Envisioning a One Model Future for Construction

In an increasingly connected world, construction is decidedly disconnected.

This is something Allan Paull, senior vice president with AECOM Tishman, has recognized over the course of his career, which includes some of the world’s most iconic buildings. New technologies improve parts of the construction process, but they are fragmented, working independently of one another.

However, Paull imagines a different future for construction. One where every project stakeholder – from owners to architects, steel fabricators to concrete masons, and, of course, construction managers – are all connected through one platform, one interface, one efficient piece of technology. One model.

Paull’s idea of a single model began during AECOM Tishman’s construction of One World Trade Center. Specifically, during the tower’s steel fabrication.

“Delays and steel go hand-in-hand,” said Paull. “Steel is a prefabricated product, with up to seventy percent of the work happening before it’s onsite. Changes are very difficult to make once the process has begun.”

Yet, changes are commonplace. The designs for a structure are not always complete before the steel process begins – engineers do schematic drawings and let steel contractors finish the connections. Mistakes and deviations are inevitable. Too many, and the whole process stops, delaying construction operations.

To combat this, AECOM Tishman took advantage of an existing technology and used it in a new way. Steel fabricators have been using electronic shop drawings since the early 1990s through a system called Tekla Structures, a steel detailing program commonly used in the industry. Paull and his team recognized that by tapping into this system, they could speed up the steel process. So, they created a geometric model of One World Trade in Tekla.

“For the first time, we were testing if we could employ Tekla models to our benefit,” said Paull. “It was an idea that we needed to troubleshoot. How would our clients react? Would every team member be on board? One World Trade, and then the World Trade Center Vehicle and Security Center, were the first step in answering these questions.”

Tekla models at the World Trade Center site led to a more streamlined steel fabrication process. Collaboration was further improved with the advent of cloud-based software. Tekla models connected to the cloud allowed every project member to access the same model, update it in real time, and send those updates directly to the steel fabricator. The team took advantage of this advancement during steel fabrication for One Manhattan West, as they were operating on a very compressed eight-month schedule from contract award to the start of field erection.

Tekla models connected to the cloud allowed every project member to access the same model, update it in real time, and send those updates directly to the steel fabricator

“Everyone wants rapid structural steel delivery, but it normally takes twelve to fourteen months to fabricate enough steel for field erection work to begin, due to the inefficient connection design and shop drawing process,” said Paull. “For One Manhattan West, we separated part of the steel detailing process and developed a cloud-based connected Tekla model, which defines geometry, member properties, and connections.”

This connected Tekla model was reviewed by the engineer of record and then released to the structural steel contractor to finish the shop drawings. The result was shop drawing approvals on the first submission, allowing for material procurement and fabrication to proceed at an expedited pace. This led to a compressed schedule and reduction in cost.

“The sooner a steel fabricator can get involved with the construction manager, engineer, and architect, the more successful a project will be, both in scope and schedule,” said Chet McPhatter, chief operating officer with Banker Steel Company. “Connected models speed-up the process significantly, as they allow for quick adjustments as the design develops. Shop drawings are therefore approved quickly, since the engineer of record has already reviewed them in the model, allowing erection to begin much sooner.”

With this success, Paull and his team employed the exact same process at One Vanderbilt. Steel arrived onsite in seven and a half months – five months ahead of schedule. These impressive results over several iconic projects had Paull wondering what other parts of the construction process could be integrated.

“If steel fabrication is becoming seamless, it makes sense that other parts, or even every part, of construction could be connected in the same way,” said Paull. “It takes a company like AECOM, combining the visions of designers, engineers, and construction professionals across multiple business lines and sectors to figure out how we can actually create this. It’s not something that’s going to be easy to do. But, with every success we have using these technologies, we get one step closer to a one model future.”

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