All firms in the Architecture, Engineering and Construction (AEC) sector have a key role in addressing the biggest challenge on the planet – to redesign and rebuild the hospitals, schools, offices, homes and public spaces of tomorrow. This is both a huge challenge and gigantic opportunity. To succeed, AEC firms need to give staff the tools, and three trends - digitization, sustainability and increased remote working - will be crucial. IT decision makers need to address these to empower staff with the tools to push boundaries, solving tomorrow’s challenges today.
Trend 1 – Digitization
Until the events of 2020, the AEC sector has been slow to adapt to more digital ways of working , this now represents an opportunity to improve efficiency and competitiveness by reducing the fragmentation in the industry and bringing project teams closer together. This will be essential to deal with the problems of tomorrow today. Two tools will help professionals find new creative ways to redesign and rebuild the built environment more sustainably – sensors and Artificial Intelligence (AI).
According to McKinsey, digital transformation can produce gains in productivity across the AEC sector of between 14% and 15%, and cost reductions of 4%–6% , largely through increased opportunities to collaborate.
Between 60% and 70% of contractors have not dealt with digitization at all, presenting opportunities for those businesses that act and use IT to drive a competitive advantage.
Sensors bring improvements because they give real–time or near real–time monitoring (see box). This data increases the efficiency of jobs, particularly in the build phase, by helping to synchronize the build, driving down dead time, transport hours and wastage. The data produced by sensors also help to make completed buildings operate more efficiently.
BOX: Graniterock: Sensors in concrete transportation
Inside the drum of Graniterock delivery trucks, sensors measure speed, angle, load and temperature of the concrete mixture. An onboard computer analyzes the information to calculate slump and volume. This means the mixture is correct more often and any remaining concrete inside the drum can be reused and not dumped, reducing wastage.
The AEC sector is fragmented, especially on large projects where the chain of consultants, contractors, subcontractors, and specialists may be bewildering.
According to Mark Wakeford , Joint Managing Director at Stepnell and Chairman at EvoEnergy, increases in productivity are proportional to the adoption of innovation and some businesses get left behind.
“Our industry is no different and many of our companies are struggling to identify the value of various innovations and to then implement them within their businesses,” he says.
Similarly, modern BIM software represents a significant evolution from traditional CAD drawings and a way to bring disparate parties together effectively. While CAD can render images in 2D and 3D, BIM gives workers a full digital ‘twin’ of the finished structure – giving the team access to a live model that can be adapted and refined as part of the design and build process.
Because projects are usually one–of–a–kind, unique and never repeated, learning is often lost between projects. AI approaches provide opportunities to increase productivity while keeping a bespoke approach.
Generative and parametric methods produce often striking designs that may not have been possible without AI, such as the building of Dublin’s Aviva Stadium (see box), by exploring thousands or millions of possible iterations before finding those that work most effectively.
Whether using a parametric or BIM approach, the whole team is involved as a cohesive unit. At every stage, it’s important for all team members to understand the challenges as clearly as possible, while modern BIM software remains unparalleled for modelling and simulating designs and build sequencing, plans are still easier to read in print.
BOX: Parametric design: Aviva stadium
The Aviva Stadium, in Dublin, Ireland, was designed from start to completion using a parametric approach. According to the team behind the structure, “This type of approach facilitates the opportunity for design teams to work in an iterative manner. A parametric model reduces the time associated with complex design changes while providing a centralized method for coordinating communication.”
Trend 2 – Sustainability
A paper presented at the 5th National Construction Summit in Ireland showed that “there is a disparity between construction professionals’ understanding of sustainability and how their perceptions of it are translated into practice.”
Whatever the reason for this, it must be corrected, and IT will be a key enabler, giving workers access to the tools they need for a more sustainable built environment.
Advantages and the imperative for building sustainably
IT gives those working in AEC the tools to drive down waste and improve the sustainability of projects.
The main motivations for greener buildings are client demands, and regulations. According to the 2018 World Green Building Trends report , there is little synchronization on international targets for green building. For example, in the UK 27% of construction projects were expected to be green, rising to 40% by 2021.
In the USA, initiatives differ by state. National coordinated efforts are driven by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), which developed the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) green building rating system, used as a benchmark for green development.
The UAE, however, has already directed the majority of new projects to be green by 2021, driven by tough environmental regulations already in place.
Getting to grips with the carbon footprint of construction has to be a first concern. The ASPEC project (see box) could be one of the first ways those working in AEC can truly start to understand the environmental impact of projects and start to reduce it.
Landmark sustainability projects like the Bloomberg building in London (see box) show how energy usage in operation can be drastically reduced, bringing down whole life costs.
BOX: AI to help predict embodied carbon in construction
The ASPEC (AI System for Predicting Embodied Carbon in Construction) project is an industry initiative using AI to determine the amount of embodied carbon in construction projects. If successful, the scheme will help construction projects more effectively drive down that carbon footprint.
BOX: Bloomberg London
Designed by Foster + Partners and built by Sir Robert McAlpine, with sustainable designs by Sweco UK, London’s Bloomberg building employs a suite of features to use 73% less water and 35% less energy, generating 35% less carbon emissions overall to make this one of the most sustainable office spaces on the planet. Sustainable features include:
- Integrated Ceiling Panels: Combining air, cooling, lighting and acoustics, the panels feature 500,000 LED lights using 40% less energy than typical lighting.
- Water conservation: Rainwater, cooling tower water and water from basins and showers are treated and recycled for vacuum flush toilets, saving 25 million liters of water per year.
