Ireland’s Zutec, through its focus on commissioning and handover has built a strong position in the megaprojects market, and is looking to expand further.
Dublin, Ireland-based mobile construction technology provider Zutec exhibited at two London events I recently attended: the Digital Construction Week show in October (post) and Construct IT for Business’s “Future of BIM” conference (post). I arranged a post-DCW conference call with Zutec to learn more about the company and its products.
Zutec have been in my peripheral vision for some years. I first discovered them when looking at software solutions supporting operation and maintenance manual production in the mid 2000s; I mentioned them in Extranet Evolution almost exactly two years ago, and subsequently met the company’s founder Brian Maguire briefly at a COMIT drinks reception in London.
From CDs to COBie data
Chief operating officer Brendan O’Riordan told me the company had been founded by Maguire (now chairman) in 1999 and initially specialised in compiling O&M manuals on disk. It then switched to software development to enable its customers (often with Zutec consultancy support) to undertake the same task. It grew steadily, driven by organic growth and not reliant on VC investment, during the early 2000s, providing its services to major, complex projects such as Wembley Stadium and the Westfield Shopping Centre in London.
However, the flow of such mega-projects in the UK and Ireland dwindled as a result of the global financial crisis in the late 2000s, and so Zutec switched its focus to more buoyant markets in the Middle East (Abu Dhabi’s Cleveland Clinic and Doha Airport feature in the company’s track record) and the Asia Pacific regions (winning projects in Australia and the Philippines, among other countries, and opening an office in Mumbai).
As the UK construction market emerged from the recession, Zutec has successfully grown its UK presence, building on its relationship with the Wembley developer Multiplex, who, now Brookfield Multiplex, remains one of the company’s biggest customers, with Zutec used as its O&M tool, and for quality assurance and control (QA/QC) and ‘BIM to FM’ purposes.
The company is today around 40-strong, and, excluding the head office administration and sales operations, is still roughly equally divided between software development and provision of information management consultancy (some of its consultants are located full-time on site, others may manage multiple projects, providing initial set-up and training, Brendan told me).
Zutec’s original focus on collation of post-project operation and maintenance information has naturally morphed into development of mobile applications to support site-based commissioning and handover processes, and planned maintenance (a field that puts them in direct competition with Dome Group and its iSnag tool – February 2014 post); Brendan said they rarely competed against SaaS collaboration vendors such as Aconex, 4Projects [now Viewpoint], or Conject – “often we are deployed alongside,” he said, citing a project where they imported floor plans from Aconex’s platform to use in QA/QC data capture).
Developed for Android and iOS devices, Zutec’s on-site data capture tools support defects management (AKA punchlists, snagging), quality inspections, safety hazards and test and commissioning data. The user interface creates pins that can be located on floor plans and used to help track progress (I was shown a room completion tracker, for example, and another tracking glazing installation) and record defects (at Doha Airport, the application helped contractors resolve around half a million issues). The tool is also able to handle IFC models and COBie data – useful for the developing market demanding BIM capabilities.
Brendan also showed me a maintenance scheduling app, that will help technical staff identify and complete scheduled tasks, and also help them undertake these in sequence logical to the layout of a building. In a large building, around 2,700 systems needed to be managed, involving around 65,000 tasks per annum, he said; electronic management, supported by barcode readers and other mobile capabilities, helped ensure better planning, progress monitoring and faster resolution of any issues.
The business has also started to look at remote sensing tools. Using standard Arduino micro-electronic components, Zutec has been creating multi-function ‘Internet of things’ devices that can be used to provide almost real-time monitoring of temperature, humidity, light intensity, CO2, etc, via wifi. These can be used, for example, during commissioning processes to monitor room conditions, with data accessible via both desktop and mobile devices, and updated at 30-second intervals. I was shown a model view of an as-built room overlaid with a box giving the room’s temperature alongside other, more process-related data.