Saturday, November 30, 2013

Data Driven Design and Construction - Answers to Randy's questions

Randy started a new blog that will focus on Data Driven Design and Construction. He asked few questions in his first post. Here is my take, feel free to comment. I recommend you should follow his blog. He will be coming up with a book on this topic next year some time. I can't wait to read it. Here are his questions and my answers - 

  • How do we, as a discipline, capitalize on data and metadata to drive innovation in architecture and construction, just as other disciplines and industries have?
Evidence based design is one of the leading fields of research that will eventually result in data driven design and construction. Understanding the end user requirements better and designing products that reach to the highest level of customer satisfaction would require data driven design. On technology front, building information modelling (BIM), virtual reality and augmented reality will help collect the data related to customer requirement. Moreover, when construction is in progress real time data collection from different data points on construction sites, architect, engineer, contractor and supplier offices will help in making better decisions and reduce waste from construction processes. Once the facilities are built, sensors and different data collection tools in facilities will help improve the user experience and make the environment more productive and healthy for occupants. Moreover, greater energy efficiency and reduced water usage will be achievable.

  • What forces and technologies are coming together in the second decade of the millennium that make the gathering and use of data possible for industry practitioners for firms both small and large?
I think these technologies will facilitate data driven design
1)      Sensor Technologies
2)      Virtual Reality
3)      Augmented Reality
4)      Cloud computing
5)      Web
6)      Internet
7)      Faster and more powerful hardware (Smartphones, Tablets, Cameras, AI, Google Glasses etc.)
8)      RFID, QR codes and Smart Dust

Forces coming together to make data driven design possible

1)      Building Information Modelling (BIM) Adoption and Government Mandates
2)      USGBC – LEED Certification
3)      Lean Construction
4)      agcxml
6)      The construction open software alliance

  • Why is the architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) industry the last to discover – and utilize – data, for their benefit?
The reason lies in the following –
1)      Fragmented nature of the industry
2)      One of a kind product design and production
3)      Geographically dispersed production sites and project stakeholders
4)      Lake of single entities doing it all together

In other words - A number of players, who may or may not know each other, come together to build a facility that is one of its kind design and construction and it is to be built in a location that may or may not be known to everyone.

  • In what ways can design and construction professionals and owners benefit from capturing, collecting and using data in their building models?
Information is power, if you know how to use it right. This might sound like a cliché but this is true. Now a day not only having the right information but having the information in right format is also important. Meaning human interpretable and actionable information derived out of all the information received from different data points.

Using big data with right software tools will help design and construction professionals and owners to make better and faster decisions.

  • What implications does the DIKW hierarchy have for presenting findings to owners and others who may not be as data savvy?
DIKW (Data, Information, Knowledge and Wisdom) has huge implications as data in its raw format will be a disaster as we move forward and collect more and more data. Information overload is already a headache for lot of early adopters of technology. We would need tools and processes to present the data to lay man and DIKW has a big role to play.

  • What is the business case for implementing a data transformation within one’s organization?
Business case at this moment (in Nov 2013) is about -
1.      Reduced waste due to improved coordination using BIM (works very well for MEP guys)
2.      Improved hospital facilities designed using evidence based design
3.      Energy efficient facilities designed using data analysis
4.      Competitive advantage, especially with more and more government and institutional  mandates requiring the use of building information modeling (BIM) also for marketing.

  • How is data currently being used in the AEC industry?
At present data is being used in fragmented format. There are several authoring tools and several analysis tools and interoperability is a hurdle in harnessing the full potential of the available data.
Building Information Models (BIM) is used for producing drawings, estimating, scheduling, visualization, coordination and collaboration. I am not sure if BIM is successfully implemented for facilities management anywhere yet.
Second comes the data collected by building information management systems (BIMS), they should help improve future building design and improve existing facilities energy and water use. I am not sure if this is being done successfully either.
Moreover, information generated in design and construction process is used for different purposes such as budgeting, estimating, scheduling, project controls and monitoring etc. There are several other systems as I mentioned earlier and data is being used for one purpose or the other.

