This is Technology

The Risk of Creating

Innovation is a bit of a paradox. The pressure which demands invention also explains why these feats rarely get attempted in the first place.

In the past, design and construction teams navigated this catch-22 by exercising extreme caution at every step of the building process. And the speed at which humans synthesized new information limited that process.

In the past, we carefully theorized, calculated, agreed upon, verified, and then redistributed updated paper plans to our teams. But each step increased the likelihood of human error, and along with it, the cost of committing one.

Few resources remained for innovation; that was our reality. Luckily, the world of Virtual Design and Construction (VDC) plays by a new set of rules.

Removing Unknowns

Tomislav Žigo, Vice President of VDC at Clayco, leads a team whose job is to mitigate design problems in the digital world in order to set the stage for innovation in the real one.

At Clayco, our team of VDC professionals thrives on removing unknowns by digitally rehearsing every possible scenario, allowing our builders to take full advantage of the speed and exactness that new, cutting-edge technology brings to the table.

“We realized we’re not only a real estate developer or a design-and-build company; we’re a technology company,” Žigo said, “and a technology company in this day and age handles an enormous amount of information.”

A Changing Landscape

Imagine a hospital without beds and a building whose walls can talk. At Mercy’s Virtual Care Center, that’s reality. In St. Louis, Mercy hosts the world’s first facility dedicated entirely to what happens outside its walls. The Virtual Care Center’s headquarters provides space for 330 employees, but no patients.

Think of it as a state-of-the-art vehicle for delivering digital healthcare. And our VDC team helped cut the ribbon on this facility by carefully selecting tools uniquely suited for the job. Programmed to run the latest technology, the four-story, 125,000-square-foot building includes highly sensitive cameras capable of monitoring real-time vital signs. The story was picked up everywhere from CNN Money to Architect Magazine. An editorial in Politico Magazine characterized it as cutting-edge.

This building empowers healthcare providers to see patients anywhere, from a $54 million nerve center.

There was no better way to put our technology to the test than by building this virtual health center using VDC. Mercy required that we deploy all aspects of our newest technology from the very early planning and job-pursuit stages, so we were firing on all cylinders. And the stakes don’t get higher than healthcare – after all, it has the potential to help save human lives – so, that kind of project taught us exactly what we’d hoped to learn: that the best innovations occur after consistent, virtual rehearsal.

“Mercy Virtual is arguably the world’s most advanced example of something gaining momentum in the healthcare world: A virtual hospital, where specialists remotely care for patients at a distance.”

– Arthur Allen
eHealth Editor, Politico

Combining Technologies

The process of breaking ground on such an advanced institutional project started with Reality Capture technology using laser scanners. The next step was gathering surveying information with the use of drones. Combining those two technologies, we were able to check construction quality by consistently verifying what was in the field against our digital model. The process helped immediately find addressed and unaddressed issues.

Cloud-based technology allowed us to create a “virtual command center” that kept all stakeholders up-to-date on the building’s progress. Enhancements to the Building Information Model (BIM) enabled the design team to learn and execute design changes based on ground conditions and climate information. For instance, the client could see how deeply sunlight penetrates into a building and how potential energy savings using daylight could be achieved. From there, we were able to generate multiple optimized floor layouts for the clients’ review by feeding earlier information into machine learning and artificial intelligence technology.

Supporting Innovation

Back when the work site was a physical place where everyone had to meet, making changes was more rudimentary and time-consuming. Documents got distributed by hand and filed away, and updating the plans meant recreating that process. Today, live digital information and files make up the documents, which get updated automatically in real-time, then made instantly available to everyone on the team.

The Executive Medical Director of Mercy Health System, Thomas Hale, MD Ph.D., counts himself among those pleased by its result.

“It is not often that a building and the physical environment initiates and supports innovation. However, that’s what you created for Mercy Virtual,” Hale said. The finished result, he added, “Blows people away.”

“There has yet to be a visitor or customer who hasn’t been overwhelmed with the features of the center, the internal culture it has created, and the integration of the physical space with the innovative care model that virtual care represents,” Hale said.

Virtual Command Center

The words used to describe innovative technology impact the way it’s understood once adopted. That’s why we updated the way we talk about building – now, we think about it as manufacturing.

Manufacturing places to live and work is, after all, a more accurate description of what we do. Because manufacturers follow a different process entirely, one that starts (and ends) from a single command center with the goal of producing a specific, thoughtfully designed product.

Cloud processing through a “virtual command center” allows Clayco to synthesize larger streams of data even faster, and to make sense of the information by harnessing cloud-based artificial intelligence and machine-learning software. The cloud platform has empowered our field crew, superintendents and subcontractors to have the most up-to-date information available at their literal fingertips.

