AEC Delta Mobility: open source ‘differencing’

AEC Delta Mobility consortium backed by UK Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund to tackle AEC data exchange using open source approach.

The UK Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund has backed an industry-wide consortium aiming to improve manufacture involvement and flows of data between architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) project partners. The group includes BuroHappold, 3D Repo, Speckle Works, UCL Bartlett School of Construction & Project Management and Rhomberg Sersa Rail Group, with external support from HOK, Atkins and Arup.

The £1m Innovate UK-funded project (one of an £18m tranche of projects announced in February 2019; another funded project looks at use of AI – 21 February 2019 post) aims to increase construction productivity, performance and quality. The consortium is aiming to address two industrial issues in project entitled “AEC Delta Mobility”. First, it wants engage better with manufacturers in the early design stages and increase pre-manufactured value of built assets; second, it aims to increase construction project productivity by over 15%.

AEC Delta Mobility aims for open ‘differencing’ standard

The team will be focused on the inefficient processes whereby software users exchange large files and 3D models to communicate design changes – called ‘deltas’ – between designers, integrators and fabricators.

The notion of exchanging just the differences between files is not new. I blogged about the idea in February 2007 (it had been something that BIW Technologies experimented with c. 2003-04); in October 2009 (post), Graphisoft’s Archicad 13 incorporated ‘differencing’ technologies into its BIM server component; and I returned to the topic in April 2014 in connection with an ECM solution called M-Files (post). However, making such an approach ‘open’ is a significant step forward.

AEC Delta

Dr Al Fisher, technical director and head of computational development at BuroHappold, said:

“As a result of this new standard, users will be able to live-stream individual changes with collaborators, instead of sharing large files over and over again, using their own choice of any application conformant with the newly proposed AEC Delta Mobility specification.”

Commenting on the project, 3D Repo founder and CEO, Dr Jozef Dobos, said:

“While open standards such as IFC and BCF paved the way for collaboration, they are neither suitable for infrastructure and manufacturing, nor scalable to large construction projects. IFC [a popular open file format in building information modelling, BIM] can take several hours and enormous amounts of memory to process, making the current workflows extremely inefficient.”

The project will take 18 months and will see the newly proposed AEC Delta specification tested on live construction projects in the UK with project partners BuroHappold, Rhomberg, HOK and Atkins.

Tony Kearns, COO at Rhomberg Sersa Rail Group (UK & Ireland), said:

“The ongoing development and utilisation of BIM on major projects has seen a significant step forward in recent years, however, the design and management of data from multiple sources is cumbersome and inefficient. By streamlining the transfer of data to one open source will provide efficiencies in the design and construction phases whilst increasing confidence that the design is the most relevant and shared by all stakeholders.”

AEC Delta Mobility (Github site) will aim to iron out the data exchange processes at the earliest possible stages of the design phase by streamlining the data workflow so that everyone involved, from consultants to manufacturers, can access the same common data and with consistent versions of the truth.

The UK Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund is committing £170 million – matched by £250 million from industry – to modernise construction processes and techniques (more information on the UKRI “Transforming Construction” website).

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HammerTech raises Au$10m (US$7.1m)

HammerTech raises Au$10m (US$7.11m) to fund expansion into the US, and accelerate its product development and sales and marketing.

Hammertech logoHammerTech, the Melbourne, Australia-based mobile provider of health, safety and quality software for the construction industry, has announced completion of a Au$10 million (US$7.11m – £5.4m or €6.33m) Series A financing. The funding was led by Santa Monica-based Arrowroot Capital, a leading growth equity firm specialising in B2B software.

The investment will allow HammerTech to accelerate its product roadmap, grow the sales and marketing teams and support continued expansion into the United States. As part of the transaction, Chuck Haling and Matt Klein, from Arrowroot Capital, will be joining the board.

Milton Walters, CEO of HammerTech, said:

Milton Walters“It’s an exciting time for HammerTech and we are thrilled to have gained support and investment from Arrowroot. Within five years of being founded, we’ve worked tirelessly to introduce an advanced software platform to construction that empowers operational excellence. With Arrowroot’s experience and partnership we’re looking forward to enhancing our product capabilities, growing our global footprint, and increasing collaboration on job sites.”

Matthew Safaii, Arrowroot Capital’s Founder and Managing Partner said:

“HammerTech has positioned itself to be the go-to health, safety and quality software for the construction industry. Their mobile-first platform drives operation efficiencies, keeps workers safer and improves quality across all aspects of the construction process. We are excited to partner with the HammerTech team to help scale their platform around the globe.”

HammerTech: the company

HammerTech homepageBased in the Melbourne district of Richmond, Australia’s SaaS technology provider HammerTech has been attracting interest from several major international contractors, and – in its first major foray outside Australia – has opened US offices in Los Angeles and Seattle. Extranet Evolution talked to CEO Milton Walters about the company, its platform philosophy and its growth plans.

HammerTech’s subscription-based platform is available on all devices and is designed to meet the demands of companies seeking to better manage their operations and HSEQ obligations. HammerTech customers typically see results in valuable time saved and increased safety and quality measures.