  • Can building data be crunched into a form that can be analysed by non-experts? Or will architects and other design and construction professionals need to adapt to working with, even alongside, data scientists and analytical experts?
The answer to this question is not a straight forward one. This can be said that technology exists that can make gaining the wisdom out of building data a no brainer but that would also require a certain level of understanding from the non-experts side. Meaning, non-experts will have to become techsavvy and need a primary education in the tools that will be used for extracting that wisdom out of data.

  • Is there a precedent for this situation, perhaps in another industry, that architects can learn from would do well to model and emulate?
Manufacturing industry shows the roadmap. Cars and space craft design processes might help.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

World's Tallest Building Sky City-1 Changsha China and BIM, Lean and Green - What might be coming?

I feel fortunate to be living in an era when there are Computers, iPhones, iPads, Androids, Google Glasses, Google Earth, Facebook, Twitter and Broad Sustainable Construction. All but the last one out of my list are pretty obvious and I do not feel explaining why they are awesome.  However, I feel like talking a lot about Broad Sustainable Construction, a company which is based out of China and doing miracle after miracle and revolutionizing what world calls development. As a matter of fact, China is doing great with several other things too. But this blog won’t be talking about that.

At this very moment (January 5th 2013) Broad Sustainable Construction is building world’s tallest building – Sky City –1, which is almost a kilometer high (838 m/2749 ft to be precise) with 220 floors. They are set to complete the construction of this building within 90 days. This is remarkable and revolutionary. They claim to prefabricate 95% of building off site. Guess what, whole world is trying to bring lessons learned from manufacturing to construction (in the form of lean principles from more than 20 years now) and this project’s team is writing history by doing just opposite. They are using best of both worlds. They are building one of a kind product (this building) and they are using assembly lines to build 95% of it.

The three pillars of successful project - Time, Cost and Quality need to be evaluated for this project. At this moment, one thing is sure that Time being taken in this construction is the shortest in the history. Cost of construction and quality of construction can only be evaluated once the project is finished. But, I like to think they will build it for less per square feet cost than most of similar construction in the world and this building will serve the purpose as intended by its designers. 

Image Reference: Treehugger

Here is what Broad Sustainable Construction’s architect Xian Min Zhang has to say “China cannot pursue the American or European lifestyle, it cannot afford it: work somewhere and live somewhere else, using cars and roads to connect.” So they are building a city with everything in it. This building, which is also a city, will habitat 17,000 people, will have 5 schools, a hospital, a hotel for 1000 guests and 17 helipads.

The very existence of this audacious project changes a lot for construction folks. Industry needs to rethink the role of building information modeling (BIM), lean construction, sustainable green construction, embodied energy, information technology for construction, automation in construction, prefabrication, construction materials, construction methods and all the knowledge about construction that is based on Pre-Sky City – 1 era. If buildings will be built like this and time, cost, quality, safety and customer satisfaction are achieved successfully, application of this knowledgebase will change significantly.

I do not want this to be an informative post, but I do want readers to think how future would look like for them if this is the way we plan to build. We could very well be importing entire buildings in few years……………

So, I would put forward my guess about how BIM, Lean and Green are being applied in this building (again following section is just my guess and not any factual information)-

Building Information Modeling (BIM) at Sky City -1

My guess is that BIM is extensively used in Sky City -1 to make sure that everything goes where it is supposed to go on job site. Entire building’s model is built up to the nut and bolt level (Level of Detail -5 in BIM world). The data produced for this building must be humongous and unprecedented efforts would have been made by engineers and architects for coordination. What tools are they using for this coordination? I do not know. (Let me know what you think in the comment section below). The foundation is built in-situ and 95% of building is prefabricated. A lot of steel (some 207 thousand ton according to estimates) needs coordination, let alone mechanical, electrical and plumbing (MEP) coordination. Are they preassembling MEP in addition to prefabrication? Probably the answer to this question is Yes. So here is what’s happening. There are a lot of big pre assembled components that need coordination and BIM sure is being used for coordinating on Macro level too.

