MEP Force Live Recap Blog 8/31 – 9/2

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MEP Force Blog Update 6, Day 3

4:45 pm: Takeaway Moments by Jeff Sample (eSUB)

Construction is a fundamental part of our human world. “When we have clarity of terms, we have clarity of communication . . . We can pull on the rope together in the same direction.” This statement by Jeff Sample was in reference to the opening MEP Force keynote address by Amy Marks, Autodesk Queen of Prefab.  

Sample said he appreciated the message during several sessions which stressed that upcoming technology needs to focus first on the people in the industry, then focus on adoption.

Throughout the conference, contractors were urged to move outside their comfort zone. At that point, companies can innovate, and innovation will bring a growth mindset. Change is part of growth, and Sample said that every trade contractor can innovate at their company by understand the technology and making sure the software tools work together toward the company’s goals.

This was highlighted in the trades panel breakout session that reflected the enthusiasm of the trade organizations for training the current and upcoming workforce on design. “They could have gone a lot longer,” Sample said. “They were just getting warmed up.”

Although next year’s MEP Force is planned as an in-person event in San Antonio, Texas, both Sample and host Todd Weyandt agreed there will probably be virtual components. This year’s conference attracted attendees from six countries on four continents, and it would be ideal to accommodate an audience like that again in 2021.

Sample observed that, despite the virtual setting, the crowds were very interactive, and the virtual house party was entertaining. “You set the bar high,” he told Weyandt. “It’s gonna be a hard one to follow.”

If you missed any sessions that you’d like to take advantage of, check out the plethora of great learning moments and content with the on-demand sessions at: www.mepforce.com .

Earlier in the day: Takeaway moments by Emily Heppard (DADO)

Heppard emphasized that she loved the optimism that came through during the sessions of MEP Force 2020. She said she got inspired, even though it was in a virtual context. Calling MEP a resilient industry, she said, “It’s so hard to get this group down.”

Regardless of the obstacles, the MEP trades still make things happen. Heppard said she was also impressed by the overarching message that there is a need for unity and a need for collaboration that can ultimately answer the question: What’s best for the MEP industry?

Another recurring theme was developing a growth mindset. Joining together as an industry, MEP contractors and vendors can and will create a movement of working better together.

Take advantage of the great learning moments and content with on-demand sessions at: www.mepforce.com .

MEP Force Blog Update 5, Day 3

3:40 pm: Build 10 Dynamo Tools

With breakout session chat comments like, “Pumped about this one!” and “I love Dynamo!” Luke Vetroczky (Mechanical Inc) related his company’s challenges with using fabrication parts natively in Revit. Fortunately for the detailing department, Mechanical Inc developed Dynamo tools to help with renumbering parts and hangers, checking hangers for hosts, exporting point files for robotic layout, inserting hanger rods into the structure, exporting parts to Navisworks in color, renumbering spool assemblies, matching BOP elevations for racks, and coloring fabrication part tags.

Vetrocsky explained that he is part of a nationwide MEP industry group that wants to embrace the newest technology. Mixing Revit + Fabrication, he explained, is like mixing oil + water.

Mechanical Inc designers are mostly drawing in Revit. This keeps the BIM model under one software, plus most architects and engineers are using Revit now. So the staff wants to use Fab parts instead of Revit families. Despite the detailers getting better and better with Revit, they still need some help with fab parts. Following is the list of custom Dynamo tools Vetroczky demonstrated:

  1. Select by Service
  2. Sheet Revisions Controller
  3. Duct Tagger
  4. Hanger Rod Insert
  5. Hanger Host Checker
  6. Material Exporter for Navisworks
  7. Assembly Renumber
  8. Filter Applicator
  9. Pipe Hanger Renumber
  10. Selection Point Exporter

The active chat conversation featured questions and scenarios, with links and suggestions offered by other participants. The running chat on the side proved this is a popular and extensive topic, with lots of variation and options. As one attendee put it, “This is gold.”

MEP Force Blog Update 4, Day 3

2:45 pm: Under the Hood with Database Management

Darren Young (Hermanson Company) gave a demonstration of some hidden features in Fabrication for database management. He admitted, “The way you learn this stuff is by playing with it.”

Young advised that you can use any version of Revit to draw, but you should use the same version when administering your database.