- Breathing building: Bronze blades open and close to allow the building to ‘breathe’ and allow natural ventilation, reducing the need for air conditioning.
- Smart airflow: Air distribution responds to the density of occupation, determined by CO2 sensors, reducing CO2 emissions by 300 tons per year.
- Combined heat and power: A single efficient heating and power system saves 500–750 tons of CO2 per year.
- Sustainable operation: Waste is composed, recycled, or converted into energy.
Trend 3 – Remote working
The rapid roll out of innovative technology to make working life easier and reduce costs has always been a concern for IT. In 2020 this became an imperative as staff worked remotely. Connecting workers securely has never been so important.
Workers need the tools to be productive, and great work comes from collaboration. For construction projects this is doubly true, with productive AEC professionals working as a cohesive unit with clients and subcontractors to get projects over the line, on time and on budget. You need collaboration that includes rock solid security, and IT has to make it work.
Once working from home, more than half (53%) of employees find their devices run slowly, whether due to bandwidth or other factors according to 1e .
In addition, if something does go wrong, 72% of employees said they had to wait hours, days or weeks to have their problems resolved. Only 30% said they definitely had everything they needed to work effectively remotely – clearly this is a point that needs addressing.
Because remote work will continue long into the future, the lessons learned from 2020 can be applied to your business, showing ways in which employees can work more effectively and productively.
CBS Interactive's Distinguished Lecturer David Gewirtz says pre-pandemic, the home network might be used to stream movies, but now it’s being put under greater pressure. “Many families have two parents and a bunch of kids, all putting stress on the network by using bandwidth at the same time,” he says. “The adults might both need to be in Zoom conferences for work, while the kids may also need to be in Zoom sessions for school.”
For IT professionals, conferencing and messaging tools handle many of the issues associated with remote working. There is also a need for tools to keep employees focused, aligned and engaged, according to Chris March , Research Director, Workforce Productivity & Collaboration at 451 Consulting.
“Effectively implementing prolonged remote working at scale is not straightforward; it involves more than the right remote access and conferencing tools. Visibility into work, transparency, engagement, accountability, governance and compliance all change,” he says.
Over 2020, BCG quizzed 12,000 employees about their work habits. The results are clear – workers want to continue working flexibly.
Of those who transitioned to remote working, 76% said their productivity increased when working on individual tasks. For collaborative tasks people were less productive, with 56% saying productivity decreased.
The research found four factors correlating strongly with collaborative working: social connectivity, mental health, physical health, and workplace tools.
Almost 4 in 5 of those (79%) who scored highly on all four were found to collaborate productively while working remotely. For those that scored poorly on these same four factors, only 16% found they were more productive at collaborative tasks.
For those managing the IT for remote workers, social contact and workplace tools can be encouraged with the right tools, such as shared drives, cloud storage, and visualization tools like CAD feeding into modern BIM software.
In addition, many of the digital plans that are so important to develop complex construction projects can only be read effectively when printed – this is the only way to get unambiguous detail and reduce possible errors, particularly when printers connect seamlessly with modern BIM software.
None of the initiatives mentioned above are viable without rock-solid security in place. Security is a constant concern, and the events of 2020 have increased the instances of phishing, ransomware and other malware significantly. Cyber attacks increased 630% and phishing attacks increased 6,000% , the criminals adapting to take advantage of haphazard security in home offices.
But of course Security is of even greater significance in the AEC sector, where the concerns of clients are of paramount importance, and explains why 70% of AEC companies said the risk of internal information leaks was their top security priority in 2019 .
Simple measures are available, such as reliable endpoint security, which can add layers of security to your IT infrastructure by keeping malware isolated and unable to cross-infect your servers.
BOX: The remote work experiment that upped productivity 13%
An experiment conducted in 2013 prefigured the challenges of 2020, examining the habits of workers in a Chinese company. Those who worked from home four days per week were ‘notably’ more productive. Nine months on, those numbers persisted, with home workers 13% more productive.
Because the world around us is always changing, IT has to underpin innovation for AEC professionals to work seamlessly and thrive, to develop more sustainable buildings using data in new ways while working remotely.
The question for the AEC industry is this: What kind of world will replace the one we used to know, and how do we design and build it?
To design and build a sustainable new world that is just, inclusive and diverse, AEC professionals need to be able to work effectively and safely from home. They need the bandwidth and cloud applications for maximum productivity and the ability to collaborate effectively.
For complex projects, AI and BIM give workers the means to use data in dynamic ways, producing novel buildings more efficiently.
Sensors help to synchronize the building of projects, and then make buildings operate more efficiently, driving down carbon footprints for the benefit of all.
Bringing a sustainable, circular economy, into construction will be the challenge for the next decade, increasing the proportion of work that is recycled and recyclable, and driving down whole life costs.
Architecture, engineering and contracting firms will address the biggest challenge on the planet –redesigning and rebuilding the schools, hospitals, offices and houses so they’re ready to meet the challenges of today.
To get there, and achieve a more sustainable and equitable world, professionals need the IT and tools to make this transformation of our built environment a reality. Large format print technology gives staff a way to collaborate with colleagues seamlessly, securely, and with sustainability in mind.
This makes large format print an essential tool for AEC professionals to achieve a just, inclusive and diverse living and working environment. Let’s remake the future together.
Large format print technology gives all AEC professionals a way to collaborate with colleagues seamlessly, securely, and in extreme detail. This makes large format print an essential tool for the ultimate task ahead: to redesign and rebuild the world more sustainably and help to achieve a just, inclusive and diverse living and working environment.
Let’s remake the future together.
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