So they are using BIM for coordinating at micro level, using that for prefabricating and preassembling, and coordinating big pre assembled components using BIM again.
Use of information technology tools including internet, world wide web, analytical and intelligent IT tools got to be huge on a project of this magnitude. We ourselves are building one such tool and wonder how beneficial such tools could be for preassembly, prefabrication and just-in-time delivery.

Image Reference: designMena

Lean Construction at Sky City-1

The very core of this building’s construction method makes it Lean. The selection of this method itself eliminates a lot of waste and produces value for building occupants, and therefore makes the process lean. The 7 well know wastes must be significantly reduced. Here is what might happen with this building and waste produced due to its construction-
  •  Transport (moving products that are not actually required to perform the processing) – A lot of things associated with construction, including temporary structures and construction equipments, would not be needed anymore. The assembly lines used in manufacturing are already proven to be better than on site production in construction.
  •   Inventory (all components, work in process and finished product not being processed) – A lot of time and energy on construction sites goes into managing the inventory on job site. If done correctly, Sky City-1 would produce minimum inventory management requirements and waste due to inventory will be minimal
  • Motion (people or equipment moving or walking more than is required to perform the processing) – On job site logistics planning and arrangement for one building itself is a lot of waste, it requires significant movement of man, machine and material. Pre fabrication in a controlled environment using assembly line would certainly reduce this waste.
  •  Waiting (waiting for the next production step) – If 95% of building is pre assembled the waiting time will be as good as the manufacturing facility’s efficiency and lean practices on factory floors. This will be better than waiting time needed for construction with other construction methods.
  • Overproduction (production ahead of demand) – If done correctly, Broad Group won’t have to do a whole lot of extra production because building would need specific amount of component of a certain kind.
  • Over Processing (resulting from poor tool or product design creating activity) – This could be a problem if processes are not managed properly at factory floors.
  • Defects (the effort involved in inspecting for and fixing defects) – Again, factory floor lean practices along with the accuracy of assembled component coordination and installation would significantly reduce defects on this project.
About the produced value; it completely depends on user’s perception. If people using this building find that this building gives them what they expected, at the cost they expected, then value produced and waste reduced would make it one of the leanest project on the planet.

This will be an interesting question to think about - If used, how the use of Last Planner System, Set Based Design, Value Stream Mapping and Target Value Design will pan out on this project?

Sustainable and Green Construction at Sky City-1

One thing is sure about this project, if built in given time frame this tower will be relatively less disturbing for at least for the neighborhood it is built in. Construction material, site selection, use of energy, water etc would depend on its design and construction.

However, I believe this will be highly sustainable in construction phase as there will be less trucks and vehicles going back and forth to the job site, there will be less dust, smoke and other chemical particulates. All these would be done in a controlled condition that would produce higher degree of environment friendly results.

There are engineers who deny the possibility of building this tower in 90 days. WSP’s structure engineer Bart Leclercq says he would retire if Broad Group builds this tower in the time they claim they would. So the question is not whether to change the way buildings are built but rather the question to ponder is whether building built in this fashion will be viable and acceptable technically, financially, economically, environmentally and socially. Where are we going with this? Please feel free to share your thoughts in comments section.

Information Links are in References Section on this page.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Future of Visualization using Building Information Modeling (BIM) – 2020 Vision

With much hype about building information modeling (BIM) in last 5-6 years, now (2012) industry has arrived at a point where BIM is in every AECO professional’s dictionary. BIM is not only a fancy world in these professional’s dictionaries but they are using it for various advantages over their non-BIM using competitors. A recent example is the use of building information modeling at at Panama Canal Expansion.
It’s all good that BIM is in use and its adoption is increasing exponentially. The question posed to the industry geeks is what is the future of BIM? Well, here is my take on the future of BIM-

1. We will move from 2D display Views to 3D-non-immersive Viewing

User interfaces can improve task performance by exploiting the powerful human capabilities for spatial cognition. 3D displays support cognitive spatial abilities. Moving from 2D displays to 3D display will be the next main stream evolution of BIM.
2. We will further move from 3D-Non-imersive viewing to 3D-immersive viewing

At Harvard University, Mental Imagery and Human-Computer Interaction Lab investigates how distinct visualization abilities could be improved as a result of training in 3D immersive virtual environments. Their results demonstrate that 3D immersive environments appear to be significantly more efficient for training imagery skills than 2D or 3D non-immersive environments. Their findings revealed that the 3D Perspective-Taking Test facilitated a 200% increase in performance (i.e., the rate of error reduction), compared to the non-immersive 2D version of the test. 

