The construction industry is ever-evolving, with a heightened focus on staying agile, efficient, and sustainable. It’s imperative to have the right technologies and partnership to help with new business drivers and industry changes.
We recently sat down with Ben Feltham, Director of Integrated Digital Delivery at Aecon and one winner of the 40 Under 40 In Canadian Construction, to talk about his journey in the industry, his career, and how agility and efficiency play a role in the work he does at Aecon.
Tell me a little bit about Aecon and what you specialize in.
Aecon is a Canadian leader in the development and construction of infrastructure. Aecon has a dynamic roster of ongoing projects in Canada and abroad, balanced backlog diversified across multiple sectors and duration, and there is a strong demand environment for its services..
I was brought in to work with integrated digital delivery. That includes our capabilities in BIM digital construction, GIS, information management, and data management on the operations side.
As the team has grown and our reputation has built up in the business, we’re now working to support most sectors of business in one way or another.
Walk us through your career and what led you to become Director of Integrated Digital Delivery.
I studied computer-aided product design and engineering in the United Kingdom. The degree was sponsored by Ford. When I graduated, I pursued opportunities in surveying and worked with a small contractor. We’d survey existing spaces and fit them out. For example, I worked at Gatwick on World Duty-Free, and I did a few spaces in Heathrow as well.
Later, I applied for a job as a Survey technician within Engineering data management in the railway sector in Network Rail. I worked my way up quickly to a manager position where I lead CAD and information management, and while I was there, I handled some large projects such as Blackfriars Bridge in London and London Bridge Station. I first got involved with BIM on these projects.
In the UK, BIM was mandated for all government contracts. I was working for a government organization at the time and had the opportunity to be involved with the development of BIM processes within the UK.
I then joined Skanska UK on the infrastructure side of the business leading the BIM document control and construction data management team. I had the opportunity to work on the Crossrail project and the Elizabeth Line that has recently been opened. Besides the Paddington Station project, I worked at Waterloo Station and was involved in tunneling and road projects around the UK as well.
In 2018, I received a call from Canada for Aecon. Since joining the company, we’ve built up our organization from just me into a team of 50 across projects.
What is your proudest accomplishment in your career?
A few career highlights stand out. In 2016, I won the Skanska Operational Excellence Award for my work on Crossrail. Recently in 2020 at Aecon, I got Canada’s Top 40 Under 40 in Construction award.
For project highlights, I’ve worked on such big projects– I see them when I’m walking around and can say, “I’ve worked on that, that, and that.” However, my favorite, I’d say, was the Wessex capability alliance project in Waterloo, London. The team there was very collaborative and it was under the alliance commercial model.
What are the biggest challenges you face in your role? How does technology help you overcome those challenges?
The biggest challenge I face is connecting lots of information points. In my role, for example, you need to be a master of nothing, but an expert in everything. It has always been difficult to connect all the different pieces of scheduling, estimating, and so on.
“In my role, for example, you need to be a master of nothing, but an expert in everything.”
Autodesk products are helping us bring those pieces of information together more easily.
Speaking of Autodesk Construction Cloud products, what have you enjoyed about Autodesk Build since its implementation?
Autodesk Build has helped us better execute in and connect the field. We have used Autodesk Build and Assemble to drive our 4D and 5D processes and complete successful projects.
As an example, one of the projects we’re working on at the moment is going well and ahead of schedule. IDD supported that project since the start of the bid and connected the technology and are driving it in the field. The collaborative aspect allows us to hold designers accountable and feed that information to the supply chain for more effective execution.
Our partnership with Autodesk helps us drive innovation and support the core business plans and goals within it.
When you think about the future, what are your plans to advance innovation and productivity at Aecon?
Right now, my future plans are all focused on the digital twin environment and the connected worker. I think that having a construction digital twin that controls and integrates design with construction will be one of the key things that we are going to be driving, along with how to better integrate that hardware into the field. We’ll be looking at how to integrate the digital twin back into the environment and how to integrate safety and stability as well.
Autodesk has tools which can help us innovate in the sustainability space, this is helpful because we can use it to track sustainability. We can track embodied carbon in materials while using Autodesk toolsets. Autodesk also has GIS integration that helps with material management. This allows us to present our clients with more sustainable options, and it can even help clients determine which materials to select. They can see that it may cost more upfront to use one type of material but it may have a longer-term benefit overall.
What advice would you give to the next generation of men and women preparing for the future of the industry?
To start, I don’t think you can beat project experience. Get your head down, and get as much project experience as you can. Second, don’t be afraid to knock on people’s doors and show them what you’re doing. Many people don’t understand how digital construction can help build smarter.
Finally, don’t be scared to ask people to mentor you. I’ve had fantastic mentors in my time because I’ve asked them directly.