What does Innovation in Construction Look Like: Strategic Partnerships to Spec?

Recently announced by the Canadian Construction Association, is a conference titled “The Changing Face of Construction” to get their members to start thinking externally in regards to strategy, change management and innovation. Construction is typically known to lag behind in regards to technology adoption, so what does innovation in construction look like?

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The image attached, from Chapter 5 of the just published book; Construction Innovation and Process Improvement, available in e-format from Wiley’s Online Library, represents the different stakeholders within the construction industry that can drive or affect innovation. The drive for innovation comes from the social stakeholders (governments, communities, individuals), who are limited to what the architects and engineers, during the project design and specification development stage, can supply. In this respect innovation in construction for the end users is limited, as construction is the means to an end. Worth further exploration is the ability for innovation within the current business process.

Chapter 5: Innovation, Technology and Knowledge Transfer for Sustainable Construction, focuses largely on the development of strategic partners throughout a contractor’s supply chain, in order to pool knowledge and technology to collaboratively share/mitigate the resources, rewards and risks inherent with innovation. The ultimate theme to achieve sustainability is to be more efficient; saving on material, energy and waste costs. This seems to mesh well with a decreasing and aging labor force, requiring construction companies to do more with less. Larger construction firms are expanding internationally, expanding their supply chains, leveraging their expertise in managing, coordinating, selling and marketing construction projects.

The construction industry by nature is largely project based, and further sub-divided into different contractors responsible for different goals, working independently, while also dependant on each other to complete a project. Mentioned in the book is the relative transparent nature of the business processes used within construction. This is most evident in that typically after 6 months with any construction company, an employee is able to identify the company’s and its subcontractors’ value chains. The most glaring opportunity in this is the ability to automate the current processes being handled by “human middleware”- a solution which involves hiring more staff to manage, coordinate and deal with interactions between people, processes and policies.

The final and most important factor resulting in the lack of innovation within the construction industry is due to its project based nature. Firms enter into partnerships with relatively short term goals (get the project built), requiring a low facility to transfer and accumulate the knowledge and technology leading to innovation. Overall, this is at odds with the ultimate goal of the project owners, as the construction costs (managing and assembly) of a project make-up but a fraction of the lifetime costs of a project, which are largely a result of the materials and maintenance. Enabling long-term project lifecycle partnerships, through sustainable bidding, allows all stakeholders to have a stake in the success of a project and facilitate the required environment to foster construction innovation.

Article first published as What does Innovation in Construction Look Like? on Technorati.

iConstruction – Robot Labour

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A paper from the Technical University of Munich by T. Bock, T. Linner and W. Ikeda, looked at the current advancements in robotics and categorized them as to how they could impact the construction industry in the future. Some of the technologies might still require further advancements within artificial intelligence to be viable within the ever changing landscape of construction. Not to mention the issue, that if some companies are having a hard time purchasing work boots for employees, I wonder how much harder it would be to validate a full blown robotic exoskeleton. Nonetheless, as robotics are making headway within the aviation, automotive, farming and medical fields, there is bound to be some eventual penetration into the construction field.

Power Pedala power augmenting robot, used to amplify the power in human legs several times that of their current output. The main possibilities include lifting precast tilt-up wall, as well as performing non-routine heavy lifting requiring intelligence. The obstacle of walking around a muddy and un-even construction site carrying something heavy would be a major hurdle in terms of adoption.

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Liteye LE-700 primarily used in military applications to provide increased situational awareness, Liteye LE-700 is a wearable computer that augments a user’s sight, hearing and cognition abilities. This device allows for monitoring on-site workers or increased spatial awareness when operating within a confined or cramped space, as well as providing health data which could be monitored by another worker off-site. Its future in construction could include the ability to combine 3D BIM CAD drawings and allow on-site and dynamic drawing referencing for contractors.

Walking Assist Device with Bodyweight Support Systemthis aptly named robot, built by Honda based on their ASIMO model, provides reinforcing strength to the legs and is meant to operate in the background without being noticed. The device is a sensor and motion augmentation that monitors the effort being exerted by the legs and kicks-in to assist in walking, traversing stairs, crouching or standing. The device is currently being used for Honda factory workers, but possible future construction applications range from assisting the business development team in standing during trade-shows to allowing emergency workers to work longer in remediating a disaster.

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HAL – Hybrid Assistive Limban exoskeleton providing all the functions of the above robots, power augmentation, protecting against fatigue and augmenting cognition, then bringing it all together in one package. HAL monitors all limb movements and provides power as needed, ensuring that a constant output of energy is maintained in granting the user extended support to perform job tasks. This would ideally increase productivity as the day goes on.

Other types of robots include mobility robots, like a zoom-boom with robotic arms, that are used to move humans into hard to reach places and can communicate with other robots providing a level of autonomous and autopilot control. Autonomous Androids/Humanoids, designed to imitate human appearance, behavior and actions, these robots can be used to operate existing equipment in environments dangerous to humans, i.e. operating a bobcat in a radioactive environment. Service robots would be included in this category, which are basically enhanced Roombas designed to maintain buildings autonomously after construction.

Check out the paper to see the complete list of robots, some of which are currently in use by Honda and Toyota, in Japan and Korea.

Article first published as Are Robots Poised to Revolutionize Construction? on Technorati.

Top Image: Society of Civil Engineers, Construction Robotics Commission, Prof. Shigeyuki Obayashi, 1985

Drill Down of Cost-Benefit/Trade-Off Analysis

drill-down11.jpgThe buzz word “Drill Down” is in reference to being able to understand the statistical rules that are involved in a cost-benefit/trade-off analysis to perform more milder or higher level analysis. Many of the rules are used in conjunction with one another, and the optimal solution would make use of all of the following rules for determining the probabilities of outcomes and which one is likely to be the most optimal.

  • Wald’s Maximin Model: rank the decisions based on their worst outcomes and the optimal outcome will have a worst outcome no worse than any of the others.
  • Savage’s Minimax Regret Criteria: Evaluate and assign a value to the regret of each decision. Regret is measured as the difference of the picked decision’s outcome compared against the outcome of another decision, under the same conditions. The optimal alternative would have the least regret associated with it.
  • Hurwicz’s Rule: Choose a decision which has the highest valued best case scenario.
  • Laplace’s Rule: (Rule of succession) Understanding the probabilities of success occurring, when no observable failures have occurred, through determining the probability of failure. As a failure rate of 0 can not be strictly justified within physical situations. Eg. What is the probability of the sun rising tomorrow?
  • Bayes’ Rule: Subjecting a scenario to a condition or test and combining the probabilities before and after the test in order to find the true probability. For example the odds of someone being a drug user are 1 in 200. When tested for drug-use 99 drug-users out of 100 drug-users test positive, while 1 in 100 non-drug-users will test positive – Indicating to us that a drug test is 99% accurate. However by combining these probabilities in the original population of 200, of the 199 non-drug-users, roughly 2 will yield a false positive on a drug test, while the 1 drug user would be identified. Thereby presenting us with the information that only 1 in 3 (~33%) people identified as drug-users from a test are actually drug users, due to having to take into account the larger population of non-drug users.
  • Hodges-Lehman Rule: The combination of utilizing Bayes’ Rule and Wald’s rule, to minimize average risk and create a safe guard in deciding on the optimal decision in the case that information on an event or decision may be incorrect.

Many of these rules dealing with probabilities can be fairly complicated and may even be required to be performed with computer assisted calculations, however the overall principles can still be applied from an overall perspective to determine which decisions or events may be worth pursuing in an analysis of alternates.

Img via Richard’s Blog