This digital revolution has contributed to a dramatic uptick in efficiency. Everyone has an easier time coming to meetings ready because they tested their proposed solutions in the cloud. And if something needs change on the spot, it enables us to take these decisions from the “virtual command center” and place them on a mobile platform.

Confident Control

Previously, contracts got awarded based on a developer’s track-record of controlling a work site. With so many variables to account for – not to mention managing material and intellectual resources – every little change had potential to snowball.

That was back then, though. Now, we make our adjustments in the cloud instead of on the ground, and we innovate our processes in virtual reality before confidently deploying them in actuality.

Look at the buildings of today. Almost 60% of the cost of a building is labor and equipment, but imagine if you could deliver an entire building on 200 trucks, put it together in seven days, then walk away.

Build to the Future

The best way to predict the future is to create it. As we continue our growth and advance toward building the future the industry deserves, we’ll soon develop systems to help clients use augmented reality in a user-friendly way.

On a job site, imagine easily pointing a wearable device at a piece of equipment, and it automatically recognizes the content in front of you. Then, its software fetches all the associated data. This quick process lets workers see operation or service manuals floating in front of them without a wait.

This new method replaces the old, which typically meant you hunt down the person who had the manual last and hope they remember the drawer it’s tucked away inside.

A huge driver of our ongoing investment in technology-fueled innovation will be maintaining relationships with talent in the software industry. Academia is almost always at the forefront of testing and applying novel, innovative theories, so continuing to preserve relations with prestigious universities (and their students) is vitally important.

“The know-how that we have cannot just come from living in a bubble,” Žigo said. “It’s all about realigning our aspirations with existing technology, and it’s about our willingness to be at the bleeding edge for a while until that bleeding edge becomes cutting edge.”

The diverse solutions we seek require distinct teams tackling them. With technology that works by viewing the job from different angles and testing solutions from different viewpoints, it will continue to be important that we field a team who’s as holistically collaborative and individually distinct as the problems they hope to solve.

Stay Involved

Our goal of staying involved with creators of new technology places tremendous emphasis on diversity in the design phase, especially.

That’s also why, after realizing the value of welcoming unique insights and information from diverse angles, we started experimenting with image analytics.

As recently as a year and a half ago, a typical workflow would involve hundreds of people uploading terabytes of images on remote servers. If a team member needed to check a photo they took, the search would be like looking for a needle in a haystack.

Luckily, we learned if you burn the metaphorical haystack, you’ll find the needle fast.

As an industry poised for significant steps, we look to machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) for solutions. AI systems rely on the consistent availability of exact, high-quality, real-time data. The task of providing and managing that information was, in the past, a barrier to entry.

We Have the Technology

Today, we can build it. We have the technology. Our advanced new systems have unprecedented power to accomplish incredible feats of predictive analytics, activities recognition, equipment deployment optimization, and a range of other processing activities too complex for humans alone.

Dynamic problems require dynamic solutions. And dynamic partners to achieve them. But once those partners are in place, the answers tend to find themselves. The same people who designed our current cloud solution for project management also contributed the newest software we use to optimize information we already own.

This new software combs through and organizes enormous amounts of scattered data to help teams formulate solutions. The software uses artificial intelligence to make smarter use of the media we capture by labeling its content, location and the author. Now, images and their corresponding files directly organize themselves – making finding a photo from one part of a particular building on a specific day into a routine search.

This system, which we’ve successfully utilized on more than 15 sites, analyzes safety infractions, building materials, and equipment. Excited as we may be, however, these skills are still in their infancy. But the emergence of a genuine “virtual command center” helps teams collaborate and execute from anywhere in the world, so tomorrow’s advancements arrive faster than in the past.

A New Paradigm

Once you’ve managed a construction site from a “virtual command center”, it’s impossible to ignore its advantages. As the industry’s new gold standard, it’d be an understatement to say with VDC, we’ve entered a new paradigm. The new model is a fundamental rewriting of the rules, a new chapter in the story of how big things get built.

Clayco’s work is no longer exclusively within the project’s walls. Now, what happens off-site is equally fundamental to the project’s outcome. Beyond these walls, the team decides what goes inside them. And this new approach creates endless opportunities for collaboration.

That’s why, as we continue to journey into the uncharted waters of innovation, it’s vital we keep a thoughtful eye out for other pioneers in fields impacting ours. Just as Žigo and our VDC team prove every day, innovators do their best work in the company of other innovators.

There will always be sparks between gears when multiple disciplines test new ways to work together with new technology, but innovators see those sparks as a good thing. So, as we tune our goals to show more effective and efficient processes than we previously thought possible, it remains equally important to remember the philosophy that led us here.

Efficiency opened the door for innovation, so we will continue to adapt and find new ways we can make better use of our energy and resources. And we will involve a diverse array of experts from different fields.