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December 18, 2013

New technology driving construction over past 25 years

Over the last 25 years, construction has undergone a technological shift resulting in the need to both build projects quicker and increase collaboration industry-wide, noted a recent stakeholder panel.

“Collaboration is the way forward for people delivering services. The fewer silos we have, it’s just better for everybody,” said Dan McAlister, chairman of B+H Architects.

He spoke on a panel at the 24th annual CEO Power Breakfast at Construct Canada in Toronto, which in turn, celebrated its 25th anniversary this year as Canada’s largest construction trade show.

McAlister said there is potential for more integration between design and construction processes.

“We’re also finding there’s more potential for the integration of construction documents to be used for the construction manufacturing process, more off-site fabrication and easier installation on a job site.”

Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) is a new delivery model to Canada that requires the utmost collaboration.

“It is encouraging a much more collaborative approach, which ultimately ends up with a better product and a more timely response if the front-end planning is put in place. I think the owners have benefited because they have a much stronger participation in that process,” said Greg Moore, senior managing director, Project Management Canada, CBRE.

Though, he noted, in order for IPD to be embraced, there needs to be a significant paradigm shift in the industry’s approach to how collaboration is integrated into delivering the project.

“If there’s a design challenge that Dan’s team is facing, everybody steps up to the plate to come up with a solution that works. If you don’t have that approach, if you’ve got participants in the team who will sit back and watch the consultant struggle to come up with an answer because it’s not their responsibility, IPD won’t be successful,” he said.

Collaboration is also needed in order to embrace emerging technologies such as Building Information Modeling (BIM).

Mike Reinders, president of Maple Reinders Constructors, said small and medium-sized contractors, subcontractors and trades are scrambling to catch up to such technologies.

“Joint venturing is going to help that. The rest of us have to joint venture with each other to do these (public-private partnership) projects, therefore we’re sharing these technologies and it’s upping the requirement for us,” he said.

“I think we have to put greater emphasis on learning things like BIM.”

He noted that technology has changed drastically over the last 25 years, notably communication technology and in some instances it can be a case of speed versus quality.

“I’m not sure projects are getting done a lot quicker than they were 25 years ago. Maybe some aspects of it, but it’s also increased the intensity of building a building.”

He added that instead of superintendents being solely focused on construction, they are now focused on answering emails and text messages as well.

“We become reliant on technology. Construction is still construction, you’ve still got to put brick upon brick...those things don’t change.”

In the last 25 years, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) has risen up through Canada and the United States as the benchmark for sustainable design.

The panelists predicted LEED will diminish over the coming years as new and potentially better programs come out of Europe, but also as sustainable design has become more commonplace.

“It will come down to math and science measuring outcomes rather than a particular system like LEED,” said McAlister.

“It’s just something that’s going to become part of our standard practice and keep getting better and better and lower energy costs and less harm to the environment.”

Looking forward to the next 25 years, the leaders recognized there is still work to be done within the industry, especially for small to medium size businesses, to constantly innovate and collaborate.

Jim Dougan, president, Eastern Canadian Buildings for PCL and Douglas Smith, principal at Smith+Andersen were also on the panel.

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