America’s critical infrastructure is in need of investment and rehabilitation. In fact, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) has given the country’s infrastructure a “D+” rating in its last two Infrastructure Report Cards. That “D+” rating implies that the nation’s essential infrastructure, ranging from roads and bridges to power grids, are, “…in poor to fair condition and mostly below standard, with many elements approaching the end of their service life.”
When the GovDesignHub sat down with Casey Dinges, the Senior Managing Director of the ASCE, he explained just how stark the problem really is, and how impactful failing infrastructure can be to the nation.
“The World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report 2019 ranked U.S. infrastructure 13th in the world…The 13th position is a drop from ranking 9th in the 2018 report,” Dinges explained. “It should come as no surprise that the U.S.’s economic competitiveness also fell, dropping from 1st in 2018 to 2nd in 2019, behind only Singapore, who boasts the highest-graded infrastructure.”
With infrastructure quality tied to economic competitiveness and a “D+” on our record, it should also come as no surprise that the incoming Biden administration has made infrastructure spending a priority – pledging to invest up to $2 trillion in new infrastructure investment.
But infrastructure construction projects have gotten a bad rap in the past few decades. It’s a widely held belief that most public works, transportation, and other projects come in way over budget and way behind schedule. Take the ongoing Purple Line project here in the Nation’s Capital as an example – the addition of a single line to the WMATA’s Metro train service is currently $800 million over budget.
So, how can we be sure that Americans will get the most for their $2 trillion infrastructure investment – should it come to pass?
Technology could play a major role in that. We recently sat down with Todd Weyandt, the Director of Marketing at Applied Software and the host of the award-winning, Bridging the Gap podcast, to talk about the role that technology is playing in making infrastructure construction more efficient.
GovDesignHub (GDH): The construction industry – especially when it comes to the construction of large infrastructure and public works projects – has a bad reputation of completing projects late and over budget. Cost and schedule overruns seem to just be a part of these projects. Are there any particular reasons why these projects are always costing more than anticipated and taking longer than anticipated?
Todd Weyandt: I view one of the main drivers of that as a lack of proper communication and coordination between key stakeholders. Most of the time, people are only brought in as needed and not for proper coordination of the details on the front side during the planning of the project.
Also, as a general rule, construction doesn’t take advantage of the vast amount of data it has available. I mean, we give estimates on everything instead of leveraging data and designing with the exact products we will build with.
GDH: We don’t often think about construction when we think of technology and disruptive new technologies, but that could be about to change. What new technologies are out there for the construction industry? What do these new solutions do?
Todd Weyandt: I think this is definitely changing. The construction industry is on the verge of a dramatic technology industrial revolution. It is already happening. You see the big increase with investment capital coming into the ConTech space to help build that up.
In addition to that, we see technologies like Autodesk Construction Cloud enabling construction firms to harness data and collaborate more efficiently with the BIM 360 product line; eVolve MEP helps the
mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) trades scale their detailing processes in Revit.
There has never been a time like this in the construction industry – when you could break down silos, become more innovative and leverage the data to become better, smarter, and more efficient.
GDH: How could technology play a role in making construction cheaper, faster, and more efficient? How can digital design play a role in this?
Todd Weyandt: The past year has proven the advantages and use cases for digital workflows, even in a physical industry like construction. Digital design and workflows allow you to work faster and collaborate in real-time with different stakeholders earlier in the construction process.
In the past, the architect would design a project and pass it to the general contractor, who would pass it to the subs. Then, if there was a change needed, the process would start over again. Technology now enables everyone to be working on the same model at the same time with the same accurate information.
GDH: What about generative design, 3d printing, and prefabrication? How can these manufacturing trends and technologies play a role in AEC and construction? What impact could they have on the industry?
Todd Weyandt: This is the space the construction industry will move into in the next decade.
Construction will look drastically different in 10 years than it has in the last 50 years. The prefabrication principles of DfMA being adopted by the industry is the whole reason why we are experiencing the new industrial revolution.
As Amy Marks, Autodesk’s “QueenOfPrefab” says, “When Industrialized Construction is implemented correctly, it enables the industry to be predictable, safe and sustainable.”
Industrialized Construction continues to be one of the most promising developments for the future of the design and construction ecosystem.
GDH: Where is the construction industry when it comes to the adoption of these new technologies and solutions? Is adoption widespread? Just starting? Are there any roadblocks or reticence to embracing these technologies?
Todd Weyandt: Frankly, it is a totally mixed bag. You see firms that have completely latched on to the new technologies and gone all-in with Industrialized Construction. Then you have others that are still dragging their feet and stuck on the mentality of, “The way we have always done it.”
However, I see a groundswell of innovators coming into the industry and demanding a change. Really, the biggest roadblock I’ve seen is resistance to embracing a growth mindset. One of the themes we tackle a lot on the Bridging the Gap podcast is figuring out the foundational building blocks that are needed to successfully implement and adopt technology.
The reality is that those building blocks include the corporate culture environment, good leadership, growth mindset, not being afraid to fail, and having grit. Change is hard, but if you aren’t adapting and growing, you are going backward.
GDH: We’re on the brink of what feels like truly disruptive, revolutionary, technology-driven change in construction. What does the construction site of the future look like? How are AEC workflows different in the future?
Todd Weyandt: Construction of the future will start to look a lot more like manufacturing. Modular and offsite construction facilities are going to become the norm. Why would you not move in that direction?
You can better control the costs, your people can work on multiple “jobsite” projects at the same time, safety concerns are reduced and easier to control, and everything starts to become a lot more predictable.
“Construction of the future will start to look a lot more like manufacturing. Modular and offsite construction facilities are going to become the norm.” – Todd Weyandt
So, to circle back to your earlier statement that the construction industry has a bad reputation of completing projects late and over budget, offsite and modular construction will enable the industry to flip that script.
GDH: You’re the host of an exciting podcast called Bridging the Gap. Can you tell our readers about it? Where can they find it? What can they expect to learn if they tune in?
Todd Weyandt: The podcast focuses on the innovation and innovators in the construction and MEP industry. We aim to change the negative perception associated with construction by highlighting the amazing people and technology coming out of the industry.
We spend a lot of time focusing on the building blocks needed to embrace all the disruptive change happening, and we encourage companies in the industry that they can thrive while doing that. So, we unpack the growth mindset and what innovation truly means, along with how to transform your culture, mindset, leadership skills, etc. to keep up with the changes taking place in the industry.
If you’re interested in the future of construction, be sure to check out Todd’s incredible “Bridging the Gap” podcast by clicking HERE.