A Q+A with AEC BuildTech keynote speaker Steve Jones
Today’s Cutting-Edge Tools Are Tomorrow’s Tools for Keeping Up
Part of Steve Jones’ job is to recognize where the construction industry is steering itself and which circumstances might alter that path (and the paths of those working in it).
That job description and his job performance as Dodge Data & Analytics senior director of industry insights research made him a natural pick for keynote speaker duties at this year’s AEC BuildTech Conference & Expo. Sponsored by BNP Media, the event is set for April 30 through May 2 in Rosemont, Illinois.
With an eye on the HVAC contracting space but without getting too far into his keynote topics, he agreed to an interview with The News about assorted trends on the horizon (or even closer).
The NEWS: One of Dodge’s podcasts addresses drones, wearables, and augmented reality. Possibilities may be different for general contractors or owners, but what are one or two examples of how HVAC contractors might naturally adopt some of this technology?
JONES: Drones are helpful in validating the location and movement of materials on a site, so HVAC contractors that have stocks of duct, etc. on a site may find that useful. There are advances coming in drones that can work inside of buildings as well, so stay tuned for that.
Wearables are frequently used for safety purposes, by communicating worker location and even lifting posture. So, all trade contractors can benefit from that technology.
Augmented reality may be the most useful among these three. By accessing information from a BIM [building information modeling] model wirelessly in an augmented reality headset, HVAC contractors can see work that is supposed to be put in place visually overlaid on the actual current existing conditions.
Then, once work has been put in place, HVAC contractors can compare it visually to what should have been put in place according to the model. These functions can add greatly to productivity and avoid costly rework downstream.
The NEWS: As AEC BuildTech’s agenda reflects, BIM is working its way through the chain from consulting engineers, both up to broader owner acceptance and also through the general contractor world. How do you see adoption or any tipping point working out with regard to subcontractors? Any special considerations for HVAC?
JONES: I believe the trades and fabricators are the most important users of BIM. We are seeing explosive growth in model-driven prefabrication by HVAC and other specialty contractors, as well as take-offs from models, safety planning, and quality control.
It’s great to use a model to generate a hypothetically perfect design, but it’s in the hands of skilled trades where the model really comes to life and delivers it highest value. We foresee the majority of major projects in the U.S. being model-based, from design through installation, within another two or three years.
The NEWS: Your company has explored how technology is contributing to better job site safety management. Would you give us a glimpse into that trend?
JONES: In addition to the safety-related use of wearables I mentioned before, site-based sensors and video cameras are coming into play now to track location and activities at a very granular level.
With this kind of big data, contractors can now be more predictive about what kinds of conditions correlate to better and worse safety performance, and they are better able to identify root causes of safety problems so they can drive fundamental behavior changes that will improve safety for everyone.
The NEWS: Whether working in service/repair or new construction, our readership must deal with document management plus the associated cost and efficiency considerations of any given strategy. What are you seeing in this area?
JONES: Online document management platforms with version control, user-configurable workflows, and audit trails have been around in the construction industry for almost 20 years, but many people still hang on to paper-based processes because they are comfortable with them.
As a friend of mine says, the digital transformation of the construction industry is 10 percent technology and 90 percent sociology. In some cases, the problem is that the old-school behavior is tolerated.
Breaking old habits requires leadership by owners and general contractors who are willing to say, “This is how things will be done on this project, and if you won’t do it, you’re not working here.”
It’s tough love that benefits everyone.
The NEWS: Dodge Analytics’ “key performance indicators (KPIs) versus rules of thumb” topic reminded me of how this industry, like many, is undergoing a generational shift in personnel, and a challenge with regard to experience and institutional knowledge. Would you talk a little about KPIs and this old versus new dynamic?
JONES: Traditionally, contractors have looked at KPIs like productivity rates, rework, and cash flow, to gauge how they are performing on projects. But those indicators can only tell you that you’re already in trouble and generally provide no predictive or analytical value. Understanding their root causes can make it easier to avoid problems.
So, a shift is now underway toward tracking upstream elements of day-to-day project delivery processes, such as RFI turnaround time or what actions are triggered when errors or omissions are discovered in contract documents. Improving a contractor’s effectiveness with processes like these can help prevent the kind of negative consequences downstream that show up in traditional KPIs.
The focus is moving toward indicators that avoid problems rather than ones that just alert you to a situation that has already gone bad. Because traditional KPIs are so ingrained in industry practice, this transition will be accelerated by generational change in project and company leadership.
But this doesn’t have to be a total switch-over to a new approach to KPIs. There’s lots of opportunity now for contractors to begin analyzing root causes of common problems and then experimenting with practices that can head them off.
The NEWS: One of Dodge’s webinars discusses building green in the U.S. from owner and contractor perspectives. Beyond selling increasingly efficient equipment, would you share a thought or recommendation for HVAC contractors to keep in mind regarding this trend?
JONES: Where efficient equipment primarily benefits the building owner/operator, the focus is now shifting toward how green buildings positively impact the health of their occupants. The idea of healthy buildings expands the value proposition of green to greater productivity, less absenteeism, higher levels of occupant satisfaction. Some forward-thinking employers are mandating this approach for their workspaces and using their healthy facilities as another way to attract and retain the best talent.
Contractors can appreciate that not only are they reducing resource consumption and helping owners to save money on energy, but they are actively contributing to the health and wellness of people spending time in these buildings.
The chart here [Figure 1] is from Dodge Data & Analytics’ report “The Drive Toward Healthier Buildings,” available for free on construction.com. It shows what industry practitioners believe will be the most important features that will be installed in healthy buildings in the near future.
As you can see, enhanced air quality and products that enhance thermal comfort top the list.
FIGURE 1: Dodge Data & Analytics’ report “The Drive Toward Healthier Buildings” includes what industry experts believe will be the most prevalent healthy building features used in the next five years.
The NEWS: We’ve seen the occasional idea migrate from the U.S. to the international market and vice versa. Is there a common practice or equipment presence overseas that you think will make sense and make its way into the U.S. market in the next few years?
JONES: The notion of a “digital twin” is gaining traction overseas but is still in its infancy here. A digital twin is an exact virtual version of a physical facility that is linked directly to smart equipment and sensors placed throughout it. This provides real-time data on use and operations as well as the ability to test and simulate operational scenarios (e.g. emergencies, HVAC system optimization, etc.).
The value propositions are very exciting, and contractors will be expected to provide model-based data for the creation and updating of digital twins as well as to engage productively with them for service-related activities.
Publication date: 4/29/2019