Special Blog Series: Great Ideas from the DCW Labs

Author: Steven DeVoll, M.Eng., M.Sc.

This is the first of a 4-part series written by thought leaders from Digital Construction Works’ Solutions Integration Lab. In this series, we’ll look at common industry problems and explore the ways a digital integrator can improve construction processes and optimize project construction. In our first post, DCW’s senior data scientist Steven DeVoll talks about how digital methods similar to those used to improve manufacturing can benefit construction.

When the Egyptians built the pyramids, 2D plans were created and used as the basis for construction. Thousands of years later, while computers and other technologies have made design advances, the construction team is still given 2D drawings and asked to “go build this.” Sure, we now have cranes, heavy machinery, power tools, and other methods to mitigate the brute force aspect, but projects are still fundamentally managed in the same manner as they were in the time of the pharaohs.

Learning from Manufacturing

We can draw important lessons about construction process improvement from the manufacturing industry and their experience with improving processes using analytics. In that setting, quality is maintained and improved by monitoring output. This is done either remotely using cameras or, in some cases, manually by taking samples during a production run.

Where lines are deemed inefficient, changes can be tried, tested, and then implemented to improve volume and quality. In other words, the manufacturing environment changes to promote the item being manufactured. However, manufacturing is a closed space where conditions are optimized to produce the same thing in large volumes. How does that apply to construction?

Advances in manufacturing have come about, in large part, through process and change management. Therefore, if we think of construction from the vantage points of how we do things and how to make changes, we may then apply techniques learned from manufacturing, even though the environments are totally different. Digital Construction Works unites disparate project data, so a more complete picture is presented through the data. Analytics monitors process and identifies problems and trends. 

Inclusive Optimization

Construction has three pillars that drive a project to success (or failure): cost, time, and safety. If we can develop a process that optimizes all three, projects will generally have a higher success rate and become predictable.

Often in construction, the “best laid out plans” need to be altered to accommodate a problem that seems to come out of nowhere. The footing poured several months back was barely within tolerance, and now, on floor 70, we have encountered a structural problem. Cost and time expectations just got thrown out the window. Could this have been averted earlier? Employing a digital twin will enable a feedback loop to monitor planned versus actual and the overall effect on the project.

Chaos theory has an example in which a butterfly flaps its wings in China and, a few months later, a Category 5 hurricane emerges off the coast of Florida. The point is that the ripple effect of an occurrence can cause unforeseen downstream effects.

In the scenario with the footing, we knew the build was barely in tolerance, but what if we were to take the actual placements of all the footings (not just the one in question), load them all back into the model, then see how the structure would react in simulations? Engineers could then propose a change far earlier in the build process that is less costly, saves time, and does not risk worker safety.

Comparing the actual with what was planned is exactly what the manufacturing process does to ensure quality. Same concept, just adapted to optimize construction. Digital Construction Works utilizes these same methods, tailoring the construction process for optimized execution.

Manufacturing benefits from repetition. Widgets are manufactured in mass quantities, thus improvements can be made systematically to optimize the process. Typically, every construction project is unique to what and/or where it is being constructed. Accordingly, lessons learned from previous projects are typically only applied at a high level. To add to the complexity, projects are designed in 3D, but plans are in 2D, therefore spatial data is lost.

Chaos at the Jobsite

Spatial data on a jobsite is extremely important. 2D documents simply do not have the ability to fully represent the environment. Knowing what tools will fit, how many crews are needed and the space they need to safely complete their work is paramount to an accurate plan and schedule. A 4D representation of the jobsite not only shows who and what will fit, it also represents the timing of how resources may safely interact.

Software packages such as Bentley Systems’ Synchro Pro allow you to plan a project in 4D and 5D (time and cost respectively). Not only does Synchro Pro understand the spatial aspect of the project, it also understands the size of a workspace needed to complete a task.

Digital Construction Works can enable these environments so project managers and planners can orchestrate construction in fine detail. They will then foresee conflicts before they slow down a project and raise costs. Just like in manufacturing, the construction plan can be optimized over thousands of iterations to determine the best optimized solution to building the project. As the as-built data becomes available, the plan can be re-optimized to ensure cost, time, and safety issues are mitigated.

Once the optimized plan is in place, analytics can monitor adherence to the plan, predict problems, and suggest solutions long before they become costly, time consuming, and unsafe. Digital Construction Works will move you away from an analog 2D environment to a 3D analytical digital twin environment. The digital twin, coupled with advanced analytics, will enable all your projects to mitigate rising costs and missed deadlines, and reduce safety incidents.

Analysis of ever-evolving project data enables smart decisions to help projects run smoothly. In part 2 of this series, we’ll look at the role of analytics in monitoring and controlling project costs.

Don’t miss out on the benefits of an optimized construction process. Contact us today to start a conversation.