While the construction industry has lagged behind others in terms of technology and innovation, companies like Graham Construction are working to push the sector forward.
Officials from Graham held a webinar explaining the company’s journey to implement digitization.
Matt Gramblicka, vice-president of enterprise applications and information technology, explained the company has worked to find ways to pilot various technologies and methods on projects in small scale ways. Once the benefit is proven they work to implement them in scalable ways.
From a preconstruction side, Graham has been looking at using digital tools to virtually build a project before the team is on a site.
“We are taking advantage of being able to build it twice,” said Steve Rollo, the company’s national manager of BIM and VDC. “More and more we are seeing teams virtualize what the project will look like, how it will operate. By having that knowledge in the preconstruction phase it allows us to better plan and predict issues that could arise and also optimize our schedule and sequence of events.”
Gramblicka explained one of the first things that comes to mind with digitization is cutting down or eliminating duplicate entries into systems and having that data available throughout the whole life of the project.
“We should know what kind of doorknobs, motors or engines we are putting in and they should be properly tagged so maintenance and warranty doesn’t have to be looked for in a binder,” said Gramblicka.
But the differing systems and needs of clients can complicate things. He noted many clients already have their own tools and systems in place that Graham has to adhere to, making an adaptable solution necessary.
“It means starting with a good process in place and understanding how to incorporate a different tool into it if you have to,” he said.
One major key to expanding digitization on to the jobsite is make sure the hardware and power is in place to accommodate it. Teams need to have access to WiFi or networks to get the project data.
“This is all part of what we do during the preconstruction phase,” said Rollo. “The infrastructure and layout of the site must lend itself to the level of digitization you want to do. Potential WiFi hubs or cell towers need to be there to make sure team members who need connectivity have it.”
Gramblicka said that emerging technologies, like Elon Musk’s Starlink satellite internet, could play a role in creating site connectivity. Networks could also be used to track worker movement and record their tasks.
“The biggest key with digitization is to make sure we are leveraging it to make ourselves better and to inform us when projects are having challenges,” said Gramblicka.
But some projects pose inherent challenges to digital optimization, like lump sum contracts. The team doesn’t have access to BIM models or other data before winning the project and has to work with a fixed budget.
“It puts a bit of a wrench in the workflow,” said Rollo. “But there is still a lot that can be leveraged like virtualizing the schedule, optimizing clash detection.”
Gramblicka noted any innovative efforts pose a risk as they must work within the fixed budget.
“You have to make that money back in efficiency or savings,” he said. “Maybe you need to be looking at more progressive models with owners.”
One of the ultimate end-goals of digitization is standardization of design data in models. Rollo and Gramblicka said this is still a long way off for Canada.
“I don’t know if I would call it a pipe dream,” said Rollo. “But we are still a ways off from realizing that. From a Canadian perspective, we are still playing catch-up in regards to tech in general. It is coming but it will take time.”
Gramblicka also explained builders and owners have to think beyond digitization just being a different form of paper records.
“True digitization is thinking about the flow of information and data,” he said. “It is going to take a while to shift the way people act and think.”
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