Transitions in construction

Transitions in construction

Whatever you thought, think again.

Student contributions

EducationPosted by Dan Engström Fri, March 09, 2012 01:02:37

If you have not read the earlier blog entry (scroll down) on this, it might be a good idea to do that first. It gives the background to what this blog entry is all about. If you have, then you get to dive right into our students’ suggestions for improving systems building in construction. With my comments.

Guaranteed quality of procurement documents

The first group of students have talked to the municipality of Luleå and decided to address the issue of quality in documents in procurement. Their business idea is to provide a thorough review of the documents before they are put out for offering, based on experience feedback from earlier project. The key issue is what the processes are to take advantages of the experiences from earlier project.

This group, who named their company embryo STAAB, would benefit from reading literature on knowledge management. The idea of an independent company supporting the key processes is a recurring theme from the students in this course. Like for the suggestions from most student groups, apart from the issue of getting access to clients’ internal processes, developing concrete metrics of success seems to be vital. In terms of systems building, this idea would be a real improvement.

Ergonomics and time efficiency

If you merge the words Innovation and Installation, you get Innovstallation. Nice one, I like it. Kind of catchy. The second group have analysed the mounting of gypsum boards. Say 65 screws in each board, and how many boards per apartment? They’ve got a point here. In fact, they’ve got a point to the extent that the sector already has tested other methods. The technology for gluing gypsum boards is now available. Not common or even used to any major extent, just available. Not to worry though. The approach to concentrating on something very concrete and limited in scope is a good thing for a first business idea. An inspiring piece too. This idea is valid for both traditional construction and systems building.

3D models for maintenance of the home

When you buy a car, the manual is 223 pages long. When you buy an apartment, at ten times the price, you are for all practical purposes abandoned by the producer of the product. The third group addresses the poor communication between landlords and their tenants. By utilizing the opportunity for meta information in 3D-models of buildings, the HEMsidan group would produce 3D models of the home to simplify maintenance. HEMsidan would develop a portal for these models, for the clients/potential tenants.

This group brings one trend and one feature of construction to bear on their business idea. First, the increasing use of information and communication technology (in both private life and in construction). Second, the lack of services pinpointing the needs of the tenants. This idea is very relevant for systems building. It is only a matter of time before it happens.

Knowledge management and feedback

The fourth group points to the poor state of constant improvements and knowledge management in construction as their field of business. They are looking to support contractors in the experience feedback, by the use of a database of issues and the availability of statistics.

This group has understood the key to modern industrial construction; it builds on improving recurrent processes more than standardized technology. That makes this business idea feasible. The lack of drivers for handing feedback to others makes it hard. That is the knot to solve where you find business. In a project-based setting, how do you get colleagues to debrief after projects? This idea is very relevant to systems building.

Cold weather smart utility clothes

One reason for sites closing down in cold weather is workers being too cold to work safely and to make good decisions. The final group of students decided to develop smart utility clothes, because there are no clothes today that meet modern requirements of flexibility and thermal insulation. Most clothes apparently are thin and cold, or thick and hard to move in. Tricky task to pull off. Nothing in the post tells us why these students are the ones to solve this riddle but maybe, just maybe, modern materials make the time ripe for this business case. The students are juxtaposing the minor cost increase for their clothes against the costs for involuntary breaks in production due to cold weather. That’s smart. That in itself makes this idea relevant to systems building.

This concludes this year's student contributions to systems building. It is now time for them to develop their ideas, practice their presentation skills and then defend their ideas before a jury of business people. If I were at Univeristy still, that would scare me out of my pants. But these kids normally excel in those circumstances. Bravo.

Meet your future

EducationPosted by Dan Engström Thu, February 23, 2012 10:32:02
Let me tell you about an educational experiment we’re doing. It might help us meet our future so read on. You know how professionals sometimes looking for future developments and markets talk to kids to see what makes them tick? At Luleå University of Technology where I hold an adjunct professorship we thought we’d test that. The Department of Civil, Environmental and Natural Resources Engineering is currently giving a course in Lean construction (syllabus here) which includes a unit where students are expected to develop their own business plan for an innovation they come up with.
At 65°37′05″N, this is a welcome sight to the university students and staff every winter morning.

Here’s the thing. We’ve given them lectures on project-based construction for close to four years and are now teaching them how the parts fit together in lean construction and systems building. We’ve learned over the years that this combination sets their creativity off. They see the voids in our transition from project-logic to product-logic and get ideas on how to fill that need. The business ideas are by necessity often a bit naive, but the analyses of the weaknesses of our sector are usually spot-on.

This is where the curriculum steps in and we ask them to develop their plan as a part of their education. They get to develop an idea into a business plan for a need they consider representing a market. They are then put in front of some of our industry colleagues who assess their ideas. Would we support it, even finance it? The students go up against people like an industry researcher, a CEO of a prefab housing company, a government financer of innovation, a professor of economics, the university lawyer and so on. The real-world people that assess them make the students do their very, very best. And because our students can expect some scary moments in that workshop they are well prepared and thus leave a good bit wiser, considerably more confident and well relieved. The teachers and the assessing jury get insight into what some of our soon-to-be professionals react to in our sector. That’s something that makes us tick too, so we’ve been thinking how we can share those insights with you.

Professionals at all levels need to be able to quickly make the essence of complex information come across to someone.

We thought we’d simply build on your curiosity and that teachers take every opportunity to teach. In this exercise our students will learn to analyse a situation, bring out the key features of it and then make their point logically in a short text. Normally they only go through the motions of doing this. Reason? They are writing for a teacher’s drawer, likely second from the bottom on the right hand. Next to the dustbin, if not in it. Starting around March 1st, we’re doing away with that and using this blog as the platform.

As you are reading this, our students are busy articulating the need they’ve decided to work with. We’d like to share with you their thoughts. See what you think, you know? Maybe we’ll all learn something from this open approach. We did something similar in Swedish in 2010, where the students were asked to define some words relevant to the curriculum and upload them to Wikipedia. You’ll find the links to their efforts here. This time around, you’ll get tailored guest blog posts from five groups of students, each group describing a perceived weakness in the construction industry. If you agree with something, pick it up and run with it. If you see something you disagree with, feel free to comment!

You won’t be alone, since this is the first blog post of mine to be written specifically for both my own blog and the new site, the new exhibition of innovation at the National Museum of Science and Technology in Stockholm. That’s where I grew up; in their mine, by their miniature railway, and in the various machines they exhibit. I’ll wager that’s where I once decided to become an engineer. I think listening to kids and students talk about my profession is not only necessary for the development of the sector It is also useful, challenging and good fun.

Readers, may I present our students? Students? Readers. Now behave yourselves. Not.

Images: Dan Engström, Creative Commons by-nc-sa