Insights from Engineering News Record (ENR) FutureTech West 2013 Conference

3D High Tech ConstructionIndustry leaders at the recent Engineering News Record (ENR) FutureTech West 2013 Conference explained and demonstrated the latest and future uses of technology, including simulation and computational approaches to analysis and aesthetics.  Specialty contractors showed examples of advanced modeling and production technologies that they were adopting.  In addition, new apps are being used in ways that improve project outcomes.

With so much information and so much technology today, the key question that Larry Beasley of Wayne O’Neill & Associates posed in an interview following the ENR FutureTech Conference was:  “How do you find the right data and how do you use it more collaboratively?”

According to ENR speakers, it is time to look at everything digitally in a building and apply exiting technology.  Big Data has uses beyond our imagination and we can benefit from it if we use it to interact with the built environment.  For example, keynote speaker, Dave Bartlett, vice president of IBM’s Smarter Buildings group who leads IBM’s Smarter Buildings initiative, presented a case study the company developed with the Los Angeles Unified School District. The study combined a smart phone photo application with GIS data and allowed students and teachers to document maintenance issues in the district’s facilities. “People are the smartest sensors we have,” Bartlett said.  Another example is the City of Boston who has real time aware buildings.  With smarter buildings , we have smarter houses, offices, parking facilities, companies and cities.


While exploring how these next waves of technology innovation in design and construction improve life and the industry, Beasley gained these 5 insights:

1.  Re-image the built environment.  “It makes good business sense to re-imagine the built environment,” said Bartlett.  He stated that one can gain 200 times the original construction value for work done in a building.   “New inventions are not needed as much as applying current technology,” said Bartlett.  “The goal should be a built world that is aware of the environment and the desires of its occupants, and supplies services only as needed. This scenario does not necessarily require elaborate systems, just well-thought-out ones.

Bartlett offered three keys to-imaging the built environment:

A.  Add sensors and controls to the world’s buildings

B.  Interconnect sensors and controls

C.  Make sensors and controls intelligent.

With a rapidly growing world population of 7 billion people, it is important to re-image the built environment in ways that are more sustainable.  In NYC alone, 40% of the energy and 50% of the water is wasted in buildings, stated Bartlett.   For more information on this, go to:

As one example of an opportunity for significant savings, Bartlett mentioned air-handlers that are triggered by CO levels, rather than by formulaic standards for air exchange. Another is to use data analytics to share energy more efficiently to reduce peak demand and maintain high levels of capacity. He stated that there is a phenomenon going on right now as revolutionary as the original internet was: the internet of things.  Bartlett said.  “It is time to reduce building energy waste by creating an intelligent built environment. Embrace the idea.  Champion it. Spread it.  I think this is a movement.”


2.  Bring the Right Information  at the Right Time to the Right People who need it ASAP.   According to speaker, James Barrett of Turner, a North America-based, international construction company, who work on 1,200 projects a year for a volume of $8 billion, we already have the right information.  We need to bring all this information down to a useful level.  Then we need to get that information to the people who need it as soon as possible.  The challenge is that there is a ton of information and it is hard to measure the return on this information and its use .


3.  Automation in Construction.  Behrokh Khoshnevis, professor at University of Southern California, cited a study being done at USC and looking at the potential for automation in construction.   Rapid Fabrication Tech. ( Futurist )  is working with USC regarding this on site automation for construction, which is the last frontier for automation which could lower time  and cost.   Through robotics, barriers can be overcome.  However, are we ultimately facing the elimination of jobs in the construction market?


4.  Rise of the Super Subcontractor.  A panel on “The Rise of SuperSubs” yielded a provocative discussion on putting subcontractors—such as HVAC designers whose 3D models already interface directly with fabrication systems—as project leaders, rather than architects or general contractors whose models do not. “I would prefer to work closer with trade subcontractors,” said Gerald Hartford, principal at Hartford Engineering, San Diego. “I want to take that product that we develop as designers and move it as close to fabrication as we physically can.”

As Darren Hartman of  Thornton Tomasetti pointed out in the discussion about who is at risk and who is responsible?  Plus, there is a huge need for coordination and more integration of ALL of the team.  Hartman also discussed how many BIM drawings need to be done.  Plus, Building Information Design intent for BIM and language needs clarification.  He suggested that you pick the best suited parties and push the risk to those parties which also brings value to the process.

Jim Bratton of Dynalectric pointed out that trade knowledge is necessary, isn’t that some of the existing information isn’t  that good.  GC’s  selling BIM as the great enabler, and that nobody is enforcing or changing the paradigm.  He says the construction system needs to change with more trade integration.   This poses the question:  How does this make us more of an integrated team?  We need to bring the design and construction teams (general, sub and trades) together.


5.  BIM Collaboration in the Cloud should drive us to more standardized data and broader collaboration.  This was the main point of the ENR conference!

Although technology is exploding in all directions, construction technology is elevating to new levels.

  • Rampant growth of smart devices on job sites.
  • Explosive development of construction technology apps.
  • Growth of cloud computing, helping to manage large project files with faster networks that connect far-flung work crews.
  • Collaboration and web services are becoming the norm on more and more projects and transforming how the industry operates.
  • Construction firms are seeing the value of deploying web services, which can be broadly defined as a set of protocols that help apps to interact over web-connected devices.
  • Web services are helping project teams use their smart devices to work with smaller slices of data from a larger building information model file and work with it in the field. From the data captured on jobsites, they are developing new work processes that save time and money.


The construction technology industry needs to foster more collaboration as they attract information and remember to be successful.  The object is:  get it to the people in the field who need it most, in an easy to understand format, and when they need it .


Leave a Reply

Revenue Growth Workshops

Stewardship to Equity