AEC Technology Updates: Construction and FM Applications AECbytes Newsletter #73 (February 12, 2015)

This is the first of a two-part article series that captures the key semi-annual updates of the main developments from AEC technology vendors in the last six to seven months, following the AEC Tech Updates article that was published in the Fall. There has been so much activity in this space recently — which is good news for the AEC industry — that the updates had to be published in two parts: one related to design and analysis applications, and the other related to construction and facilities management applications. We will start with the latter category in this article; the updates related to AEC design and analysis applications will be covered in a separate article next week.

Trimble ProjectSight, AllTrak Cloud, and Rapid Positioning System

Trimble, which is fast becoming a leading technology vendor in AEC, continues to launch more products and update its portfolio of existing solutions, targeted for the entire spectrum of the building industry ranging from architectural and structural design (with SketchUp and Tekla) all the way to operations and facilities management (with Manhattan Software, Modelogix, and Proliance). It has a particularly large portfolio of products in many different construction-related categories, including project and program management, estimating, detailing, fabrication, field layout, 3D laser scanning, and service and asset management. It is attempting to bring together these different solutions into a synergistic whole so that they can work together by integrating them though Trimble Connect, its cloud-based collaboration platform. Recall from the previous technology update published in September that Trimble had just acquired Gehry Technologies at that time; it subsequently rebranded its GTeam collaboration software as Trimble Connect, which has now become the larger umbrella for all its technology products.

One of the new solutions that Trimble has just launched is ProjectSight, a cloud-based solution for construction field management that aims to simplify the creation, access, and sharing of project information between the field and the office. Designed specifically for contractors and construction managers, ProjectSight has a simplified user interface and is accessible via a Web browser or iPad app, allowing mobile workers to access up-to-date project information such as material tracking, issues reporting, information requests and critical project drawings, models and documents. It includes offline capabilities that allow this information to remain available even when there is no Internet connection, a common occurrence on construction sites. The information transfer works both ways, so that the data entered in the field is also immediately available to the entire project team in the office (Figure 1). To improve speed and productivity, ProjectSight also includes dedicated workflows with automatic alerts and notifications and standard forms specifically designed for construction management. While field management applications for construction are hardly new (with solutions by construction-specific vendors such as Viewpoint, Procore, Latista, and Penta, as well as by larger AEC vendors such as Autodesk with its BIM 360 Field), what makes Trimble’s ProjectSight compelling is its low barrier to entry—users pay a low monthly subscription to activate it and can invite an unlimited number of project collaborators to view and annotate their files and forms at no cost. The combination of ease-of-use and cost-effectiveness for a field management application is hard to beat.

Figure 1. ProjectSight lets construction mangers pin issues directly on floor plans, giving teams visibility into project data. (Courtesy: Trimble)

Trimble also launched two additional construction-related applications. Its new AllTrak Cloud is a cloud-based material asset management application for Mechanical, Electrical & Plumbing (MEP) contractors that allows tracking and management of tools and assets, which will facilitate better jobsite allocation, maintenance scheduling and tool utilization. With the typical MEP contractor maintaining thousands of tools and material assets, proper management and allocation of these items, in warehouses and on service trucks, is a constant challenge. With the real-time tracking information and management capability of AllTrak Cloud, contractors can know where their assets are currently located, who is responsible for them, whether the equipment is locked up at the end of the day, and whether dispatched service vehicles are properly equipped to complete a job (Figure 2). They can ensure that their equipment is properly maintained and available when it is needed. AllTrak Cloud supports both barcode and RFID technologies through a mobile scanner, allowing for easy check-in and check-out of equipment, enabling a complete audit trail of asset responsibility. Built-in certification records allows managers to ensure that tools are properly serviced and maintained, and that employees are properly matched to tools they are certified to use.



Figure 2. Asset tracking though Trimble’s new AllTrak Cloud application. (Courtesy: Trimble)

The third new solution launched by Trimble is a simplified positioning solution for building contractors that enables them to complete layout projects more accurately and efficiently. Called the Trimble Rapid Positioning System, it integrates two existing Trimble products: the Trimble RPT600 Layout Station to layout points and capture as-built measurements, and the Trimble Field Link 2D software running on a tablet to control the layout station (Figure 3). The integrated solution enables contractors to measure distances and find interior and exterior positions for layout points, including foundation layout, anchor bolts, walls, ceilings and hangers, on the construction jobsite. The RPT600 Layout Station includes a single-button set-up “Autostationing” workflow that enables the system to self-locate to automatically determine its position relative to the jobsite with no leveling required, allowing contractors to get started faster and with less technical expertise. The Field Link 2D software enables contractors to view their 2D design files and layout points via a technology to remotely see and measure through a live video feed from the instrument on their data controller. This allows the contractor to set up the tool in the most convenient location. The Trimble Rapid Positioning System integrating these two technologies also works with Trimble Connect, the cloud-based construction collaboration platform mentioned earlier, allowing the latest files to be downloaded and updated for a complete round-trip workflow from the office to the field.

