Using Manufacturing techniques to improve Construction efficiency

by Christine Easterfield

For a long time Construction has been slower to improve efficiency, by adopting mechanisation and IT tools, than its Architectural and Engineering companions in the AEC world – but that is changing.

Software has begun to creep onto the construction site. From hand-held, data collection and inspection applications running on tablets or even smart phones, to LiDAR scanners recording existing structures and as-built status prior to and during construction – construction sites are getting smarter.

By the numbers

Worldwide spending on Design and Engineering software in Construction 2015-2018
Figure 1 – Worldwide spending on Design and Engineering software in Construction 2015-2018

Cambashi’s research into the design and engineering software market, which includes structural, civil and architectural CAD, shows how this change is visible in the spending habits of users in the construction industry (figure 1), and how it is forecast to continue. Overall we predict a compound annual growth rate in this space of around 8.5% between 2015 and 2018, which is faster than spending by the Automotive, Aerospace and Defence, and High Tech industries.

Among the software vendors supporting this move is Dassault Systèmes. At their ‘Design in the Age of Experience’ conference last month, use cases supporting this type of investment were much in evidence. Very much a design show rather than a software show, this still touched on the practicalities of delivering the designed object.

A manufacturing approach

Applying a manufacturing approach, something that is more often associated with Dassault Systèmes software, to construction delivers a ‘virtual build’ from the design models before ever getting to site. Prefabricating components of the building – wall and floor panels, pillars, window and door frames etc. – saves more time and money. Even where buildings are of a one-off, flagship design there are benefits to virtual construction and prebuild; in housing projects with modular designs, the benefits are even greater.

We learnt how the lessons of manufacturing can be – and are being – applied to complex construction projects. Using the capabilities of tools like Delmia and Catia to simulate construction means that for the first time construction can be tried out in advance, ‘prototyped’ in a sense, seeing what sequencing works, where there may be conflicts and how they might be resolved, long before a spade ever hits the dirt.

Using sophisticated design tools also means that a greater level of collaboration can be achieved between the actors in a building construction project. Instead of the traditionally disjoint stages of design, bid and build, a collaborative approach can mean specific construction constraints become visible to designers earlier and alterations can be factored in before other commitments are made – with considerable savings of time and cost over changes discovered later in the cycle.

Is this really new?

Of course this is not a new approach. Treating construction as a variation of manufacturing has been around since the beginning of pre-fabrication early in the 1900s, and especially when dealing with the housing crisis in Europe following the second world war. However, the availability of advanced software tools for design, collaboration, measuring and recording building data, planning and simulating the ‘assembly’ of  building components is what brings such great benefits to world of construction.

Tell us what you think

How do you see Construction changing? Are Manufacturing techniques and tools making a difference? Let us know in the comments below.

Disclosure: Dassault Systèmes is a Cambashi client, but had no influence on this article.

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