Why construction companies are thinking like manufacturers

Combining the tools of high-tech manufacturing with BIM (building information modeling) will make it possible to design and erect buildings faster, more safely, and with less waste

In the Future of Making Things, the convergence of how things are designed and made across Manufacturing and Architectural Engineering Construction industries is accelerating faster than ever before; Construction companies are operating more like manufacturers by utilizing smart models, 3D printing, pre-fabrication, assembling things like apartment units, exterior walls, and ductwork offsite. Building product manufacturers are collaborating closely with BIM contractors exporting products in intelligent BIM format. Manufacturing is borrowing virtual reality and augmented reality technologies from the Media & Entertainment industry to help engineers visualize their designs, monitor, optimize manufacturing operations and increase sales of custom products. Soon, people from all industries will face similar challenges and need similar capabilities..

Consider this graph which compares the productivity gains in Construction vs Manufacturing.. There is considerable upside for manufacturers to consider ways they can work across industries, they should look and think of the opportunities of making their mark on non-traditional manufacturing industry and construction companies should look at how manufacturing have been adopting advanced technology and constant process improvement through the entire lifecycle to increase productivity.

Since the early 1980’s, manufacturing have been utilizing 3D technology, virtual simulation, digital fabrication, robotic welding, automation, managing BOM (Bill of Materials) and producing a digital twin before even entering the workshop floor. A single collaborative model with manufacturing sequencing, costs and lifecycle information..

We have gone through the Era of 2D documentation, the Era of Parametric Optimization and are now at the Era of connection; Manufacturers are embracing architectures that connect their entire processes to deliver efficiency and customer service. By connecting their products using sensors that provide valuable feedback such as when/how it’s being used in the field, when it needs to be serviced, intelligent products can order spare parts and these key insights will help improve the next generation product. We are simulating the entire life cycle of a product in the cloud using real-time insights.

The Smart connected buildings of tomorrow will transform how buildings are built and operated, monitored, and controlled for lower costs and a better work environment. Imagine being able to perform preventative maintenance, managing your assets remotely and gain valuable insights.

We’re on the brink of the 4th Industrial revolution and the only thing that will change is everything; the possibilities will be multiplied by emerging technology breakthroughs in fields such as artificial intelligence, robotics, the Internet of Things, autonomous vehicles, 3D printing, nanotechnology, biotechnology, materials science, energy storage, and quantum computing.(Read more about First Industrial Revolution, Second Industrial Revolution, Third Industrial Revolution/Digital Revolution)


“We knew we had a viable solution, but we had to come up with a viable way to manufacture it. We had to explore other industries — aviation, automotive, heavy equipment — that could manufacture to tolerances that would make this system possible. But those standards weren’t being applied in construction, because our industry is so craft-based, custom, and one-off.” — Robert Simmons, Co-founder and CTO, ConXtech

Modular or prefabricated green buildings, designed and constructed in factories using precision technologies, can help achieve specific standards. These buildings are higher quality and more sustainable than buildings constructed on-site through manual labour. They are potentially twice as efficient compared to on-site building. Less than 5% of new detached residential buildings in Australia are modular green buildings. In leading countries such as Sweden that rate is 84%. These technologies include numerical controlled machinery, robotic assembly, building information models, rapid prototyping, assembly lines, test systems, fixing systems, lean construction and enterprise resource planning systems. construction time can be cut by up to 40 per cent.

Generative Design

Promises not only to change the way manufacturers create products but also how architects and designers create buildings. By using design goals and then exploring innumerable possible permutations of a solution to find the best option that’s all computer generated; Imagine that you could optimize floor plans, light levels by combining blueprints with external factors like neighboring buildings and traffic flow. With this technology tomorrows products and buildings will look a lot different then today.

3D Printing

Manufacturing is combining generative design and metal 3D Printing to create products that we previously were unable to produce. Such as a super efficient heat exchanger. Companies like Laing O’Rourke use 3D printing technology to create wax moulds for precast concrete. “We are having no problem proving savings upwards of 50 per cent,” says James Gardiner, Laing O’Rourke Australia’s design innovation head, who led the development of the system. “In some cases we are making savings of 90 per cent.” A construction firm based in Dubai has announced plans to build the world’s first 3D-printed skyscraper. UAE have already 3D printed buildings.

