Improving workflow connectivity, from feasibility study through operation, is the key R&D area for Trimble’s construction portfolio, says Senior Vice President Bryn Fosburgh
The annual global construction spend is about $7 trillion, which is around 10% of the global GDP. What according to you is driving this construction boom across the world?
Emerging economies have seen significant growth in the recent times. India, China, and parts of Africa are all seeing huge building construction projects as well as linear construction ones like roads, airports or railways. These emerging economies are thus driving the new infrastructure build. On the other hand, in the more traditional economies like Europe, we are seeing a renovation boom — renovation of existing buildings to improve either energy efficiency or safety.
In the construction world, we are increasingly seeing integration of BIM with geospatial technology. How does this integration help?
No one lives in just a geometric world. You can define any building geometrically with a set of lines and objects. But there is also a set of attributes in that building — the colour of the tile, furniture, the actual floor, doors etc. These attributes define the building’s model. And over that you need the geospatial attributes. One of the key ideas behind the Trimble’s SketchUp acquisition was to enable this merger of geometric model with GIS. It gives the customer a more real-time view of what their assets look like.
Today, BIM is model-centric and not GIS-centric. There are many factors from the GIS perspective. If you look at Esri, it is very GIS-specific, while Autodesk is model-specific but weak on the GIS. Trimble is looking at how to merge the model with GIS. Herein, we think we offer something very unique — our products have rich GIS attributes while we have some very strong design packages. We are looking to merge the two, both in the back offices as well as on the field.
How can greater collaboration between stakeholders be achieved in workflow solutions, especially DBO projects which need information mobility between various aspects?
The main reason for rework or decrease in quality is due to data loss during the handover from one phase to another. Trimble’s ‘Design Build Operate’, or DBO, portfolio allows seamless data transfer through the entire workflow. Further, most customers have a multitude of products, and the key for us is to integrate that entire process, which is done using Trimble and non-Trimble products. For instance, we have an agreement with Bentley, so we do not allow data to become a competitive advantage for either. We have both agreed to share the data and its transfer, so as not to impact the customer. Trimble is also looking at working with other manufacturers within this industry.
Just like with OGC, there is an IFC or open standard BIM transfer in construction world. And like with all open standards, there is a weakness there: they can never be as rich as true integration. That integration has to come up at the API level, more than just an open standard data transfer.
Countries like the UK and Singapore are on way to making BIM mandatory for energy-efficient buildings. Where do you think other countries stand for this to become a mandate across the world?
I would say it is more than just energy efficiency. If you just look at some of the building collapse issues, having a very well-defined model or knowing how a particular building was built helps in the safety aspect too.
Also, when it comes to buildings owned by the government, there is a huge cost savings in the actual building of the structures. So I think more and more governments would approve of such legislations in the future as the benefits become increasingly apparent.
Do you think the emerging markets are mature enough to understand the advantages of the workflow solutions you are talking about?
The issue is how you put across the message. And I think the message many a times is different from one economy to another. The message probably for India from our building construction perspective would be more around safety and quality. There might be a bigger price issue, as compared to, say Germany, where there may be a bigger productivity message. That is why localisation is very important. High content is as important in Mozambique, as in Delhi or Alabama. The issue is sending the right message and making sure that the solution is localised for Delhi, New York or Cape Town.
You may say awareness levels about this technology are low in the emerging nations. But then, even in the developed economies, the awareness level could be strong or weak depending on the solutions. We have some countries where the technology is very penetrative but in some places this has not been so. In those places, perhaps we have not got the right message across to the people and we have not had the right go at the market in terms of having the right people to help us sell there. To me, it is irrelevant whether that is an emerging economy or a developed country. The difference between the two would be the right price point and localisation. The price point is different in India than it is China than in the US.
Also, if penetration is low for us, it is just as low for our competitors as well. Therefore, we have to collectively come up with the right message, the right way to deliver that message and the way to sell, service and support the technology.
You talked about renovation of existing infrastructure. How can we convert the existing 2D models into intelligent 3D and 4D models?
For precisely this reason, scanning has become such an important part of the building construction industry. Scanning helps us create a new model and supplement existing models to be able to rebuild. Scanning has been the biggest change in the building construction remodelling business.
For the construction industry, how important is empowering the field workforce?
Connectivity between the field and the office is becoming more and more important. Is your smartphone an office device or a field device? It depends on how you are using it and where you are sitting. An architect is not going to be just looking at a computer sitting in his office. He could also be looking at a tablet or smartphone, and doing sketches or modifications right at the construction site. With technology advances, data sync is happening in real time and there is a blurring of line between the field and the office.
Improving workflow connectivity, from feasibility or concept through operation, is the key R&D area for us. Our solutions focus on improving interoperability between Trimble and non-Trimble products. We are also looking at integrating all Trimble sensors to help measure data in the field and building appropriate user interfaces around that to be able to collect and create accurate 3D models. The direction is how to improve connectivity and mobility, and empowering the workforce on the field.
Trimble is now transforming into a services and total solutions company. What does this mean from the construction industry perspective?
In the construction business, Trimble looks at the entire workflow — from the concept of the construction work to all the way in operation. We use technology to improve either productivity or reduce rework, and improve quality, which involves using hardware or software or an entire solution to solve a customer’s problem. And we use a multitude of technologies across all our franchise businesses to address the workflow from A to Z.
If I have to build a road from Delhi to Chennai, the first piece of that work is feasibility study. Trimble software can be applied to determine the best alignment on the road from Delhi to Chennai. And that ‘best’ is in terms of cost, safety or avoiding certain cultural artefacts that you may not want to destroy in the process. We then get into the estimation and design phase. Here, we have partnerships; for instance, we have a strong tie-up with Bentley for design software. We also have our own design software.
Once the design is done, a surveyor needs to measure the ground. We also use geospatial imagery from satellite data or fixed wing airpoint. A comparison of the actual ground and the design gives the estimate of how much dirt must be moved to create that road. Trimble has the software and surveying equipment required to do that. The completed design goes on into a machine like a JCB or a Caterpillar, which pushes the dirt in the right places for building the road.
The last is the operation part, where we have RFID tracking systems to track various assets along the actual roadway for maintenance and estimating the amount of traffic passing through a particular toll booth.
So, Trimble has the complete range of software and hardware solutions which are sold as solutions or as a complete service that goes through the entire workflow. Our solutions also have a worldwide view, so that they can build a road not only from Delhi to Chennai but also from Frankfurt to Munich, or Washington DC to Pittsburgh or Paris to Nice