3. We will use Augmented Reality for Visualizing Building Models

Yes, I am talking about spinning the building with your hands in an augmented reality world. If you may recall the Robert Downey Jr. (Iron Man in the movie) spinning iron man suite in the movie Iron Man, than you understand what I am talking about.

In the process of developing the product the engineer must mentally manage a large amount of important information which leads to high cognitive complexity. Available engineering drawings do not reduce the complexity that the engineer is facing or help him handle it. The 2D engineering drawings should be easy to use and should help the engineer manage the design-related complexity. The cognitive complexity can lead to a situation in which important design factors are not taken into consideration and this leads to failure. Realistic perception of the 3D models from 2D engineering drawings plays an important role in decision making of design engineers. Recent studies show that a system with a three dimensional representation of the model increases the performances of the users carrying out tasks which require the perception and understanding of spatial information. Unlike Virtual Reality (VR) systems, in which users are completely immersed in the virtual environment, Augmented Reality users see the virtual objects and the real world co-existing in the same space (co-located). The co-location of the 3D CAD models in the real environment provides the possibility of a realist perception of the physical engineering drawing.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

30 Storey Hotel (T-30) Construction in 15 Days - Coordination and Collaboration at its Best

A 30 story, 17,000 square meter hotel - T-30 is built in 15 days in Changsha, China. Building foundation was laid ahead of superstructure construction and superstructure was built with prefabricated components. These ultra fast construction schedule was only made possible with the help of prefabrication technologies. Prefabrication is changing the way buildings are constructed.


 It will be interesting to look at the level of coordination and collaboration needed for this sort of perfection. Tools like Building Information Modeling (BIM) and Last Planner System (LPS) become even more important for achieving this level of perfection in coordination. Making sure that each component fits on site as intended and functions as designed would be only possible with 3D coordination and 4D schedule visualization. Coordination in fabrication facilities will be efficient with the application of Last Planner System. Moreover, effective supply chain management during construction will be critical. Just-in-time delivery of components will require impeccable coordination between suppliers, manufacturers, warehouses and construction team. Prefabrication method is leaner than on site construction and wide adoption of prefab methods can make it cost effective as well.

Chinese company Board Sustainable Building, who built this hotel, claims that this building is 5 times energy efficient than industry standard and is earth quake resistant for up to 9.0 earthquake. There are skeptics about safety practices applied during construction however company claims that prefabrication helped reducing the safety risks.

Reference Link -

The Los Angeles Times, Building Design and Construction  

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Using Intelligent Tools will Save Construction Teams from Information Overflow

Information overflow is a reality in all walks of life these days. Gone are the days when email communication was blessing for business. We live in an era of information overflow whether it be our Inbox or a social network site. We literally skim through all the information we see and try to keep up with overwhelming sea of information. I don't want to say that information technology is not a blessing anymore but I want to point out the need for intelligent systems (software and hardware specifically) to manage the information for us and also interpret this information based on our preferences and behavior. The intelligent systems that provide us with just enough information when we need it and where we need it.

Companies like Google, Amazon, Microsoft and Facebook are doing awesome job of understanding user behavior and writing algorithms to accomplish the same goal of relevant information delivery to right people at right time and at right place. Mostly, these companies are targeting consumers whom they can sale advertisements. However, how good a job today's enterprise level solutions doing for solving the same problem for construction industry? Very few. Most of enterprise level tools for construction industry are still desktop based making no or very insignificant use of web enabled technologies to design intelligent solutions for construction companies.

