The perception that construction is always an old-school industry is highly inaccurate—and has been for quite some time. The construction sector has made massive efforts in technology and innovation in the last few years, and we're in an excellent position to redefine the future of the built environment.
Who better to discuss the intersection of modern technology and construction practices than Amr Raafat, Chief Innovation Officer, Windover Construction? As a technology expert who's been in the AEC realm for over 17 years, Amr has seen firsthand how construction technologies like AI, 3D printing, and digital twins have revolutionized the building process.
Amr spends a lot of time at the Autodesk Technology Center in Boston, which is also where this podcast episode was recorded. He sees tremendous value in the facility as it helps "push this industry forward."
"I consider the Autodesk Tech Center as a hub for innovation, where we can share ideas and build global collaborations with manufacturers such as Howick in New Zealand, as well as experts in building software, like Twin Build and Photogram in Australia, plus other folks in Canada. So we're building these collaborations that can transform this industry forward," Amr states.
Beyond forging solid relationships, the Autodesk technology centers pave the way for cross-industry innovation, leading to higher value and efficiency levels.
"We're trying to provide value, whether it's cost efficiency for our clients or efficiency to save time."
Amr continues, "I also see this space as our gateway to cross-industry innovation. There's technology that's being used in automotive, industrial, and aerospace that we can apply into our construction workflows, so we can unlock huge cost savings for our clients."
Addressing the labor shortage
These technologies have certainly made things more efficient for Windover's teams, particularly as the industry grapples with labor shortages.
As Amr points out, "This is one of the ways we can tackle the shortage of skilled labor. Consider things done by hand 120 years ago; we don't necessarily have the folks with the skill set or even the time to build these parts. Now, we can create them very efficiently with any material using AI technology."
In addition to helping construction teams, Amr says that technologies like AI can also promote sustainable business practices.
"We actually have an opportunity in our field, in the EECU space, to make a big difference in the carbon footprint for our planet."
Case in point: Windover is working on a building in Connecticut for Blueprint Robotics that's set to be "the largest mass timber industrialized factory in the United States."
"It's going to be a fully mass timber structure, and it's one example of how prefab can help solve problems like global warming," he adds.
Amr is a big fan of digital twin technology, and he says it's one of the ways in which Windover helps clients improve their workflows.
"We've been delivering O&M manuals for years, but it doesn't make sense anymore. The time for this has gone. So in most of our projects—almost 90%—we end up with a fully coordinated 3D model, with all the trades in it."
He continues, "Delivering those books to the client didn't make sense. We wanted to invest more into those models and make them user-friendly, have comprehensive data, and include all the O&M data through AI. We use Autodesk Tandem for this."
This practice, says Amr, transformed the handover process for Windover.
"Our clients loved it. It's really transforming how facility managers view their buildings. You can go to any room, click on the air handling units and lighting fixtures, and get all the information. You can see when they were installed, model numbers, warranty information, everything."
Amr says Windover plans to level up their digital twin initiatives by incorporating sensors that help owners better track building performance.
For now, they're focused on providing a valuable living document that building owners can use for the long term.
"This will become a living document that can get updated. In 10 years, when they replace that air handling unit, they can plug in all this new data."
He continues, "The goal is to make this the standard for our projects. We did one for the Harvard University faculty housing and Endicott College. So it's becoming more and more of a standard for our handover process to provide good value for clients.”
“We often think this handover process is the end of the project life cycle, but it's actually the start for the client and building user. That's how we should think about it."
How to be successful with digital twins
What contributes to the success of a digital twin? Amr says teams must keep it in mind from the beginning.
"Start the process from the very beginning of the project. Ensure that the models include all the trades, geometrical data, etc. Then we can add them at the end before delivering the handover."
Digital twins aren't just for new builds
Another thing to note is that you can use digital twins for existing buildings.
It doesn't have to be a new construction," says Amr. "We are working with a client right now and we’re laser scanning their MEP facility. We're creating detailed models to add it to a digital twin platform, so they can keep track of building progress and support their future facility management."
As someone who leads the implementation of cutting-edge technologies, Amr understands the nuances and challenges of integrating new tools into existing workflows. So, how does he get his teams and clients on board?
The answer, he says, is communication.
"Most of our VDC team is communicating in real time with the field team and the project management team in the office on how we can listen, learn, and respond with all the technologies and capabilities we have to offer."
He adds it's vital to focus on mitigating risk and reducing costs, all while delivering more value and quality.
Building the right culture
Amr also stresses the significance of a firm's mindset and culture. At Windover, for example, one of their core values is taking intelligent risks.
"This intelligent risk, as well as building great things with great people, is a part of the culture of embracing innovation," explains Amr.
"When we go to our superintendents on the side, and we tell them about this new, unprecedented way of tackling a laser scan idea or BIM idea—they embrace it and say, 'Let's try it.'"
Digital Builder is hosted by me, Eric Thomas. Remember, new episodes of Digital Builder go live every week. If you're interested in learning more about construction tech and how your firm can be more innovative, catch my entire conversation with Amr.
Listen to the Digital Builder Podcast on: