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The future of construction and digital collaboration

Two people use a tablet for digital collaboration on the construction site

The modern jobsite is in a constant state of refinement and innovation. Even pre-pandemic, the industry was starting to rethink current methods of development and embrace change.

While the pandemic has slowed down construction projects around the world, it’s still a good time to reevaluate processes and look not only to the future of the construction industry, but to the future of your construction company as well. In 2022 and beyond, teams will be expected to manage a backlog of projects. Productivity will be heavily valued. Methodologies, such as Lean, which emphasize team member empowerment, a shared vision, and efficient processes can benefit those of us looking to innovate right now. Below, we share an overview of a few construction trends that are gaining momentum in the current climate and discuss how digital collaboration can enhance workflow and play a larger role in the future of construction management.

Offsite construction

There’s something to be said for a controlled work environment that isn’t at the mercy of the weather. Modular, offsite, prefab – whatever you want to call it – this style of construction features building “modules” constructed at an offsite location and then assembled onsite. Modules help team members construct buildings more quickly while reducing the likelihood of significant interruptions due to inclement weather. This protects both the tradespeople and the customer’s bottom line from the risks and complexities of delayed projects.

Offsite also lends itself quite well to digital collaboration and could play a part in shaping the future of construction management. Unlike the traditional jobsite where crews are waiting for direction each morning, modular construction updates team members each day with what needs to be done to keep up with the project plan. Lean workflows are a necessity for this style of development, as they encourage open communication and responsibility to ensure work gets done on time and that project “hiccups” can be addressed succinctly without affecting the project timeline.

Design for Manufacture and Assembly (DfMA)

DfMA construction is a new development style that utilizes products which are designed to simplify installation onsite as well as significantly reduce waste in costs and labor. In the same vein as offsite construction, but mixed with assembly-line style manufacturing, these products are carefully selected and manufactured to the project’s exact specs at a separate location. With DfMA for example, instead of ordering bulk lumber to be delivered to the jobsite and then having crews fabricate specific parts onsite, all building supplies could be pre-fabricated in the future prior to jobsite delivery. As you can imagine, many see this concept as having an important part in the future of building construction, not only because it saves valuable time, but it helps teams reduce resource waste and material clean-up at the end of a project. The timeline from final day of construction to occupancy can be significantly shorter with DfMA.

By integrating digital production systems in both the pre-fabrication and project execution stages, all teams are afforded an insight into the progress of material manufacturing as well as the overall progress of the project. Effectively, this could eliminate the frustration surrounding common issues that arise with material deliveries, such as material fabrication taking too long, delayed installation, and incorrect orders, among others. These issues can accumulate and are often a significant factor when it comes to delayed project completion. Lean is a resource that can take DfMA to the next level, empowering our crews to plan their work at a material level for maximum productivity.

Design-build development

Okay, so design-build isn’t necessarily new, but it’s exploding in terms of popularity and could potentially contribute a great deal to the future of construction. The industry is taking note of the benefits of design-build – namely, how it minimizes disputes with design and construction teams operating under one roof. There are two main reasons why customers can gain a lot by going with a design-build firm: namely, there are fewer unexpected costs and productivity is streamlined. With architects, engineers, and contractors working on the same team, specs and equipment layouts are collaboratively produced to ensure a building’s design is cohesive (e.g., you won’t run into an issue with the HVAC layout after the building has already been through most of its development). Once a design is complete, there should be no waiting around to break ground, as all parties will be already in agreement.

Digital collaboration is ideal for contractors in design-build developments. Once building plans are set, team members can quickly get started and update client-facing project engineers, architects, and executive-level management in real time without the need for time-consuming communication efforts. The Last Planner System® enables the team to voice project concerns if they arise, and with full access to the timeline, they can pivot as needed. With major productivity benefits already available, Lean can optimize this style of development even more.

Digital construction tools could play an important role in the future of house and building construction, especially as developers look for ways to improve productivity as they start to take on more contracts and complete projects that have been delayed due to the pandemic.

Integrated Project Delivery (IPD)

IPD is an approach that integrates people, systems, business structures, and practices into a process that incorporates the talents and insights of all stakeholders to optimize project outcomes, increase owner value, reduce waste, and maximize efficiency in all phases of design, manufacturing, and construction.

Combining all the trends listed previously, IPD challenges the existing project execution process and unifies the design and construction phases. Reliable conditions (multi-party contract) and a transparent and structured way of working (Lean methodologies) enable the newly created cross-functional teams to achieve their goals. Mutual transparency forms the basis of a more collaborative approach that benefits all parties involved.

Even with the pandemic, the future of the construction industry looks bright. Digital collaboration applications can help the industry transition to a more productive workflow that generates more value for clients. The major trends of the industry in terms of offsite construction, DfMA, design-build, and Lean IPD are growing in popularity. Digital collaboration products are aligned with the industry’s efforts for continuous improvement and could prove to be invaluable assets for any building company in the future.