Technology will be key for contractors on IIJA work, experts say
As Connecticut-based Lane Construction prepares for the onslaught of Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) projects about to arrive, VDC and BIM Director Matt Blake knows what needs to happen. be done.
Blake is working with global engineering and design firm Stantec to move the 130-year-old heavy civil construction leader away from “old, time-tested processes” and toward advanced digital delivery that will improve information sharing between the design and construction teams, increasing accuracy, transparency, safety and timely decision-making to reduce risk and cost.
“At the end of the day, that probably means producing more projects in less time and at lower cost, in which case it can help achieve a lot more of that IIJA plan,” Blake said. “As an industry, everyone has limited resources, so let’s sharpen our pencil of efficiency and try to achieve that.”
As things stand, the well-worn pencils of the horizontal construction industry are far too dull to keep up with the deluge of projects about to arise. Of the $621 billion allocated by the IIJA to upgrade bridges, highways and roads, more than $500 billion will be spent on projects that use outdated methods, according to the Coalition for Smarter Infrastructure Investments, a group of tech companies pushing for the accelerated deployment of automated workflow systems. and 5D modeling.
“The processes used to design and manage infrastructure projects have remained unchanged for decades, with many businesses and public agencies still relying on paper and pen systems,” the coalition says.
In response to coalition lobbying, the IIJA includes $100 million ($20 million per year over five years) to encourage the adoption of advanced construction management technologies – a drop in the bucket , according to Si Katara, president of digital inspection company Headlight and one of the founders of the coalition.
“Some people say, ‘For a $1.2 trillion bill, that might not be enough,'” he said.
The IIJA presents “a unique opportunity” to digitize, Katara added, but builders won’t be able to keep pace if they continue with the practices of the past 30 years.
“The knee-jerk is to hang on like a lifeboat to your previous processes because that’s what you’re comfortable with, but people realize that there just isn’t enough resources there, not enough humans who have the skills to do it,” Katara said. “We need to embrace technology and innovation to close this gap.”
As Blake is quick to point out, no one expects the transition to be easy.
“There are a lot of things — I don’t know if ego is the right word — that keep us from embracing technology,” he said. “It’s largely ‘as-we-always-did’ attitude, and that’s the most cherished phrase you can use, in my book.”
AI to the rescue
The lack of manpower is one of the main problems in the construction industry, two-thirds of entrepreneurs struggling with meeting schedules, according to Infotech’s quarterly calendar report. Now, said Brad Barth, chief product officer for digital project management platform InEight, the IIJA is “throwing fuel on an already out-of-control fire.” As experienced older workers retire, Barth said, their replacements will need technology to “make them smarter, so there’s less rework, less chaos and more knowledge sharing to help to evolve”.
“The A-players in any business are in short supply and they are retiring,” agreed Rene Morkos, founder and CEO of ALICE Technologies, an AI-powered BIM platform. “It makes juniors much more capable of performing like seniors.”
According to InEight’s “Global Capital Projects Outlook 2021” survey shared with Construction Dive, but they rely on general-purpose enterprise software like Microsoft Excel as opposed to purpose-built solutions. To improve productivity, Barth said, entrepreneurs should get rid of spreadsheets across multiple weaker platforms and stop trying to “do all sorts of heroics in Excel.”
Projects Controls Cubed (PC3), a San Diego-based virtual design and construction company with $7 billion under contract, does so with InEight’s artificial intelligence-based system. PC3 director Jeff Campbell says the platform is “like a superintendent with 30 years of experience who never retires.”
PC3 uses InEight’s AI to create an accessible archived project knowledge library to automatically generate schedules and budgets. Campbell said InEight Schedule also saves PC3 millions of dollars in claim discovery by allowing the contractor to retrieve time-stamped snapshots of projects instead of paying attorneys to dig through past documentation.
“That alone paid off,” he said.
Digital inspection will be crucial as IIJA projects prepare. State departments of transportation pay contractors based on measurable criteria such as tonnage of asphalt poured or number of acres cleared, said Tom Webb, vice president of strategy/R&D for HCSS, a provider of Texas-based civil enterprise software.
Horizontal construction companies are ahead of state agencies and DOTs, which have been slow to adopt the technology as they have struggled with small crews and inefficiencies since the Great Recession, a said Webb. He expects the heavier burden of IIJA projects — as well as contractor innovation — to force these owners to start looking for technology solutions.
“There are a lot of things that state DOTs track manually that contractors are already doing automatedly,” Webb said. “Over the next eight to ten years, you’re going to see them step up and start using some of these technologies. It’s going to help the overall efficiency of the projects.”