In response to a question about syncing data, Young gave a shout out to Applied Software, which has a database sync utility (360 Sync). 

Questions for Young? Visit his blog: www.darrenjyoung.com .

MEP Force Blog Update 3, Day 3

2:25 pm: Death to Your Spreadsheets?

David Francis, with his online YouTube tips and tricks snippets, is no stranger to instructing on technology. During his MEP Force breakout session, he talked about using MS Power BI for generating reports: leveraging data, visualizations, fields, filters, and some lessons learned.

Francis is a fan of “Keep it Simple.”

  • Start with data (Excel, SQL, CSV).
  • Create a data set.
  • Choose what you want to look at.
  • Work in Power Query.
  • Be careful when editing or modifying.

Power BI works and looks similar to Excel. Francis demonstrated how to manipulate data to create the correct template for intelligent and interactive Power BI reports that will instantly update as compared to static data in a spreadsheet that just sits there and stares you in the face. Now we understand the title!

MEP Force Blog Update

1:00 pm: Setting up a Revit Project for Success

Michael Schinn, eVolve Electrical Product Manager, talked about working in a Revit model and the pains that can result when there are too many sections showing in the model. Schinn suggested that the project browser needs to be managed so you have your own working views. Things like too many sections can bloat your file sizes.

Schinn demonstrated how sections can get crazy, especially if you have a workshared model, and each person is adding their own sections.

He recommended managing and organizing your working views, sheet views and coordination views. Schinn’s tips:

  1. Create section types.
  2. Filter by section type.
  3. View only the sections you need to see.
  4. Set up a view template.
  5. Pin your sections in your model to protect them.
  6. Delete sections that are not named.

MEP Force Blog Update 1, Day 3

12:15 PM ETAutodesk commits to focus on support of MEP industry

In the MEP Force 2020 keynote address on Day 3, Autodesk representatives Steve Butler, Ian Molloy and Martin Schmid described the commitment by Autodesk to address the gaps that currently exist in technology for the overall construction industry. Those gaps include CAD to BIM, desktop to cloud, and closed (proprietary) to open source technology solutions.

To tackle those gaps, agile software development is needed for a comprehensive MEP workflow. Autodesk is placing more value on:

  • individuals and their interactions rather than processes and tools;
  • working software rather than extensive documentation;
  • customer collaboration instead of contract negotiation;
  • responding to change more than following a plan.

For the Fabrication product line, there has been an increase in investment to address code quality, making sure fixes are rock-solid and developing new workflows in the future.

Autodesk is stepping up MEP support with fabrication modeling: scalable, schedulable, sub-elements, sleeves, stops, and stiffeners.

For Revit products, customer workshops have been held to identify new areas of investment and improve the user’s quality of life. Improvements are being made in the design to fabrication workflows. One of those improvements is better fabrication reports.

Customers are encouraged to post to the Autodesk ideas site: www.Autodesk.com/revitideas. Be specific in your suggestions, and be sure to submit problems with the software as they occur.

MEP Force Blog Update 8, Day 2

Virtual House Party, Margaritas, BBQ, and Tips from a Master Chef

Unless you were there, you would have a hard time imagining how these terms fit together during the virtual house party:

Burrito principle . . . Pareto principle . . .BBQ brisket . . . Paradigms . . . Tofurkey . . . Burnt ends . . . Boots on the Zoom . . . UberEATS . . . Upgrades . . . Training . . . Knuckle Dragger . . . Jerky . . . Virtual brisket and beer . . . It’s not your fault, but it’s your problem . . . Brisket breaks down silos.

Historically the block party at MEP Force has served as a networking event for hundreds of attendees to have conversations about what’s trending in the industry. Many say they’ll miss the that particular in-person feature the most this year.

Some brief takeaways from Day 2 of MEP Force included the valuable fact that attendees got to hear from both the vendors and actual MEP contractors. Breakout session/class attendance numbers have been high so far. As a group, MEP trade contractors are a close-knit community. They are the ones who make MEP Force successful.

There was great feedback on what clients need, and something that resonated was that the MEP industry is creating a movement. In many breakouts, the topic of the session was complemented by the chat; with some sessions it was in addition to the chat. The chats could end up being very entertaining and enlightening.

One house party attendee advised everyone to be bold and take risks in this movement. To the innovators he said, “Be strong. When it’s time for you to move on, there are companies out there who will pick you up.”

