Common platform in the works
The building construction industry has been slow to embrace technology and slow to react to technology as it affects day-to-day business. Other industries have embraced technology with significant benefits of improved efficiencies, lower costs, reduction of errors and faster and easier ways to do business. Now, automation for participants in the glass industry via computers and the Internet will no longer be a dream. Glazing contractors, manufacturers, suppliers and architects will test this new technology to make their jobs easier, less prone to mistakes and more profitable.
They number among many participants involved during the life cycle of a commercial building project. Many aspects of such projects change as participants interact by sharing ideas, so they must communicate continuously in a timely and clear manner. The aspects of a project that must be considered include esthetics, function, building-code restrictions, project costs and product compatibility. This description applies to the fenestration—glass and architectural aluminum products—portion of projects as well as to entire projects.
In the case of fenestration, participants include architects, general contractors, building owners, architectural aluminum manufacturers, glass manufacturers and fabricators, hardware suppliers, consultants and glazing contractors. Currently, communication between these team members takes place in face-to-face meetings, phone calls, conventional mail and e-mails. Most would agree that such collaboration and communication are time consuming, prone to errors and generally inefficient.
Very shortly, technology will automate and enhance the collaborative process using the Internet. People in many professions collaborate now by exchanging documents on the Internet. For example, researchers in the health-care industry have developed a collaborative site where medical experts review medical records and plan patient treatment. X-rays and other visual aids can be simultaneously viewed by medical collaborators at different locations. At the same time, note that while various collaborative sites exist today, few are industry specific or permit participation in decision-making processes.
At GlassBuild America, Sept. 13-15 in Atlanta, one of my clients, the DeMichele Group of Mesa, Ariz., will present its first iteration of a collaborative Internet application designed to interact with new technologies such as Revit 3-D AutoCAD, a brand of AutoDesk, and preview other software innovations. The Internet-based de-sign and collaboration platform enables many participants to interact on the Internet at any time anywhere in the world.
The secured-access site provides instant access to virtually all products and regional information such as local building codes, disability requirements and environmental constraints. This information guides collaborators in the choice of appropriate products. The first application will focus on the fenestration aspects of commercial construction. Let’s call this Internet technology the Architect Design Studio or ADS.
"Get everyone on the same page" most effectively describes the objective of the ADS application. Identifying suitable and compatible products for a given building design can be a formidable task. The fact that products and technologies are continually being introduced further complicates the task. Architects know a little about a lot of products; understandably, they often require assistance in selection. Interrelated glass and aluminum products generally complicate selection, thereby usually requiring face-to-face meeting with a person representing the building-product manufacturer. The expert system built into ADS software provides access to a wealth of available products so that architects will no longer be limited to familiar products and have no need to have a product expert call.
ADS will place virtually all products now available in one location, including newly released or specialty products. Once an architect enters some general information about the type of building such as location, desired performance criteria and frame configurations, the ADS system will offer compatible products from multiple manufacturers that meet those requirements.
The ability to identify suitable and compatible products will be based on artificial-intelligence software. Today, almost all products can be accessed on the Internet, but finding the exact location for each product can be tedious as can selecting the correct products. The ADS automatically searches and identifies the Internet location and provides the architect with instant access to the specific page containing the product information. Further, with the click of a mouse, the architect can be instantly connected with a sales representative or a glazing contractor to get answers. The architect and sales rep will simultaneously view the project in complete detail on the Internet, discuss options and reach decisions without leaving their offices. Hence, ADS could save time and money as well as reduce misunderstandings between members of the construction team.
By providing architects with the ability to select suitable and compatible products, the ADS system assures a credible design in the first pass. When anyone makes changes, compatibility rules and performance criteria will be automatically rechecked and conflicts identified. The ADS also provides architects with an Internet configurator enabling them to design elevations in the project without the technical support of a CAD expert.
Credible project designs can be roughed out in a few minutes with instant technical as well as esthetic feedback. Automatically generated two- and three-dimensional models will show color renderings and hardware detail. Budget estimates, structural and thermal-performance criteria, alternative-design comparisons and CAD drawings with details will be available for printing or downloading from the ADS site. The architect could also download a complete set of specifications including products, performance standards and manufacturers. Although the DeMichele software, as planned, clearly benefits architects, benefits will accrue for other participants as well.
Glazing contractors will benefit from Architect Design Studio. First, the system creates a foundation for a working relationship with architects. The ADS creates a controlled environment for information ex-change in common formats that eliminate misunderstandings. The system gives glazing contractors the ability to inform architects of the benefits of each manufacturer’s products. By getting involved early-on in product selection and assisting architects, glazing contractors seek a favorable recommendation at contract time. They can work online with architects to find suitable products and get true performance and cost comparisons. Questions can be answered quickly via the Internet. The glazing contractors and architects will reduce the chance of ordering incompatible products, thereby reducing costly change orders. When estimating projects, electronic files for specifications, product requirements and project information will be available for downloading. Project elevations and hardware selections will be available via reports or in files to be used with compatible estimating software. This will provide complete and consistent information to all bidders, ensuring the accuracy and integrity. Following the project award, the glazing contractor will have access to the product submittal information, saving time and resources.
Architectural aluminum and glass manufacturers as well as hardware suppliers will benefit from ADS. Currently, manufacturers and suppliers spend time and money meeting with architects during product selection. It would no longer be necessary for a sales rep to have a face-to-face meeting with architects to select products and CAD details, write specifications and provide estimates. Instead, ADS will do it. The ADS can be used to demonstrate online, through collaboration, the benefits of products to the architect in an unbiased format depicting performance and cost. Further, this could be done at the time the architect makes critical decisions. By taking advantage of this system to enhance their messages, manufacturers and their sales reps can reduce the overall cost of sales and create competitive advantages. The ADS system will provide a platform for sales reps to generate alternate bids comparing products based on performance and cost criteria, allowing for the opportunity to justify high-performance products. For example, a rep might sell a thermal versus a nonthermal system based on cost-versus-performance gains.
If a manufacturer’s products are chosen and cost justified, the specifications written by ADS will be correct and supported by the architect, thereby minimizing the chance the specifications will be broken. Finally, customers will receive three-dimensional CAD product details containing product attributes for fully automated takeoff. And once the ADS system has been implemented, users will surely identify many other uses.
Thus, on many fronts, commercial building construction cries out for a collaborative platform to reduce construction costs, time and errors as well as bring new products and techniques to the glass industry. This technology lies just around the corner to make it faster and easier for all of us to do business.