Disrupting Construction with Digital Design

Off-site construction is able to spotlight productivity, but only after changing the process.

Your project is about to begin. You’ve spent months on the design, pricing, and hiring a contractor and an architect. And now the real work begins.

Your timeline shows the construction phase to last 18 months. And that’s the timeline that your budget is riding on. It’s a complete chess game now to make sure all pieces are in place to make it work in 18 months, when it was originally scheduled at 21.

This conventional design, planning, and construction process is a collaboration killer, says the HIVE Top 5 Innovator in Building Technology, Magued Eldaief, CEO at Prescient.

“Parties are not connected or aligned to delivering a successful project on time and on budget,” says Eldaief. “At Prescient, took lessons from successful mass market products that are made in factories where integrated supply chains deliver parts to exacting specifications exactly when needed fed into a repeatable process under an umbrella of quality control. Applying same approach to construction.”

By driving the productivity up front and enabling it with a proprietary software, Prescient is compressing the planning and design phase. It also can cut out the back and forth that typically happens during the value engineering phase because that’s already baked in.

“The earlier that we get into the discussion with the developer and the earlier that we get into the design, we can influence cost, and reduce the risk of damaging timeline or budget,” Eldaief says. “We are trying to do a better job of coordinating all the trades by offering BIM, putting all the trades related to mechanical, electrical, and plumbing so that anything that is designed is exactly what will be put in that building. For every project we are learning how to do that more effectively.”

This model of exact engineering that Eldaief carries over from years at GE helps smooth out the supply chain. Designs can be executed fast in the construction phase when the map is so well laid out, plus trades aren’t stepping on each other, and there is no waste of time or money.

Eldaief has proved successful. Prescient completed a six-story, 225,000-square-foot off-campus student housing project with more than 500 beds and with a six-story attached parking garage in 10 and a half months, with a clock that started the moment Prescient was engaged with the developer and finished when the students moved in. Chris Hirst, senior vice president at CBG Building Company, says that results like that are unheard of in this line of work.

Hirst says that Prescient can get in and finish projects so efficiently and effectively because of the work stream. And, not only are they more efficient, but also everyone is happier. He calls it an “upward spiral.”

“Subs like it better, because it’s easier to do,” says Hirst. “They are better environments to work in, they are cleaner. It’s a quality of life initiative for the subs that work there. We aren’t rethinking things or tearing things apart to make it work, which can be demoralizing.”

When I spoke to Hirst he was on a jobsite in Kansas, where the outside temperature was close to single digits. However, because they used a prefab system, the complete exterior was finished before the building is roughed in, which means it’s fully heated. These efficiencies make it a nicer environment for labor and lead to hiring better subs and better foremen. Hirst says again that it’s all part of the upward spiral.

Not only was the project exterior completely done, but the contractor also was able to use prefinished door frames and prefinished doors to eliminate a trade from the entire project. These types of efficiencies are adding up.

“It’s not uncommon for [conventional] projects to go six months to a year over timeline,” says Hirst. “We have taken on projects now that in the past we wouldn’t have been able to guarantee with other structure systems. The costs with software based systems are more assured. What drives costs are change orders, things not anticipated by the design team. In this case, the design team drafts most of that. More homework up front, fewer change orders.”

Based on its success, it is starting other student housing projects that are all more than 400,000 square feet. These student housing projects have a lot to gain from this type of efficiency and exact timelines.