Easing the Digital Transition in Construction
A panel of AEC experts discusses mitigating risk and the turn from paper to digital.
List of Participants:
Vicki Holmes – Digital Manager, Multiplex
Neil Donaghy – Head of BIM and Digital Engineering, Skanska UK
Thomas Lindner – Director, Holden River Consulting
May Winfield – Senior Construction Lawyer
Javed Edahtally – Head of BIM and Management, Metropolitan Police
Gibbs Burke – Senior Façade Construction Manager, Ballymore
Mike Turpin – Director and Digital BIM Consultant, Innovating Futures
Todd Wynne – VP of Business Development and Partnerships, Bluebeam
James Chambers – UK Country Manager, Bluebeam
Digital construction tools allow for greater accountability, efficiency and collaboration – and mitigating risk. Construction Manager Magazine hosted a discussion with some of the UK’s leading construction personalities, which spoke to just that: how digital tools, including BIM (building information modeling) can be leveraged within the industry to take some of the risk out of design and construction.
May Winfield, a senior construction lawyer, suggested that buy-in for technology needs to be better understood, and stipulated, from the get-go. Because lawyers are the ones writing the language of BIM usage into contracts, it would help “if lawyers were more integrated into the process so they understand what it is people want to do.” That way, owners could stipulate that a certain technology must be used during the process, or, for example, builders could stipulate to their subcontractors that Revu must be used to perform markups or that Studio must be used for collaboration. Eliminate confusion from the start, reduce finger-pointing at the end.
And as Todd Wynne, VP of business development and partnerships at Bluebeam, pointed out, it may not be easy to convince team members to go digital and switch from paper, but the payoff is great. One reason paper endures is simply because people are used to it. “Paper is still winning because it’s simpler,” he explained, though “simple” is a deceptive term. Once people learn the new technology, Wynne is confident they’ll see the benefits of it. “If we can truly save you from walking 17 flights of stairs to answer a question,”–because you have access to a digital field solution that can instantly give you the latest version of a drawing – then it’s a no-brainer to make the switch from paper to digital. A crucial responsibility of the technologists driving the industry forward is to not just make the technology available, but to teach people how to use it, to show them how easy it is.
Digital tools can also help catch mistakes in planning before they turn into multimillion-dollar construction errors. Vicki Holmes, digital manager and learning partner at Multiplex Construction, recalled one situation where her internal design team discovered a project was actually unbuildable as rendered, but nobody had caught it when the drawings were still in 2D. Once they put the drawings into a 3D environment, they were able to fix the error. “You can’t get any bigger benefit than that,” Holmes said. Holmes has also used digital tools to better assess bids from subcontractors. At times, four tender returns have come back from concrete subcontractors – all at completely different costs. After doing their own takeoffs using a digital model, Holmes could compare all the bids, and see what some subs had forgotten to account for, or had miscalculated. Her team then sent the bids back to the contractors, telling them to reevaluate based on quantities taken from the model. “All of a sudden, all the quotes come back within a very small margin of each other. And then you’re picking the subcontractor who is the strongest rather than who is the cheapest because you know they are all working from that common set of data.”
The panel agreed the transition to digital tools won’t be seamless, but the potential for risk mitigation is too large to pass by. There are always people who favour what they already know, or who are not as intrepid as some of their colleagues when it comes to jumping into digital tools. The response from the industry must not be to point fingers, but to do more to prove the value of technology to those working in construction.