Milton Walters

Milton Walters is an Australian construction software industry veteran. After entering the sector in 2006 at Aconex, he has worked with other leading ConTech players including Textura and Procore during the last 12 years.

These experiences have left Walters with an abiding respect for some of the people he has dealt with – he talks with affection about Aconex’s Leigh Jasper and Rob Phillpot, Textura Europe’s Colin Smith (now chairman of Newcastle, UK-based NBS), and Procore’s  Bassem Hamdy, for example. “Thanks to these fabulous people, I have had a ten-plus-year preparation in construction technology for the role I am in now. They really helped shape my thinking.”

HammerTech history

HammerTech was established in about 2013 by a close-knit group of five friends: Ben Leach, Lucas McDonald, Bradley Tabone, James Harris and Andrew Hogben. Two had Australian construction industry experience (Leach was at Baulderstone and APP, working on facilities for the Australian Grand Prix; McDonald was also at APP and at Westpac). Two came from the tech sector as product developers (Tabone was at National Australia Bank; he and now CTO Harris also both worked at ExpressIV online), while Hogben, having just sold a recruitment business, was the “fifth Beatle” providing some finance and sales experience.

Hammertech screengrabAs with some other construction technology founders, frustration with over-reliance on Excel spreadsheets to manage safety and quality inspired the development of the SaaS-based HammerTech platform. “It’s been developed for safety by people within safety,” said Walters, “it’s not been developed as a spin-off of document management, for example. We don’t start with forms – our starting point is how do we increase operational efficiency and reduce risk, which ensures the correct focus.”

With APP’s Australian GP as the first client project, the business was initially funded by its founders, family and friends, and by one ‘angel’ investor. To date it has required no significant additional investment, says Walters, though it did secure a AU$700,000 Australian federal government accelerator grant in late 2017. Partly as a consequence of this grant, Walters joined the company in April 2018 (“so far it’s been the most enjoyable 12 months I’ve had in my career”). He says HammerTech now employs around 30 people, but, with the new funding, was planning to grow to around 60 people by the end of 2019. Growth to date had largely been sustained by generated revenues, not by investments or funding rounds.

HammerTech started 2018 with around 35 key accounts, but has since grown to around 100 commercial customers (“and we may double again this year”). As well as APP, early successes included adoption by Australia’s LendLease, Mirvac, and one of the country’s oldest Tier One contracting firms, Hutchinson, contracted with the company in late 2018, Walters said. He also related how the company’s focus on delivering its promised functionality has helped build customer trust.

US expansion

“HammerTech expanded into the US in 2017 after receiving some enquiries in response to a LinkedIn post. Brad Tabone and Andy Hogben went over to the US, and we soon had some trial accounts. Then a Top 10 – and innovative – general contractor, DPR, signed a national agreement with us in America in December 2018, and that’s been a massive shot in the arm for us. We will be on 700 DPR projects in about 12 months, now have half a dozen people based in the US,  and are recruiting aggressively in the first half of 2019 as the business expands.”

Walters also highlighted a billion dollar project for LendLease in Los Angeles, Oceanwide Plaza, as another major endorsement: “At LendLease’s safety summit in New Jersey we had safety supervisors rapt at what we were doing”. And adoption by major international contracting corporations could also see HammerTech expand into the UK and into southeast Asia, he says.

In the past year, HammerTech has increased its foothold in the Australia and North America markets and has doubled its client base. It now has tens of thousands of users on the platform and is being used on billions of dollars worth of construction projects globally.

Former Procore director of demand generation Chere Lucett joined HammerTech in 2018 and says:

Chere Lucett“We are responding to growing regulatory requirements. Operational safety is going to be the next frontier in the US construction technology market. The industry lags behind manufacturing, but you can’t improve project management efficiency without also improving safety and quality, and we are well placed to manage that data.”

Echoing Walters’ earlier point about focusing on operations rather than paperwork, she says the HammerTech platform has been designed to track personnel, equipment and issues, providing a centralised safety and quality dashboard, helping with online orientations, developing safety plans and then supporting proactive risk management. The solution provides 16 integrated modules that make it possible to have everything in one place, allowing customers to replace paper, Excel, and individual apps.

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33% SaaS growth boosts RIB results

Germany’s RIB Group grew 26% in 2018, boosted by its SaaS operations, with its Microsoft partnership expected to grow its SaaS user base ten-fold in 2019.

RIB software logoStuttgart, Germany-based software provider RIB Group has published its results for the year to 31 December 2018 showing revenue up over 26% on 2017, with the company planning to strengthen its investments in its Software-as-a-Service solutions. Its 2018 SaaS revenues were a highlight of the results: up 33% to €17.3m, and now comprise 13% of group revenues.

Geographically, the group still derives most of its revenues from Germany: €67.7m from total group revenues of €136.9m (almost twice as much as the rest of the EMEA region put together – though it is looking to expand elsewhere in Europe, including in the UK, plus southeast Asia), and it is forecasting 31-46% revenue growth to somewhere in the range of €180-€200m in 2019. Profit (EBITDA) was a healthy €38m for the year – a margin of nearly 28%.