Use of building information modeling (BIM) has significantly drawn industry's attention towards importance of information management and information sharing for architects, engineers, contractors and owners. Initiatives such as Industry Foundation Classes (IFC), IFD, agcXML and other initiatives by Building Smart Alliance, National Institute of Science & Technology and International Alliance for Interoperability are helping in standardizing information workflow, semantics, ontology and processes for seamless information flow among various software applications. Yet, intelligent systems to help interpret information and help decision making are still lacking.

It is great that we generate a whole lot of information during product development and stay proactive in making decisions based on this information however efficiency in using relevant information at the right time and at right place can be priceless. Consider a scenario where a whole lot of relevant information about a project is generated using state of the art BIM solutions and that information is a click away for all project participants. Also this information is available in raw format (3D geometry, schedule databases, resource databases and other project databases). Without the use of a layer of intelligent tools (software and hardware) this information will be overwhelming for majority of project participants. 4D (3D + time) modeling came a long way and it is an example of such intelligent tools. We need more such intelligent tools (both desktop based and web based) to help make right decisions and take calculated risks on construction sites.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Business Case for Building Information Modeling (BIM), Lean, Green and IPD - What we can learn from an Economist?

Vijay Govindarajan recently caught attention for his recent book "The Other Side of Innovation: Solving the Execution Challenge" published by Harvard Business Review and his work on "Designing $300 Home". He is called the strategic innovation Guru and he is also the Earl C. Daum 1924 Professor of International Business at Dartmouth’s Tuck School in US. He believes that perspiration is more important than innovation i.e. execution of an idea is more important than only coming up with the idea itself.

I will try to explain the advantages of BIM, Lean, Green and IPD by his theory of strategic inovation. He talks about three boxes that large organizations operate into (or where organizations' projects fall into)-

Building Lean and Green using BIM and IPD fall under Box-2 and Box-3 that is selectively forgetting the past practices and creating the future (and here we are talking about 20 years from now i.e. about 2030).

Hear is his talk with Harvard Business Review -

Although, Vijay Govindarajan talks about the strategic innovation in all big companies such as GE, IBM, P&G and considers Google, Amazon and E-bay as the fillers that came into existence because rise of internet and lack of innovation in existing players, the question for us is what AEC industry can learn from his work?

I want to focus this post on more fundamental issue for today's AEC firms - the industry leadership in 2030. I believe that companies listed in BD+C's survey report "Top firms by BIM Project Revenue" and corporate members of Lean Construction Institute (LCI), among other industry innovators excelling in Lean, BIM, IPD and Green & Sustainable construction, have already realized the challenges of industry leadership in 2030. Their business strategies are focused on retaining the existing 'performance engines' and developing the 'innovative execution teams.'

Lets elaborate little more on developing the 'Innovative Execution Teams.' The following illustration serves a good example to explain this concept - adopted from the following talk by Vijay Govindarajan at Dartmouth’s Tuck School -

The following graph shows the four different High Jump Styles (business models) used by Olympic Gold Medal winners in last 100 years.

1) Scissors
2) Western Roll
3) Strabble
4) Fosbury Flop

The most interesting fact is that all new Hight Jump Styles were invented by new athletes and not the existing high performers - meaning athletes expert in "Scissors" did not invent "Western Roll" and so on. One of the reasons for failure was that "Scissors" needs the exercise of different muscles than "Western Roll." For AEC industry, building Lean and Green using BIM and IPD need exercising different muscles (skill sets) than the traditional way of doing things.

If we compare the High Jump Style (business model) innovation explained above with the business models that successful AEC firms are using today, then we come to the conclusion that new innovations will belong to new players in the industry. Interestingly, it is not very strait forward. Companies with a strategy for innovation, that takes into consideration all three boxes shown in the figure-1 above, could still lead in the future.

The solution Vijay Govindarajan presents in his book is "Forget-Borrow-Learn." That is, companies need to forget the rules of the core business, borrow selectively from the existing business model and learn to operate in new entrepreneurial space.

These corner stones of strategic innovation are equally true for AEC firms. Adopting new ideas, business practices and technologies (BIM, Lean, Green and IPD) require a little more attention than the attention given to the core business (the performance engines) but these companies need to develop the 'Innovation Execution Teams' for future competition along with maintaining the present competition.