Using Automotive know how and their Industrial Robots companies like MX3D are now able to 3D print steel bridges in Amsterdam.


Companies such as Fastbrick Robotics are building a new revolutionary commercial bricklaying machine that promises to dramatically reduce labour costs, improve speed, accuracy, safety and reduce waste. ConXtech is reinventing the way that structural steel-frame buildings are designed and built by utilizing robots to weld the connectors to beams and columns, using a set of fixtures and jigs. The fixtures simulate what the finished assembly will attach to in the field and hold it in an optimal position for welding: If it fits together in the factory, it will fit in the field.

Virtual Reality & Augmented Reality

Manufacturers are already using VR for customer presentation or internal design reviews as VR can support an enhanced visualizing experience. By moving from physical to virtual processes, manufacturers and their suppliers have helped close communication gaps and shorten the overall time to market. In AEC there’s a lot of data for architects to absorb — so much that it can be tough to figure out how to go about it. According to information-theory research, the brain is inundated with 11 million bits of data per second, yet it can only process around 50 bits at a time. But just as a photo is worth a thousand words, so is a VR experience worth thousands of data points. Infuse data into an immersive visual experience, and designers will be able to take it in more effectively and efficiently. The technology can also open doors wide for property developers, architects and renovation companies. Instead of hand-drawn plans, businesses can present 3D mock ups, switching out finishings and colour schemes to make the planning process more interactive.

Augmented reality could transform how construction works. Autodesk’s cloud software combined with AR have successfully delivered augmented designs to the worksite. Workers can now bring their plans to life. It takes a lot of people to complete construction of a building, from structural support to duct work, from electrical to plumbing. Until now, everyone had a clear view of their piece of the puzzle, imagine that you now can integrate the information into one unified view, to see aspects of a building before they’re built. To quite literally, see the future.

Laser Scanning and Reality Capture

By digitizing assets defects can be reduced by 49%. Metrology has always been a requirement in the manufacturing environment, tolerances have tightened substantially and continue to do so as high precision manufacturing becomes more demanding. Improved accuracy and efficiency of manufacturing through better measuring equipment and process chains with integrated metrology for process control is key. We can scan entire factories before a fit-out/upgrade to create a digital asset and run clash detections between scan and 3D model to avoid mistakes, savings are considerable.

Say you are interested in creating a high-rise with amazing views of the city. A drone can capture those exact views from any height and in any direction. It can capture high-resolution photos for a super detailed site plan. UAV’s can highlight various features of the building. Aerial photos of the site can explain how your design fits within the larger context.

Will BIM increase sales for manufacturers?

As a manufacturer, you spend a significant amount of your time thinking about optimizing your operations. When it comes to manufacturing, technology brings efficiency to your processes and cuts down costs. Create high-performing products, streamline product fabrication processes. What about the process of delivering information to your clients? Autodesk enables you to win more bids with BIM-ready models. Work more effectively with architects, building engineers, and contractors. Configurable parametric mechanical 3D models with manufacturing data including tolerances from Inventor can be exported to Construction 3D BIM models Revit. Potentially opening up a new source of revenue or increased sales, being seen as a BIM for Manufacturing company will almost certainly be a major plus point for anyone manufacturing for construction, it could also be a contributing factor for deciding who a contract is given to when tenders are awarded. Create and host BIM content for your products on your own website. Customers can configure products according to specifications, directly from your manufacturing models online, and download BIM files as needed for their building projects.

Connect your design, engineering, manufacturing and sales processes to the building ecosystem and the key stakeholders who have the power to specify your products
Are you a disruptor or will you be disrupted? How will you use tomorrows’s technology today to challenge your industry?

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An Industry 4.0 Evangelist, futurist with a strong passion for advanced manufacturing; Richard Elving is a multiple award winning Territory Sales Manager MFG at Autodesk. A 14 year sales career reflecting experience and outstanding performance in the Product Design and Manufacturing Industry with an extensive network through the manufacturing community across Asia Pacific and Northern Europe.