Garrett Tice, Applied Director of Fab Services, delivered up an award-winning virtual margarita using the following recipe:

5 oz Sprite soda

1 cup cranapple juice

1 shot tequila, any brand

½ shot cranberry apple whiskey topper

Squeeze of lime juice

Put ingredients into shaker and shake till mixed. Serve in a sugar-rimmed glass. Tices’s warning: be careful with this – it’s very dangerous . . . but it did win 2nd place in competition. 

Brett Stacks, eVolve Director of MEP Fabrication, shared some BBQ tips with the party-goers.

  • Use clean smoke – For best BBQ flavor, smoke should be nearly clear or with a bluish tint (if you’re seeing lots of whitish smoke, that’s dirty smoke).
  • Build a good fire (230-275 degrees F). Experience will teach you how.
  • Season meat top and bottom. For chicken, season underneath the skin, and add butter to keep meat moist.

Michael Schinn, eVolve Electrical Product Manager, added a few of his own tips gleaned from his weekend BBQ business, MikeysMeats5280 in the Denver metro area. Schinn’s advice, “If you’re lookin’, you ain’t cookin.” Keep the cooker lid closed except for a very few exceptions to check the meat. Other advice:

  • Let the fire breathe.
  • Cook at 265 degrees.
  • Typical cook time is six hours.
  • Season with salt & pepper.
  • Look up an Aaron Franklin master class and learn how to trim ribs before cooking them.

Steve Couch, BIM Designs Inc, welcomed the virtual party into his kitchen and offered up some pro chef tips, including:

  • The 3 main types of cuisine – lemon-based, lime-based, and a combination of the two (i.e. U.S.).
  • How to dice an onion perfectly every time (leave the root end until finished dicing).
  • Always use Kosher salt for cooking – it results in the best flavor.
  • Use good, sharp knives – particularly a boning knife, chef’s knife, and a steel to hone your knives’ edges.

Couch provided a perfect brine recipe for pork, chicken and especially Thanksgiving turkey, which he promised to share with attendees through Applied Software marketing. He also demonstrated the creation of a blueberry-based sauce.

With all the talk of food and BBQ virtual backgrounds galore, by the time the speed networking rolled around, it’s fair to say everyone’s appetite had been thoroughly whetted.

Next up: Day 3.

MEP Force Blog Update 7, Day 2

4:10 pm ET – Optimizing Electrical Prefab

Electrical and multi-trade prefabrication was the topic of the breakout session with Jason Barber (Manufacton) and Robert Britton (Britton Electric).

Advanced trade contractors use cloud-based solutions to plan, track, manage, and continuously improve their process from design through installation. Britton has a culture where it’s acceptable to fail. Barber shared a snapshot of his job history when he was told he could take credit when his initiatives succeeded, but likewise he would need to explain to the rest of the company, “Why you failed and what you learned from it.” 

Britton said that his company did not focus on prefab just for prefab’s sake, but because it would benefit their projects. His company’s prefab shop has grown in stages over the years. He said the goal is always to work faster, smarter, and more cost effective for the client. Britton explained that when the company can turn around a process in a day rather than a week, that is remarkable and important.

Barber brought up the term “lean construction,” and Britton posited that the term shouldn’t be as complicated as people make it out to be. “Construction is complicated enough,” he said. He added that companies need to be thoughtful in every decision they make, and yes, avoid waste.

An attendee posed the question of how to change the mindset of prefab naysayers? Britton admitted that there will always be a small group of people not interested in change. “Fortunately, it’s not many,” he added.

MEP Force Blog Update 6, Day 2

3:45 pm ET – The Future of MEP Prefabrication

Onward from MEP prefabrication to 3D laser projection! Brent Slawnikowski (FARO), a civil engineer with 3D laser scanning experience, explained the use of laser projection on jobs for better quality, a safer work environment, avoidance of weather impacts, and better schedules. Slawnikowski explained leveraging laser projection for guiding assembly of parts using virtual templates, including these benefits:

  • No jigs.
  • No paper sources.
  • Multiple parts at one time.
  • Reduced waste/scrap.
  • No resets.
  • Increased throughput.
  • Consistency.
  • Agility.
  • Less human error.
  • Less rework.
  • Tight accuracy.
  • Less dependent on legacy knowledge and specialized skills

Reference points located in the CAD file are used, and the laser beam is steered using mirrors for precise and rapid operation. Even though the laser is spinning, the human eye perceives a solid line. Equipment can be mounted on the ceiling of the shop, on an overhead tripod or on a mobile stand. 

