MEP Force 2021 Roundtable Recap: Industrialized Construction

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August 31, 2021 | All, Construction, Electrical, Fabrication

The subject of industrialized construction was discussed by the roundtable panelists Amy Marks, Simon Waldren and Michael Albanese. If you have an hour, I strongly encourage you to go to MEPForce.com and watch this session on demand. It is beneficial from a futuristic and ideas standpoint, positive, and entertaining!

Amy began by clarifying that “Industrialized construction is applying manufacturing techniques to the built environment.” As Autodesk’s Vice-president of Industrialized Construction Strategy & Evangelism and widely known as the “Queen of Prefab,” she is fully aware of how this change in process can revolutionize construction and the MEP industry specifically.

She elaborated that the prefabrication trend is a series of convergences:

  • Technology convergence involving telecommunication, computing and consumer electronics;
  • Business model convergence with general contractors incorporating design and manufacturing;
  • Process convergence, as in Design <-> Make <-> Operate
  • Industry convergence, aka. industrialized construction.

The implications are that trade contractors’ business models are changing. They are no longer simply last-on-the-list trade contractors. Their responsibility is moving upstream, and that’s changing the way they are doing business, to the point of working with other teams during the design process.

The transformation has a framework, which Amy will be presenting indepth during Autodesk University. It includes, from the bottom up:

  1. Foundational – a company’s culture, skills, tools, technology, and processes
  2. Productization – the mindset change to drive data reusability
  3. Digitization – enabling automation and connected processes
  4. Connection – platform thinking, which is enabled by the cloud
  5. Optimization – enhancing capabilities, i.e. generative design, digital twin technology, industrialized construction
  6. Circularity – digital and physical reuse

Amy explained that she looks at DfMA differently than some people in the industry. Rather than calling it Design for Manufacturing and Assembly, she prefers Data for Manufacturing and Assembly. She stressed that data is “super important” but added, “Data needs to grow up and evolve.”

The way things are done today: The project goes from design to plan to build to operate, and prefab fits somewhere on that continuum around planning and building. Amy explained that the pieces of this process need to be rearranged. Contractors need to help inform design and help decide what’s manufacturable. The challenge is to stop making snowflakes, i.e. one-off things that are all different from each other.

Michael Albanese, founder of the tech-driven firm KLH Engineers, talked about productization. He emphasized that created content needs to be published so it can get into the hands of designers, architects, engineers, and contractors. When companies hold their own created content too closely, it hinders progress in the industry. He said, “The demand is there for moving toward sharing.”

Amy suggested that a direct connection to a supply chain is critical, and Michael described Configure, Inc., the construction marketplace. As companies create products and list them, engineers are able to match those products to a specific job they are working on. He said, “It brings a level of integrity in the procurement process.” This market to buy and sell goods is a connected workflow that can be integrated and flexible.

Simon Waldren, Director of Apex Wiring & Solutions, explained that the marketplace for contractors is evolving as an online platform. As with other online purchasing, “If it’s there, people can buy it,” and he used the “kit of parts” as an example. Simon stressed that the data needs to get to the point where that marketplace is widely enabled. It’s an education thing and a mindset, and the process is opening up. He also said, “Be patient for people to catch up.” All panelists agreed that junior managers and the younger workforce in general are not used to or interested in “business as usual.”

Amy envisions a future of design that is product-led and product-informed, with data reuse and platform optimization. As she put it, “Data needs to live in a place that informs design.” Amy said, non-CAD users “first need to know how things are made.” An informed architect for example, could access a model and specify things that MEP contractors can use. Productization will enable trade contractors to install what’s needed in the space that’s been allocated to them – something that is sorely lacking today.