Figure 3. The new Trimble Rapid Positioning System combines a layout station and an application running on a tablet to control it. (Courtesy: Trimble)

Newforma SmartUse

In October, Newforma announced the acquisition of SmartUse, a Montreal developer of a touch-friendly mobile platform for construction project collaboration. It is continuing to sell the product under the SmartUse name. SmartUse is essentially a solution for construction team members to review, annotate, compare, and share drawings and other project documents, on computers in their offices or on tablets at the job site. What makes the product really compelling is that it also operates on a large, 55-inch touch-screen display of an interactive graphics workstation, allowing for larger groups to physically come together and collaboratively review a project drawing, such as a plan, in full size, right in front of them (Figure 4). Some additional neat features in the product include the ability to pull in project drawings and documents from multiple data storage sources such as Box, Sharepoint, Aconex, and so on; the automatic creation of hyperlinks to detail callouts for faster navigation between sheets; the ability to manipulate multiple documents more efficiently, viewing them as thumbnails or expanding them to full size; and the ability to compare sheets side-by-side to track progress between revisions or detect clashes by overlaying plans from multiple disciplines.

Figure 4. Newforma’s new SmartUse app showing a drawing displayed in full size on a 55-inch touch-screen workstation. (Courtesy: Newforma)

While Newforma is still best known for its flagship product, Newforma Project Center, for project information management (PIM), it has been steadily expanding its product family over the last several years to develop solutions that address a broader array of business processes in AEC. One of its additional key products is Newforma Project Cloud, a web-based construction management and collaboration software for connecting project team members across all disciplines. It also has a suite of mobile apps for accessing and enhancing project information through smartphones and tablets. Thus, SmartUse fits in well with its overall strategy of facilitating the design and construction of buildings and infrastructure by providing several ways for team members to share, access, review, and manage project information. At the moment, SmartUse works only with 2D drawings (and other documents), and not with BIM models, but I’m sure that, as the use of models for construction becomes more commonplace in the AEC industry, future plans for the product will include being able to review and markup models as well.

Conworld

This is a totally different kind of construction-related application—it is more of a game for construction simulation, but one that can actually be used by construction professionals in their projects. The use of gaming for professional uses is not new: flight simulators have been used to train pilots for years now, and the use of simulation in the medical field for training prior to a surgery is gaining ground. Conworld makes a similar value proposition for the construction industry by providing a virtual online construction world that lets anyone interested in construction play arpund with construction processes as if they were on site using realistic machines, realistic products, and realistic processes (Figure 5).

Figure 5. Simulating the construction of a prefab house in Conworld. (Courtesy: Conworld)

The goal of Conworld is not only to entertain construction fans but also to interactively simulate construction site progress. It can be compared to a virtual Lego game, where you take the parts of a building and control in which sequence the parts are assembled at any time during virtual construction. With Conworld, you can first define the as-planned site progress in the virtual game and during construction you can build the “real” process virtually following the actions on the real site. If you then compare the two versions, you can see how the as-built project differs from the as-planned project. Needless to say, a “game” like this can be a great way also to train new entrants to the construction field on site planning and logistics.

Conworld is available in English and German. There is a free basic version and some special content that can be activated after paying a small fee. It is developed by a small studio based in Germany, and is being supported by leading machine manufacturers who would like to see their machines represented in the virtual game. There is no support at the moment for importing models, which would have been helpful to construction professionals—currently, they are forced to work only with the components that are available in the game.

Aconex Dynamic Manuals

And finally, here’s one AEC technology update entirely devoted to the “O” segment of the AECO industry—Dynamic Manuals, a mobile solution for the operation and maintenance of built assets. This product come from Aconex, which was founded in Australia in the year 2000 and is now a leading AEC technology on a global scale; it provides the world’s most widely used online project collaboration solutions for the construction, infrastructure, power, mining, and oil and gas industries, with over 300,000 users in most of the leading design, engineering, and construction firms around the globe. Its new Dynamic Manuals application, which works on Windows tablets, allows owners and their facility management teams to dynamically manage digital O&M manuals in the cloud.

Historically, O&M manuals have consisted of physical documents and drawings stored in three-ring binders. More recently, this information has been digitized and stored on compact discs (CDs) or similar media. Searching for, updating, and managing asset information for day-to-day operations can take hours for owners and their teams. Dynamic Manuals is actually the newest entrant to the suite of Aconex Handover solutions intended to alleviate this struggle—that owners and facility managers have without handover information that is complete and accurate, easy to search and integrate with other data, and useful from day one of asset operation. Other solutions in the Handover suite include Digital Manuals, which allows delivery of digital O&M information on storage media and O&M manuals linked to multidimensional BIM models; and Smart Manuals, which is targeted for contractors to improve the quality and usability of the O&M manuals delivered to the owner. The new Dynamic Manuals is targeted towards owners and makes the O&M information (created with the other two products) easy to access, share, search, update, and manage on mobile devices. The asset data is stored on the cloud-based Aconex platform, which also safeguards it in the event of a security lapse or natural disaster.

Dynamic Manuals provides users with the ability to view and update documents and technical files in the field, building on a tablet’s simple and intuitive graphical interface (Figure 6). Users can barcode or QR-code each physical asset in a facility and then scan the code using the tablet to access all information on that asset. They can also share asset information with subcontractors and other outside resources directly from the tablet or by email. All document updates and communications are captured in an audit trail that can be accessed at any time. Thus, all asset information can be updated in real time, allowing facility managers to keep up with assets even as changes occur, which in turn is critical to the owner’s efficient, cost-effective operation of the facility over its lifecycle.

Figure 6. Using the Dynamic Manuals application to manage and access the O&M information of a facility. (Courtesy: Aconex)

This concludes the recent technology updates related to construction and facilities management applications. Those related to AEC design and analysis applications will be covered next week. Stay tuned!

About the Author

Lachmi Khemlani is founder and editor of AECbytes. She has a Ph.D. in Architecture from UC Berkeley, specializing in intelligent building modeling, and consults and writes on AEC technology. She can be reached at lachmi@aecbytes.com.


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