Analytics could transform the construction industry

Houses are still built the same way they were 100 years ago.

EDMONTON, AB, Mar. 28, 2012, Troy Media/ – According to the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), an estimated 8,000 lbs. of waste is created with the construction of a 2,000 square foot house.

The majority of that, Klaas Rodenburg, CEO of Alberta Centre of Excellence for Building Information Modeling (aceBIM), a not for profit organization dedicated to introducing the benefits of BIM into industry, comes mostly from the on-site building process and consists of wood, cardboard and drywall. Framers, for example, will take the first 2 x 4 that they see and cut it to fit their specifications. They then discard the unused piece of 2 x 4 and grab a fresh piece and repeat the process. At the end of a job, the site is littered with a large stack of discarded and unusable pieces of framing and drywall.

But that is about to change.

Homes: still built one brick at a time

The housing industry has remained relatively unchanged in its production methods for the past century. And while home builders are using modern materials, new design methods, and state-of-the-art technology, the actual building of the house has not changed much over 100 years ago. They are still build one brick or piece of wood at a time.

While there has been an increase in labour productivity in most non-farming industries, the same cannot be said for construction. What went wrong? According to Rodenburg, the reason lies in the use of technology. While technology, he said, is “widely accepted in most non-farming industries . . . technology is not being readily accepted in the construction world. We have come a long way in using technology for design aspects of construction, but use it very little elsewhere in the industry.”

One technology that can be used by the housing industry is called lean manufacturing. Professor Lauri Koskela, a leader in lean manufacturing theory, says lean manufacturing helps “design production systems to minimize waste of materials, time, and effort in order to generate the maximum possible amount of value”.

Building Information Modeling (BIM), is a digital representation of the physical and functional characteristics of a facility which can transform the housing industry into a lean manufacturing force.

BIM allows companies to utilize the waste created during the building process. All waste material is added to the digital knowledge base – or BIM system – and can then be re-routed to another project for utilization. The wood and drywall can even be cut to specification in a factory in advance and assembled at the site in only a few days. This cuts waste significantly in both energy consumption and overall wasted materials.

To go a step further, many lumber yards and contracting facilities have lumber and other expensive housing components lying around for extended periods, waiting to be used. During this time, materials can be damaged or ruined. BIM acts as an inventory control system to ensure material is used in a timely manner.

Duplication is another issue that plagues the housing industry. According to Rodenberg, “There are people out there (who) are saying we can reduce the cost of buildings by 50 per cent by not duplicating things and doing things over and over again. Especially when you start looking at energy, how much does a bad decision cost you over 30 years?”

A company using a BIM system based on lean manufacturing theory will only have materials on hand for upcoming projects. They will not have expensive product lying around. They know when they will need certain components and when to order them. The process of materials distribution and management is much more contained in a BIM system. Duplication is also not an issue. Since most components are completed in factory, there is less room for error.

Landmark Group of Builders in Alberta, Canada, is one building company using BIM principles and lean manufacturing to tackle these issues head on. It is using analytics to transition traditional building design methods to a virtual level: Two-dimensional drawings are turned into a three dimensional world. With the current advances in analytics and software, companies now have the ability to add intelligence to the building process. BIM analytics know almost every aspect of the building inside and out, before it is built. BIM can even tell you where pipes are located and how much water will be flowing through them.

You can even set up scenarios to test how a building will withstand earthquakes or if you moved it to another part of the world into a different climate. You can also monitor how minor changes in design – such as adding solar panels or sun shades to certain parts of the building – effect energy consumption.

Analyzing all the variations of the data provides companies, like Landmark Group, the ability to create sustainable and efficient homes of exceptional quality. But not only will the homes be efficient, they can be built in a fraction of the time of a conventional builder can.

But it doesn’t end there. BIM measurements are so exact that they are within one 16th of an inch in accuracy, according to Rodenberg, allowing for very precise building specifications. Materials can be cut and assembled in a factory and delivered to the building site pre-built.

While similar concepts exist with modular or manufactured homes, BIM buildings are still partially constructed on-site and are held to the same standards as a traditional on-site built home.

In 1993, the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency did a study called Building Performance after Hurricane Andrew. The study found that panel-built and modular homes and BIM-style homes that had portions built in factories weathered the hurricane far better and outperformed their conventional counterparts.

Industry still hesitant to use BIM

FEMA stated that the reason for the difference came down to quality of workmanship. Both Modular and BIM-style factory manufactured parts had an inherently more rigid system that performed significantly better than conventionally-framed homes. FEMA was surprised to find that even rafters remained intact because of the rigid design structures.

The BIM model provides homes that are sustainable and of higher quality standards than traditionally built homes. BIM has created a truly industry changing process. However, the adoption of this process by the industry has yet to occur.

Learn more about BIM and these emerging trends by attending the upcoming Analytics, Big Data and the Cloud Conference where Klaas Rodenburg will be speaking.

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