With some great videos, Slawnikowski demonstrated how prefab and modular construction are improving at laser speed.

MEP Force Blog Update 5, Day 2

12:35 pm ET – eVolve Mechanical Ancillaries

Mark Siebert (Applied Software) took participants through the process of how to place sleeves, hangers and export points once the MEP model is coordinated. Siebert made the point that automatic placement saves hundreds of hours. In addition, using custom rules, features can be customized to each company’s workflows.

Siebert’s top three takeaways:

  • Sleeves: Preload families before using.
  • Hangers: Understand what services you have in your view when setting hangers.
  • Point exports: Make sure you renumber them before sending them to the field.

An impressive list of questions ran through the chat window, and Siebert’s cohorts at Applied Software joined in with answers during the lively discussion. In closing, Siebert encouraged participants to look him up during the virtual house party, saying, “I love the trades.”

MEP Force Blog Update 4, Day 2

12:30 pm ET – Prefabricating a Model with eVolve Electrical

Michael Schinn provided a live demo of using eVolve Electrical to prefab an electrical model. The end result enables the fab shop to successfully create a set of parts that can be reliably assembled on the job. In the trades, this is sometimes referred to as being similar to a “Lego” set.

Working with families, Schinn showed how errors in detailing can quickly be corrected in the design before fabrication even starts. He demonstrated conduit bends, kicks, data, racks and hangers – even working with groups of conduit. The latest and most used vendor specifications are also included in the software for insertion in the model.

MEP Force Blog Update 3, Day 2

2:10 pm ET – Augmented Reality for MEP

Saeed Eslami (VisuaLive) and Trent Leinenbach (North Mechanical) explained how augmented reality (AR) helps MEP contractors on many phases of projects: from design, to BIM coordination, fabrication, quality control, installation, and facilities management. Contractors can increase efficiency and productivity, reducing rework by validating designs in advance before any money is spent on construction.

You can use VisuaLive to push a model to MS Hololens, as well as mobile applications. You can have the information on location at the construction jobsite, even with the Hololens clipped to a hardhat.

Leinenbach showed three fully-Revit workflows turning design into builds using BIM using these basic steps:

  1. Identify the view to push.
  2. Filter to select categories.
  3. Push to cloud and download to the device.

The model can then be showed as an overlay on the existing jobsite structure. The process is good for quality control, accessibility and last-minute design adjustments.

ASTI MEP Force Update Blog 2, day 2

Noon ET: Keynote Encourages MEP Trades, Teases New eVolve MEP Product

Clay Smith, CEO of eVolve MEP, began day 2 of MEP Force 2020 by getting real with MEP trade contractors: “You get paid for hanging pipe, duct and wire.” Smith, Adam Heon and Brett Stacks talked about the ways eVolve MEP software tools continue to improve and make life easier for contractors and save them money.

Heon talked about the newest version of eVolve Electrical – 4.0. The development of this tool continues to be customer driven, with seven of the top 12 improvements resulting from customer ideas. Heon has seen these developments through from seeds to fruit: auto-hanger placement with custom configurations on fly; auto-detected tiered runs with hangers placed in the correct locations; automatic sleeve placement based on a rule set; parameter sync; new Revit utilities that help access data.

Stacks spoke with pride about the two-year anniversary of eVolve Mechanical and the fact that it has already become the leading Revit plug-in for mechanical detailing.

Two eVolve Mechanical customers presented testimonials about how the tool has improved their processes and their transition to Revit. One customer, MMC Contractors, which offers not only mechanical but also electrical and plumbing, related that the software features increased efficiency and added, “It made sense to us. We felt like it was the right decision for us going forward.”

Feedback to the development team is welcome, and MMC characterized its interaction with eVolve MEP staff as, “a great working relationship.” The MMC goal: “To have least impact on the deliverable to the field.”

Another customer, Harris Companies, highlighted the superior usability of eVolve Mechanical. Most customers save at least 25% of their detailing time when using the software. The estimate by Harris Companies is that they get a return on investment within two to three months.

