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An Executive Roundtable Tackles Virtual Design

Contributor: Swinerton Blogger   |   April 04, 2013
An Executive Roundtable Tackles Virtual Design

On March 13–15, a group of construction industry leaders from across the nation (and French Canada!) gathered in San Francisco for a three-day roundtable on how new technology is shaping the future of design and construction. Swinerton hosted this event in conjunction with the Young Presidents’ Organization (YPO)—a global network to promote the exchange of ideas and information among chief executives.

The goal of the roundtable, according Swinerton’s president and YPO member Jeff Hoopes, was to “bring all of our tech folks together to brainstorm about the future and ways we can work together. We’re all friends here. We don’t compete—we help each other.” The group included executives and their virtual design and construction (VDC) teams hailing from all corners of the United States, plus Quebec.

A portion of the summit was held at the eye-popping Autodesk Gallery, located in the historic One Market Plaza that was renovated by Swinerton in the 1990s. Surrounded by high-tech objets d’art created by Autodesk’s virtual design experts—including a 3D-printed motorcycle, fashion-forward custom prosthetics, and an eight-foot-tall LEGO dinosaur—the YPO teams shared ideas and strategies for maximizing new VDC technologies.

A diverse lineup of presenters sparked lively discussion. James McKenzie, director of Swinerton’s Center for Excellence, kicked off the morning with an overview of building information modeling (BIM) and its potential to transform project design and delivery. “It’s truly a disruptive time for the industry,” said McKenzie. “Future success will no longer be based on what worked in the past. Those who control the data now control the project.” Swinerton’s VDC manager Dustin Hartsuiker brought a superintendent’s perspective into the fold, inspiring the group with a run-down of the latest field technologies that are taking job sites by storm. Other presenters included reps from prefabrication designers Project Frog and IT wizards Stratafusion.

Autodesk’s Ken Stowe provided an analysis of BIM usage around the world, as well as ideas on how executives can calculate ROI for BIM on certain projects, minimizing waste and maximizing returns for both builders and owners. The group discussed ways to use BIM not only to improve building construction, but also to optimize lifecycle operations. Gary Rafferty, EVP and COO of Swinerton, added, “The beauty of BIM is its capacity to as a tool to educate owners on life-cycle costs, which can be as much as 20 times capital costs. This can—and should—be very intriguing to clients.”

YPO members shared their success stories of ways BIM has helped identify early design flaws, amplify project team coordination, and lead to better buildings and happier owners. Though the benefits of BIM are enormous, radical changes in project design are not without challenges. The group strategized on issues ranging from software licensing to data standardization to VDC team training. The human component on BIM is especially instrumental to its success. “Teams have to be retrained to think in 3D,” stressed McKenzie.

The next day, Swinerton hosted the YPO group at its South of Market headquarters to strategize on deeper implementation of BIM and collaboration for shared success. After a jam-packed three days, executives and their teams dispersed to their respective regions ready to put new insights and ideas into action. With the rapid pace of new construction technology, there is sure to be much to report on at the group’s next, semiannual meeting!

-By Madigan Talmage-Bowers