AEC and Digital Thread for Construction Projects

AEC and Digital Thread for Construction Projects

Hexagon’s Article The Digital Thread Comes to BIM brings an interesting perspective on the industrial development of construction projects and how BIM fits in the overall lifecycle of building assets. My favorite passage is this one –

This same concept of the digital thread can, and is, being applied to the design /construct / operate /maintain lifecycle of Building Information Modeling (BIM). One of the basic tenets of BIM is to provide an environment for the access and exchange of engineering design, procurement and materials management, and construction information across the Capex lifecycle. This continuum of design/construct information is now being extended to the Opex side of the lifecycle for asset management and operations and maintenance. The concept of asset information lifecycle management (ALIM) comes into play here. BIM is primarily a set of solutions for the Capex lifecycle today, but engineering – and even construction – information is needed by the owner-operator, whether the facility is a process plant or an office building complex.

The article made me think more about the topic of the AEC value chain I started earlier this week. One of the questions I’m trying to answer in my series of articles about AEC and value chain is how the fundamental principles of data management for manufacturing can be used in the AEC industry, what is the value, and what needs to be done to make it happen. Yesterday I was talking about the AEC value chain and digital transformation. Integration and collaboration across the value chain are one of the biggest challenges of construction projects and the opportunity to optimize it can be very beneficial to improve the performance in the construction industry and sustainability of construction projects.  

Construction project distribution makes an interesting set of scenarios that can be played between companies included in the AEC value chain. I want to identify three main entities – (1) General Contractor; (2) Trade contractors; (3) Manufacturer / Suppliers. All these entities are connected into a single process, but at the same time, they operate independently. Each of these entities runs its own management software and databases to store information.

Similar to manufacturing verticals the communication process between companies in the AEC value chain is fragile and distributed. While the “project” is a core information element in the construction process, the data granularity is very high. It includes, but not limited to Drawings and possible BIM models, Specifications, RFIs, Change orders, and POs. Estimations, Submittals, and Approvals.  The information is flowing between multiple databases and often multiple pieces of software need to be connected together to achieve the goal.

General Contractor can be using one software, while a trade contractor is using another software set. The specific software to manage construction projects can include multiple pieces – 3D Design, BIM software, Project Management, Financial, and others. What is missed in this model if I compare it to PLM software is the ability to connect silos. The obvious question is what information will become a bridge for construction companies, manufacturers, trade contractors, and everyone in between.

So, bringing the analogy of manufacturing technologies and PLM – a single source of truth with regards to the data in the AEC Value Chain is somewhat similar to what manufacturing companies have when creating vertical integrations in product development.

Below, I put a very visionary picture of connecting multiple companies in the AEC value chain together. Using the same software to connect companies is not a big deal these days. The software vendors are working on multiple solutions. Here are few examples of specific construction software (eg. Procore, Autodesk Construction Cloud, eSUB), financial software (eg. Sage300), and also generic purpose software (eg. Dropbox, Docusign, etc.).  What is missed to turn the space into full digital mode is to have a model, which can provide a data foundation – a digital single source of truth.

So, what is missed is a system to organize a digitized data source about the product (or project) and tools to support the handover between the companies. The core element of the entire system is the data that represents the construction objects. Currently, I can see this data set as extremely fragmented and represented in a different form and different ways. These are drawings, BIM models, specifications, estimations, RFIs, Change and Purchase Orders. All these data elements are used in the data handover today with a variety of software packages. To have them vertically integrated using a single source of truth and asset specifications can be the foundation to connect GC, trade contractors, and manufacturers together.

What is my conclusion?

Construction projects are a goldmine for manufacturing software technologies. The challenges of construction projects such as fragmentation of companies, contractors, and business processes is a good target to apply some of the methods used for vertical integrations of manufacturing companies. But these methods of vertical integrations need to be enabled by new SaaS technologies to allow construction companies to adopt them. The advanced data management methods and cloud technologies can build a digital foundation to create a robust data infrastructure. Such infrastructure will support the modeling of main digital objects, stitching the data silos together and reassuring that there is a smooth data handover between companies, processes, teams, and people. Just my thoughts…

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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