Steve King, prefabrication consultant with eVolve MEP, provided a sneak peek at the newest eVolve MEP product: Foresite. This is a cloud-based procurement solution to create one bill of materials (BOM) and better align teams.

King explained the ordering process hasn’t improved much over the decades in the electrical trade. Hand-written orders, texts, phone calls – the potential confusion around materials ordering can delay projects and hurt budgets.

eVolve Foresite will align design and operations teams, enabling them to add, edit, merge, and substitute BOMs. The focus of the product is on the field, replacing the MEP foreman’s manual navigation of the procurement process.  

MEP Force 2020 Live Blog update 1, Day 2

12:55 pm ETAgile Construction: During the 100 years since 1910, the cost of a home in the U.S. doubled, from 3-times the annual per capita income to over 6-times. Industrialized construction (I.C.) can help slow this trend.

Industrialization happens through:

  1. Management of labor
  2. Management of work
  3. Lean operations
  4. Modeling and simulation
  5. Feedback from the source

With industrialization of construction, there is a focus on the design phase and up-front planning. Technology helps quickly and effectively design buildings. While technology exists to connect the modeling and simulation, actually erecting projects still has challenges and needs to focus on management of labor and work. Projects need to be produced more efficiently. I.C. can result in digital solutions and very fast construction, as we’ve seen worldwide – including commercial, residential, healthcare, and infrastructure.

Trade Orgs Discuss MEP Trades, Normalizing BIM, Educating Contractors

4:46 PM

Monday’s MEP Force trade organization panel breakout session included representatives of United Association and UA International Training Fund, National Electrical Contractors Association, Sheet Metal Air Rail Transportation/International Training Institute, Sheet Metal Air Conditioning National Association, Mechanical Contractors Association of America, plus eVolve MEP.

The fast-paced discussion touched on the past, present and future of the MEP trades. It was widely agreed that trade organizations/unions have a role to play in moving the labor force into the digital age. It’s a step toward normalizing technology in training and on jobsites. There was also the suggestion to have contractors work with their signatory trade orgs. With the buy-in and tools, designing can be with, not for, the MEP trades. Open communication between the trades and the design team is a key goal, including empathy for understanding each other’s processes.

It’s no surprise that some companies still limit their use of BIM to jobs where it’s required. When this is the case, BIM is not driving the industry forward. The value of BIM needs to be built up before we see widespread adoption. The discussion pointed out that it doesn’t take a lot of time to show a contractor the value of BIM. It’s even plausible that the general contractor could demand that MEP information be in the Revit model or it doesn’t exist.

Planning and collaborating are important, but how and when should that happen? Who should be the driver? As one attendee pointed out, “Planning is beautiful. Fixing is awful, frustrating and costly.”

Using VDC (virtual design and construction) as an example, the challenge is involving it earlier in the process. Should a trade contractor hire an engineer, or should an architect hire a trade consultant for constructability? With the push to design-assist, quasi-design build or traditional design build, most trade contractors will likely need some kind of engineering inhouse. But engineers and VDC teams are not cheap.

Trade coordination and design coordination are currently far apart. Travis Voss pointed out, it’s important for owners to understand that “paying more upfront can save tons later.”

Monday’s MEP Force trade organization panel breakout session included representatives of United Association and UA International Training Fund, National Electrical Contractors Association, Sheet Metal Air Rail Transportation/International Training Institute, Sheet Metal Air Conditioning National Association, Mechanical Contractors Association of America, plus eVolve MEP.

The fast-paced discussion touched on the past, present and future of the MEP trades. It was widely agreed that trade organizations/unions have a role to play in moving the labor force into the digital age. It’s a step toward normalizing technology in training and on jobsites. There was also the suggestion to have contractors work with their signatory trade orgs. With the buy-in and tools, designing can be with, not for, the MEP trades. Open communication between the trades and the design team is a key goal, including empathy for understanding each other’s processes.

It’s no surprise that some companies still limit their use of BIM to jobs where it’s required. When this is the case, BIM is not driving the industry forward. The value of BIM needs to be built up before we see widespread adoption. The discussion pointed out that it doesn’t take a lot of time to show a contractor the value of BIM. It’s even plausible that the general contractor could demand that MEP information be in the Revit model or it doesn’t exist.

