs to be taken is to leverage new technologies that offer more efficiencies and improve communication between all project stakeholders.

In this post, I’m focusing on the improvements that can be made in the pre-construction, construction execution, and commissioning stages of a project. I’ll share eight technologies that general contractors and subcontractors need to know about to improve their future workflows.

Then, I’ll expand on four workflows (and the corresponding tool) that will drive substantial impact for GCs and subs.

Eight Technologies Contractors Need to Consider in 2018

One of the biggest challenges on a construction project is getting the people in the offices or trailers to communicate and use the same data as those personnel on the job site. By connecting these two parties, you gain a seamless workflow, better data of your current performance, and better information for forecasting and planning. So, what are the technologies that can help digitize and improve the communication between those in the office and those in the field? Here are eight that you should consider.

#1: Reality Capture

Reality capture is huge, especially drones. You see news about drones everywhere and everyone wants one for Christmas. All kidding aside, drones are used across all types of industries, and are particularly impactful for the construction industry. At U.S. CAD, we’ve been using drones and land-based scanners for a while. In this slide image, the top left model was captured via drones while the bottom left image was captured via a stationary ground scanner (a Leica P40). If you’re working on an existing project or care about tracking daily progress, then reality capture is definitely something to consider and implement into your workflows.

Some of the most exciting news about reality capture last year was around the new Leica BLK360, which is touted as the smallest, lightest scanner on the market. If you haven’t seen the web demo from my colleague, Bruce White, then check it out here.

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#2: Collaboration for Revit and BIM 360 Team

So, Revit is not going anywhere: it is a mainstay product for design as well as pre-construction. If you’re still using AutoCAD MEP, that’s okay, but know that you may need to stay becoming informed about Revit. For those already using Revit, Collaboration for Revit and BIM 360 Team are two additional technologies to improve coordination and collaboration.

Collaboration for Revit is a cloud service that talks to BIM 360 Team, which acts like a data repository. Essentially, these two systems will give your project teams the ability to work on the same Revit model at the same time and to realize the model in their web browser or app. If you’re thinking this is just an architect’s tool, then think again. This is a tool for everyone: with stakeholders contributing actively to the same data source, you can see real productivity gains with better tracking and coordination.

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#3: Revit for Structural Prefabrication

Revit is also being used for structural prefabrications. There are many great connection and connection libraries, and the technology continues to improve for prefab.

I’m also a big fan of MWF for Revit. In fact, one of my colleagues has taken this tool to a whole new level. I’ve included a quick screenshot (top-right image in the slide). He’s created all of the light gauge framing in the Revit model. Then, he sends that info out to a metal stud printer that puts it in the rolled stock, forms a crimsafe, and puts a bundle out ready for the drywaller to install. This is a great example of how you can start taking digital models to the field with minimal effort now due to all of the advances in technology.

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#4: Revit for MEP Prefabrication

If you’re an MEP contractor and you haven’t looked into doing some prefab, I would encourage you to get started. This is one of the best methods to boost labor gains on job sites, which can only boost your overall value to the project. Additionally, prefabrication is a very accessible thing for just about everyone.

Here, you can see some shop drawings from actual projects that I’ve worked on. We’ve got some plumbing and HVAC. All of the trades involved are using Navisworks, and everyone is contributing to the Revit model. Once everything is coordinated, the shop drawings are created off of that. By leveraging Revit, Navisworks, and BIM 360 Glue (more on this below), you can create a very seamless and coordinated process for all of the contractors involved.

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#5: Dynamo

Like Collaboration for Revit, Dynamo isn’t just a fancy tool for architects. Dynamo is a graphical scripting program that augments Revit and lets you execute computational design and analyses. Now, when Dynamo was first introduced, people were using it to put together fantastic forms and organic shapes, which was cool, but not very practical.

Since then, the community has evolved to using Dynamo in much more practical ways. For example, you can set up rules or programs to automate tasks in Revit, so that you don’t have to repeat certain tasks. While some training is required (or you can also just use trial-and-error), you do not need to be a fully-trained programmer to use Dynamo.

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#6: BIM 360 Docs

BIM 360 Docs is part of Autodesk’s BIM 360 platform and is a document management tool in the cloud. It offers markup tools, a 3D model viewer, and functions like Model Compare. One of its newest features is the side-by-side view where you can select an object in either 3D or 2D view, and the system will move the associated view to that spot.

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#7: Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality

Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are very hot topics in the construction industry. So, our industry has been using 3D for decades: we create videos and walkthroughs. But there was always that question of “what’s around the corner?” VR now lets you immerse yourself in your project to look for deficiencies that you might not see in Navisworks or BIM 360 Glue. While you’re in the virtual reality environment, you also gain a better understanding of what the environment will look like from a human level, which is often invaluable for understanding design intent and determining what the expected work results will be.

With AR, one of the products that I am really excited about is the HoloLive. This is a software application designed specifically for the HoloLens and created specifically for the AEC community. HoloLive takes your Revit or Navisworks models and puts them into the HoloLens headset. We’ve had customers use this to walk around their job site to compare the work with what they see on the drawings. If you’re interested in learning more about HoloLive, simply reach out to us.

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#8: BIM 360 Glue

Many people who know about BIM 360 Glue tend to think it’s a replacement for Navisworks, but that’s not true. If anything, it’s a complement to your Navisworks workflow. Essentially, BIM 360 Glue gives users the ability to host their models to the cloud, conduct clash detections, and assign clashes to other team members who can then open those up in Revit for modifications.

