Dominic Thasarathar, construction industry strategist at Autodesk, on where the momentum of BIM, digitisation and automation will take the industry.
Today, technology is framed by two irrefutable truisms: the pace of change is accelerating, and the breadth of developments is widening.
Just look at the range of emerging trends currently vying for your attention: 3D printing, the Internet of Things, robotics, drones, cloud computing, infinite computing, reality capture, augmented reality, gaming engines, crowd-funding, crowd-sourcing, generative design, big data, artificial intelligence, and more.
It’s enough to leave anyone with a headache, particularly if you’ve just become used to the idea of retooling your organisation for BIM. But thinking about the future of technology is worthy of at least a few minutes of your time.
Why? Well, cast your mind back five years, or maybe even 10, before BIM became the widely known process it is today. What would you have done differently if you knew then what you know today about BIM?
In an era when “change is the new normal”, having a confident position on the technological future should be just as important to a construction contractor as having a strong balance sheet. So what’s likely to lie beyond BIM? Here are four predictions:
How project teams undertake design, of everything from buildings to commercial strategies to business models is going to be transformed by cloud computing. The cloud will place a, theoretically unlimited, amount of processing power (“infinite computing”), at the disposal of any company, on demand.
Undertaking complex analytical challenges will become an in-line process, where the impact of changing an element of a building’s design, tweaking a commercial strategy, or trying an alternative business model, might be seen in near real-time.
That’s going to fundamentally shift the act of design from today’s era of “best practical”, where you’re restricted by the amount of time, resources and money you can throw at a problem, to an era tomorrow of “best possible” as the resources component of that equation is now vast.
Additive manufacturing technologies, like 3D printing, and automation, like robotics, minimise the distance between a design and a real-world component by reducing the ‘number of touches’ to manufacture.
You can make a physical object in a single machine, in a single touch, without having to retool. The complexity of that object is irrelevant. Will we have these types of technologies on future jobsites? Almost certainly.
But, perhaps equally exciting will be the rise of micro-factories, neighbourhood facilities equipped with such machines, capable of creating your project components on-demand, local to your site.
Technology will increasingly support capturing the real world and bringing it into a silicon environment, with a degree of fidelity that merges the two, supporting decision-making “in context”. Add in the rise of gaming engines, which will support simulation of not just geometry, but physics, crowd behavior and so on, and the air-gap between planning and performing physical construction should become minimal.
Demand for construction services (and the nature of those services)
This will increasingly be driven by technology. Most future demand for construction output is going to come from increasingly complex cities, and increasingly demand will come from emerging economies.
Where and how should you respond? The answer will frequently be in the data, or rather in the “big data”. Trends in population demographics, economic growth, disposable income and more will be crunched by cloud computing to help contractors answer that question.
Now consider the individual. Their preferences are changing. The rise of social media is enabling everyone to have their say, in shaping our built environment. Whether it’s the impact of a new road in a crowded urban neighbourhood, or demand for more green-spaces, the internet puts our built environment in everyone’s living room – and that brings opportunity.
Engaging with the local community via this medium, a contractor might do anything from negotiating the best time for site deliveries, to crowd-sourcing design answers during the consultation process, to even raising finance for clients’ projects through alternative vehicles like crowd-funding.
Things are getting smarter. They’re also getting connected, via the Internet of Things. The prospect of masses of connected, smart devices, from sensors to machines, with intelligence distributed throughout that network, offers two exciting prospects.
First, understanding our built environment, and its components, in ways we’ve never been able to previously. By learning how an asset is used, versus the assumptions that were made at project inception, the industry should be able to close the gap between what we think we need to build, and what we actually need to build to meet demand, across multiple dimensions – such as energy capacity, office space, refinery throughput.
Second, when blended with other data, such as demographics, the potential for greater insight to project pipelines. If you monitor utilisation trends, you can monitor their changes too. Spotting patterns in how assets are used, for example how a passenger’s journey between two points in a city changes, or preferences for urban living, then future demand for the nature of construction output should become clearer.
The net result of all this? A new era for the industry, the “Era of Connection”, where any contractor, regardless of size, location, or even experience, might be able to connect to an unlimited amount of processing power to solve complex problems effortlessly; connect to an unlimited number of people to get the best ideas; is able to collide the physical and digital worlds to deliver better outcomes; and is able to foster a freer flow of capital for projects, through reduced project risk, and alternative funding techniques, like crowd-funding.
It’s time to start thinking beyond BIM.
Additive manufacturing technologies, like 3D printing, and automation, like robotics, minimise the distance between a design and a real-world component by reducing the ‘number of touches’ to manufacture.– Dominic Thasarathar, Autodesk