Planning and collaborating are important, but how and when should that happen? Who should be the driver? As one attendee pointed out, “Planning is beautiful. Fixing is awful, frustrating and costly.”

Using VDC (virtual design and construction) as an example, the challenge is involving it earlier in the process. Should a trade contractor hire an engineer, or should an architect hire a trade consultant for constructability? With the push to design-assist, quasi-design build or traditional design build, most trade contractors will likely need some kind of engineering inhouse. But engineers and VDC teams are not cheap.

Trade coordination and design coordination are currently far apart. Travis Voss pointed out, it’s important for owners to understand that “paying more upfront can save tons later.”

Trade Organizations Point Out Benefits of Technology

3:45 PM

Among the trades, mechanical contractors have been the drivers of building information modeling (BIM) because they saw the most benefits historically. The trade associations are all working together to achieve better workflows, and they’re hopeful that the software vendors will follow suit.

The MEP Force trade organizations panel and breakout session attendees had a few things to say about those benefits. Some of their observations:

Josh Bone, Director of Industry Innovation at NECA, said, “There’s absolutely value in the process.”  

A panel member pointed out that general contractors (GCs) that know what they’re doing can also drive the process. It’s worth it, and some contractors now offer as a separate service to do the modeling for subcontractors.

It’s been reported that when companies use virtual design and construction (VDC) on jobs, those jobs rarely go badly, or if something does go wrong, the loss is minimized. Interoperability is becoming more important.

Prefabrication, as one person observed, lowers a company’s EMR (experience modification rating) to lower insurance premiums.

The panel was hopeful that more partnerships will develop among software vendors. The result is sure to be a better technology product in the end.

As there becomes more of an incentive for using digital twins, owners will become the most incentivized to contract for this service. When there’s a benefit, they’ll be willing to spend more during construction to obtain a twin model.

People, Process & Technology

2:48 PM

In his MEP Force breakout session about people, process and technology, Jeff Sample posed the question, “Is the construction industry really the least digitized?”

Sample suggested the construction trades should recruit people from industries that are the most digitized: professional services, media, and finance. Not only are they ahead of the curve in terms of digitizing, they had to take huge steps and risks in getting  incremental payoffs. However, construction is positioned to take incremental steps toward digital workflows and get big payoffs in return.

In support of this type of recruiting, Sample points out that diversity is a great opportunity. A variety of experiences, minds and backgrounds can contribute to thinking outside the box. He suggested that, in order to grow, we need to involve people who challenge us. People are your #1 asset. Your people are facing new issues/challenges right now, so be sure to communicate with them about those issues.

Sample also suggests you ask what change/technology can do for your company (not what it’s going to COST). He stressed that technology is an investment in your future. “Go from practical to tactical,” he said. Watch where the industry is headed, and focus on the future.

“Queen of Prefab” Asserts Importance of MEP using Salad, I.C. House and 3-inch Heels

1:08 PM

In the opening MEP Force keynote with Amy Marks, she referred to her decades of working with mechanical, electrical and plumbing subcontractors as an eye-opening experience. Characterizing them as unsung heroes, Marks made the point that input from MEP subcontractors is valuable and necessary as Autodesk develops its software strategy around industrialized construction.

Marks, said, “Something that frustrates me in the industry is this “word salad.” Everyone talks about these words – pods, DfMA, racks, industrialized construction, prefab, modular, offsite, skids – they kind of swirl around, and sometimes it happens in one sentence.”

In her inimitable style and with a depth of knowledge borne of many years involved in the industry worldwide, Marks touched upon the language around industrialized construction (IC), which is basically the application of manufacturing techniques in the built environment. In her “House that IC Built” graphic, Marks showed how industrialized construction is an umbrella term. Situated below it, on the “upstairs” floor, are the prefab process continuum, robotics and additive manufacturing. The many process and technology enablers are basically the foundation of the house.

As a true champion of the MEP trades, Marks encouraged MEP companies to get involved in prefab now, even if on a small scale. She made the point that companies are investing in prefab because there’s money to be made in the process. And she likened the need for standardization in construction as similar to ordering shoes online, rather than having each pair made as a custom “one-off.” The various statistics that Marks highlighted all show a forecast for huge increases in standardization, prefabrication and industrialized construction within the near future.

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