For decades, mergers and acquisitions have shaped the design and construction industry’s business landscape. Through these mergers, companies have often achieved better economies of scale, branched out into new geographies and added new services and expertise. In the wake of the Great Recession, companies of all sizes have started to redefine themselves and we are seeing an increasing number of engineering and construction companies combining disciplines and expertise into full-service firms.
While design and construction functions are becoming increasingly complex and require ever-more specialization, the disciplines’ segregated silos are crumbling, creating space for integrated, cross-disciplinary thinking. This represents more of a “cross-company” – or even “cross-industry” – type integration and is a fundamental shift to converging disciplines into deeper knowledge to create solutions for tomorrow’s challenges.
Following are three key areas impacted by this new approach to designing, building and managing the built environment:
1. Systems Design and Simulation. The traditional function of design and engineering is moving in the direction of systems design and simulation. Buildings, infrastructure and other components of the built environment are already being modeled and simulated using vast computational power of the “cloud,” which allows participants to analyze various performance issues and building characteristics. Each component of a building, for example, may be simulated as part of an integrated system to optimize things like energy performance, cost, systems controls or any other aspect needed. This simulation-based approach provides a deeper understanding of design alternatives and trade-offs than traditional design methodologies, and enables participants to focus on solutions to an actual design problem rather than the artistic component itself.
2. From Prefabrication, Modularization to Assembly. Technology advancements in recent years have helped prefabrication services and modular construction make a comeback at a time when lower-cost, resource-efficiency and sustainable construction are becoming priorities. In fact, more and more companies are implementing processes and materials to deliver more sophisticated and complex facility types using modular approaches, particularly in the residential, health care, educational and military sectors. Companies like Toyota are already bringing the knowledge and technology of the manufacturing industry to the housing market with Toyota’s “Skeleton & Infill” approach, for example. Experts predict that in the future the most effective fabrication/assembly companies will service a globalized supply chain that delivers houses, schools and hospitals everywhere.
3. Operating and Maintaining Smart (Building) Systems. Many industry stakeholders interviewed over the past few years confirm that sustainable design and construction practices are creating novel opportunities for design and construction firms in the O&M space. With rapid advances in cloud computing and smart construction technologies, buildings and infrastructure components alike are expected to function almost like complete digital “nervous systems” in the coming years. In this scenario, embedded sensors collect and exchange information on a continuous basis – all of which ties back to the original model-based simulation when the design was created. With easy access to the cloud, owners or O&M representatives can optimize facility/infrastructure performance and react to issues at any given time.
To read more on the convergence of design and construction, access FMI’s White Paper, “Beyond Vertical Integration: The Re-engineering of the Design and Construction Industry”.