Will AEC and Manufacturing Software Converge Together?

Will AEC and Manufacturing Software Converge Together?

The construction industry was one of the most conservative segments to adopt technology for the last decades. While many other industries were adopting technologies, the construction industry didn’t embrace the latest tech opportunities. Construction projects are extremely fragmented and lacking good collaboration and integration practice.

There are many good examples of vertical integration in the manufacturing industry. Construction is not there yet. For the last year, I’ve been involved in several conversations about industrialization in construction. In most of the manufacturing industry product development practices were used as an example of how construction companies can become more productive, efficient, and agile.

It made me think again about PLM and AEC (or BIM) software. For years working for Dassault Systemes, Autodesk, and other companies, I’ve been thinking about how these two software and technological domains can meet together. A few years ago, I posted my PLM vs BIM – common or different article. Back when I wrote the article, I’ve seen common parts (eg. model, visualization, project management, data sharing) and also differences (eg. single model, terminology, tools, and processes). Things are changing these days, so it is now time to re-evaluate some of my old conclusions.

In this article, I’d like to start with a comparison of product development processes and how these processes are reflected in best practices and standards in both manufacturing and construction projects. I’d like to see if there are common grounds that can show the direction of how manufacturing and PLM software can be adopted in AEC projects and BIM products.

Below you can see my first attempt to compare. On the upper side of the picture, I put a product lifecycle representation of enterprise BOM. You can see stages from product requirements, through the design, planning, manufacturing, maintenance, and support. While single software doesn’t cover all these stages, I can see some movements in developing models to support all these phases in modern digital twin and digital thread implementation examples.

On the lower side of the slides, I outlined the stages of AEC project development stages and also label them with BIM LOD(Level of Details) – LOD100, LO200, LOD300, LOD400, LO500. You can see product development stages from client requirements through various stages of the design, fabrication, and assembly as well as-built model.

I found it interesting to compare these two diagrams side by side and think about how a variety of software used in both manufacturing and AEC industries can co-exist and converge together. Here are some interesting observations.

AEC projects are using a mix of design systems and some of them are the same systems that used in manufacturing. The MCAD system such as Solidworks, Autodesk Inventor, and some others are popular choices to build mechanical and electrical equipment for construction. An increased amount of electronics makes PCB design tools a very frequent guest as well. Software is everywhere, so systems that popular in software development will make their paths to construction projects as well.

Manufacturing planning and procurement software is another important domain. Although I can see some examples of specifically “construction” ERP systems, I can also often meet the same ERP systems serving both sides. Content management systems, storages, project collaboration- we can see a mix. There is an interesting mix of PDM/ PLM and specific construction software systems used on both sides. Bill of Materials (or product structures) is another interesting example because it can be used in both industries with some minor changes in terminology and functions.

What is my conclusion?

There are a lot of common characteristics between construction and manufacturing projects. It looks like the construction industry might be ready to adopt PLM technologies or, at least, principles of vertical integrations in manufacturing to create a “construction” version of the process.

The biggest question I have is about product data (models) and collaboration and integration of the value chain. Both are complex topics. Product data is multi-disciplinary and includes information about construction as well as manufacturing products used in construction.

Integration of siloed value chain in construction is most probably the most important and biggest problem because PLM products traditionally were not strong in disintegrated project teams. I expect to see more examples of convergence between AEC and PLM software in the next few years as construction companies will continue to adopt manufacturing tech.

Just my thoughts… Tell me what do you think.

Best, Oleg

Disclaimer: I’m co-founder and CEO of OpenBOM developing a digital network-based platform that manages product data and connects manufacturers and their supply chain networksMy opinion can be unintentionally biased.


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