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In looking at these new technologies, I always use the analogy of the founding of Rome. The story goes, that when Rome was founded, the two co-founding brothers basically put a file on the back of an ox, tied it to a stake in the middle of what they thought should be the center of the town, and whipped the ox until it turned in a circle. Then, the stake became the center of town and the circle around the edges was basically the trough that you didn’t cross. In fact, one of the brothers was killed for crossing it or falling into it by accident.

Fast-forward a thousand years, and what contractors are doing is not very different from the founding of Rome where we’ve got batter boards and our control points that we’re using a tape measure off of. It’s time to embrace new technologies and get more accurate systems on site.

Four BIM 360 Workflows Every Contractor Can Benefit From

As you can see from the list above, I’m a big believer in the BIM 360 platform offered by Autodesk. BIM 360 is a platform that accelerates project delivery by invoking all the different changes and enabling anytime, anywhere access to the same information. What I’m going to cover now is the four workflows that BIM 360 can provide to contractors and subcontractors in order to increase profits, reduce risk, and improve project quality. The four workflows are:

  • Cloud-based model coordination
  • Model-based construction layout
  • Reliable work planning
  • Field management

Cloud-based Model Coordination

Cloud-based model coordination is all about allowing access to the entire project team, from the designers to the owners to the GCs and subs. Cloud-based model coordination is delivered by BIM 360 Glue, which is integrated with Revit, AutoCAD, and Navisworks. Again, you’re not going to have to give up Navisworks to gain cloud-based model coordination.

With BIM 360 Glue, you’re working on a cloud: there’s no uploading files to a shared site, download files, and then long meetings to coordinate those changes. Instead, you’re conducting collaborative project reviews. One of the major gains I’ve seen on projects that use Glue is that review and coordination sessions take only an hour where they used to take up a half-day or even a whole day.

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Model-based Construction Layout

Model-based construction layout is this idea of taking your model (that you’ve spent so much effort in coordinating) and actually putting it out on the job site. You’re essentially taking your model—whether in Revit, AutoCAD, or Navisworks—and pushing it to an iPad or a robotic total station that is onsite and then walking around to realize your work in the field. BIM 360 Layout is the tool that lets you do this.

This isn’t a workflow or tool just for concrete workers or drywallers; there are definite applications for plumbing contractors, electricians, HVAC. For example, you can take all of your prefab efforts for your pipe hangers, put that hanger point into Revit for point layout, and send the info to the field. Then, when you walk out onto the job site, you can know exactly where your hangers will be in order to pin it to the model or mark it. This is a much more simple workflow that can be done by one person rather than an entire team of five or six—which provides great cost-savings and productivity improvements to your construction project.

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Reliable Work Planning

If you’re familiar with lean construction, the last planner system, or any kind of pull planning, then consider BIM 360 Plan the digitized version of all that. With BIM 360 Plan, you’re not relying on that traditional giant Gantt chart that’s printed and hung in the trailer. Instead, you’re taking all of the post-its and charts and putting them into a simple digital tool that can be used either on the desktop or iPad.

So why digitize the schedule? First, you can get everyone committed and contributing from the beginning of the project. As teams start taking ownership of tasks, you can start seeing how long the task durations are, what kind of resources are needed, and what commitments are required. Second, you only need to maintain one schedule, rather than multiple versions. For example, with BIM 360, you can still see the schedule as a Gantt chart or swimlane diagram, but it’s the same schedule with the same data.

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Field Management

BIM 360 Field is the heavy hitter out of all of the BIM 360 products. Basically, BIM 360 Field gives you the ability to track all of your activities on the job site.

Field personnel can add and update issues straight from an iPad simply by taking a photograph. Then, everyone the project can track the issues immediately, rather than the traditional process where you had to wait for your personnel to come back into the trailer to send an update from their desktop. Checklists are also an invaluable tool, especially for QHEC or safety inspections. The tools are also all integrated, so if there’s a failed response on an item on the checklist, you can automatically generate an Issue, which will be assigned to someone for follow-up. For superintendents and construction managers, the Daily Reports offer a way to easily compile all of their daily updates into one report. Lastly, the Equipment module is one of the tools that separates Field from other model-based commissioning software. You can use this module for more than just equipment; we’ve used it for furniture, steel, and doors.

The biggest difference that BIM 360 Field will make to your project is when you have all of the trades working and recording their work together. That way, observations about the job site, whether good or bad, are kept in one database, and teams can generate reports and get insights faster and more accurately.

As you can see from the workflow illustration, BIM 360 Field is helping you take your project data one step further. For example, you can include commissioning information to your model elements—installation dates, warranty information, maintenance schedules, etc.—and BIM 360 Field will push that data back to BIM 360 Glue as well as Revit. Furthermore, with that info now available inside Revit, your COBie handovers are much more simplified.

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We’ve already seen some great examples of client projects that are leveraging these technologies and synchronous workflows. However, that doesn’t mean you need to fit your project into these exact workflows. Instead, consider the items on this list in the context of your own specific workflow. Improving your own project workflow may be a drastic change or it might require something incremental. In the end, though, if we can all make changes towards more seamless project access and communication, we’ll be able to help the industry bridge its productivity gaps and regain value.

What tools, software, or technologies are you leveraging on your construction projects? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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