Silos changing: Buildings and manufacturing

Interaction rather than review capability is the key to successful industry network design confirms Mike Evans, research director at Cambashi.

Experts at industry analyst and market consulting firm Cambashi contribute a regular blog titled Silos Changing exploring how new software applications enable manufacturers to implement business initiatives for the new economy.

Smart products and devices require an industry network design approach. Even companies with the resources of Apple and HP don’t design every component in their products. Their new product introduction, in addition to in-house developers, involves a series of independent companies, some designing specific custom parts of the product, others contributing a variant of their own designs of generic components.

The pace of new generations of smart products is stunning. Apple have introduced a new iPhone, with significant increased functions, every year since June 2007. One challenge this poses is a need to reconfigure the industry network. Smart machines for industrial automation face similar problems. In order to keep up, manufacturers frequently have to create an instant industry network.

This has some similarities to the construction industry. The designer responsible for the building has to form an instant industry network.

With this in mind, we looked at the state of play of software solutions that assist Architects, Engineers and Construction (AEC) businesses to manage design data in an industry network.

In 2000, at an AEC software show in Washington, well over 150 start-ups proposed extranets for AEC companies to exchange their data.  Virtually all of these companies have gone to the wall.  The UK’s Idox McLaren business unit which acquired Citadon and 4Projects are two of the few survivors.  Well it was still the dot.com boom.

In addition, the main AEC software design tools have companion products that provide functionality for all the actors in a construction project to exchange data. 

Hospitals are among the most complex building projects with multiple mechanical services, sterile areas, and special rooms like operating theatres.  HerreroBoldt uses Autodesk’s Buzzsaw to co-ordinate the industry network designing a new hospital in San Francisco.  Buzzsaw was used by Mott Macdonald alongside Building Information Modelling for Heathrow’s terminal 5 project.

The tools also apply to large scale engineering projects. Bentley Systems’ ProjectWise is being used by Crossrail to connect the various project participants with 25 design contracts. The entire project exists in a digital 3D model which moves to the contractors and eventually the operators and maintainers of the railway.

Frank Gehry’s buildings, such as the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, are famous for their “manufactured” look.  Manufacturers can learn from the industry network collaborations creating that kind of building.

Gerhy Technologies is a spin off from the architect’s practice.  It sells solutions and services based on ten years of services expertise supporting Gehry’s projects. At first Gehry Technologies concentrated on the link from design to manufacture of the necessary building components. A high proportion of their business was professional services. They learnt a lot on the best practice in handling digital product and project information as they assisted with the implementation of software solutions, mainly from Dassault Systèmes. 

Based on this experience Gehry recognised that social media and streaming technologies could be applied to extranets. They have now announced GTEAM, as a tool for complex building projects. 

We’ve looked at these various experiences and think there is one important lesson to learn. To implement any cross-enterprise design activity, a software solution must provide the ability for designers to share design ideas at various different levels. 

It is important to ensure that the partners interact rather than review, otherwise there will not be buy-in to the many compromises needed between partners. New wide touch screen interaction will enable that.

It’s also important to be able to consider several alternative design options at the same time. It’s not a single view of the design but rather control of the different options and views that is needed.

Finally, this does not happen without training for the partners in the industry network. For the Crossrail project, Bentley and Crossrail set up a special academy so that partners could make the maximum contribution.

In future blogs, we will go on to write about other potential deployments that respond to consumer and business demand for smart products and devices.