The design, manufacture and construction industry is at a crossroad. Ok, it’s not breaking news – it’s a topic that has been increasingly visible over the last year. But, the fact is, we’re still stymied as to what the solution is and know there is no silver bullet.
Over 250 years ago, during the Industrial Revolution, just about every industry recognized the importance of automation, improved machinery, and the need for a factory-like approach to speed production and reduce costs. Those industries mechanized and surged, but construction remained static.
So here we are. We’re 250 years behind and still struggling to address resource shortages, rising costs and growing demands for new housing. At the same time, our infrastructures are crumbling, and natural disasters are coming with alarming frequency. We know we need to integrate technology into the core of our solution.
Why did the construction industry miss the boat? Why has our technology adoption been so slow? Clearly, we know there are significant benefits that would allow us to truly scale and benefit from an Industrialized Construction approach to building.
First, unlike most industries, from pharma and locomotive/automotive, to oil and gas and healthcare, we failed to make critical investments in software that would allow us to harness the power of data from the pipeline – from build and manufacture to construction. Because our industry operates on business cycles of 10-12 years, we’re constantly being blown up and disrupted. Truthfully, construction operates in a feast or famine mode; when we’re in feast mode, we’re humming along and making a profit, so there’s no incentive to invest in technology or change. And, when in famine mode, no one wants, or is able to, cut checks to innovate.
Another critical factor we’re faced with is the lack of skilled labor. Young people are looking at an industry where people are forced to change careers later in life. Why would anyone want to go into a field knowing they’ll have to reinvent themselves along the way? Additionally, young people are innovators – there is no attraction to an industry that hasn’t kept pace with change.
So how do we innovate? The first step is by embracing technology. Of course, as an Autodesk partner, we know the industry hasn’t been avoiding technology. But we need more than just disparate software solutions to revolutionize our industry – we need data.
In a traditionally manual industry, utilizing data is the only path to automation and scale. Creating scalable workflows cannot be achieved with disconnected environments and siloed stakeholders. Using a data centric approach, we can link design, manufacture and construction workflows in the cloud.
To excel with this type of approach in construction, the combination of a technology platform and a configurable Kit-of-Parts is optimal. Reusable content is an excellent starting point, where a Kit-of-Parts is the ultimate goal. In a perfect world, the Kit-of-Parts will be flexible enough to allow for an infinite amount of options. Today’s reality is more complex, with numerous constraints along the whole chain – from design constraints based on unique site and owner requirements, and manufacturing constraints based on available machinery and automation, to human constraints for assembly both in the factory and on the job site. Understanding these constraints and connecting them upstream in the earliest stages of design requires a cloud-connected, data-centric approach.
At the same time, we can’t expect our stakeholders to drop everything they know to learn entirely new tools or technologies. We must meet them where they sit and allow them to use their own Kit-of-Parts and the tools they know and love, all while enabling them to connect their data and data standards in the cloud.
Project Frog has been innovating along these lines for a number of years now. Our most recent announcement, KitConnect, is an integrated Revit to web application built on Autodesk’s® Forge™. This end-to-end data flow solution is an integrated Building Information Modeling (BIM) to web solution that manages data flow for flexible, configurable Kit-of-Parts content from building design, to manufacture and construction. By combining a Kit-of-Parts platform with a technology platform, KitConnect drives scalability, separating IC from simple prefabrication.
The outcome? A path to automation, and by default, scalability. This convergence of industrialization and technology will drive a truly Industrialized Construction industry.