Like other vendors (including  UK-based Idox – see 1 April 2019 post), RIB Group is aiming to become a more global player by reducing its reliance on localised, on-premise software installations, and “re-platforming its software stack towards a true cloud“. In 2018, annual recurring revenues (SaaS/cloud and maintenance) grew 21% to €57.4m. million.

Mads BordingRIB Group’s 2018 annual report highlights its commitment to growing its partnership with Microsoft (explained to Extranet Evolution by MD of sales and operations Mads Bording, right, in late 2018: post).  It aims to expand adoption of its iTWO and MTWO platform adoption ten-fold, from 3,000 to 30,000 end users in 2019.

The RIB/Microsoft partnership is also committed to supporting digital transformation: “RIB and Microsoft have teamed up … to jointly develop cutting-edge technologies. The topics covered include artificial intelligence, voice recognition, smart analytics.”

AI and mobility are key areas for RIB R&D investment – RIB showcased its first AI solution, McTWO at a 2018 user conference: “the first artificial intelligence assistant for the construction and real estate industries” with live features including a “chatbot, voice assistance, deep learning and machine learning”.

Update (9 April 2019) – RIB has announced the formation of a joint venture, SGTWO, with Saint-Gobain Germany, combines Saint-Gobain’s skills in innovative building solutions with RIB’s 5D BIM and AI technologies. TheJV aims to improve modular building and planning in an enhanced 5D BIM solution. The new company will be headquartered in Düsseldorf, Germany.

Update (23 April 2019) – RIB has expanded its stake in DATENGUT, a Leipzig, Germany-based provider of mobile solutions for the construction industry, from 51% to 75%, citing the “extremely positive reactions of our customers to the extended product portfolio in the Mobility segment.”

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Huw Roberts takes helm at Graphisoft

Graphisoft appoints former US architect and Bentley executive Huw Roberts as its next CEO.

Graphisoft logoHungary-based BIM software giant Graphisoft has appointed one-time Bentley executive Huw Roberts as its new chief executive officer. He succeeds Viktor Várkonyi, who will be heading the parent Nemetschek group’s new planning division.

During 27 years at Graphisoft, Várkonyi contributed to several technology innovations that bolstered the widespread growth of BIM in the industry. In 10 years as CEO, he tripled the company’s revenues and helped consolidate its position as a global leader in BIM for architects and designers.

Huw RobertsAn architect by early training, Roberts has three decades of leadership experience in the software industry and architectural profession. He spent 17 years at US-based Bentley Systems (where I met him several times at Bentley Year In Infrastructure events in London, usually to discuss ProjectWise and related collaboration technology developments). He was then chief marketing officer at BlueCielo, a Netherlands-based asset lifecycle information management provider acquired by US corporate real estate software vendor Accruent in late 2017 (in January 2018 Accruent also acquired Newcastle, UK-based Kykloud – post).

Roberts, a native of Philadelphia in the US, will relocate to Budapest to take up his new role.

Roberts’s past experience with construction collaboration technologies will clearly help him at Graphisoft, where, in 2009, its design authoring flagship ArchiCAD 13 was breaking new ground in BIM collaboration. In November 2013 parent Nemetschek launched its BIM+ cloud platform and in February 2014, Graphisoft launched its BIMx Docs mobile app. Graphisoft and Nemetschek remain strong supporters of the Open BIM initiative.

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Opidis: Idox rebrands McLaren

A year ago, Idox group rebranded its McLaren business to Opidis. The firm’s FusionLive solution is being used to support BIM working on a French railway project.

Opidis logoFollowing a series of personnel changes and reorganisations in 2014, the Idox Group subsidiary McLaren Software largely disappeared from my radar – I was only briefly reminded of its existence when Idox launched its Onsite building control mobile application in August 2017. Around eight months later, though, in March 2018, Idox rebranded McLaren Software as Opidis.

The McLaren back story

McLaren Software provided a range of on-premise and cloud-based asset operations, project management and collaboration solutions for engineering document management and control.

Readers with a long memory may recall BuildOnline, one of the UK pioneers of web-based consturction collaboration. It merged with the US provider Citadon in December 2006 to become CTSpace, and a year later was acquired by France’s Sword Group (post). It was then merged with an existing Sword company, Cimage (a provider of on-premise information management) in 2009, and the former BuildOnline and Citadon platforms were superceded by a new SaaS application, FusionLive, in 2010.

idox logoIn November 2011, Sword Group sold CTSpace to Idox group for £11.6m, and it was quickly merged with Idox’s McLaren Software (acquired by Idox a year earlier), a provider of engineering document management and control applications to customers in the  oil and gas, mining, utilities, pharmaceuticals and transportation sectors. This meant the company effectively had a hybrid offering, providing both on-premise and SaaS EDMS solutions, depending upon customer requirements (December 2012 post).

There were further acquisitions. FMx Ltd, developer of the computer-aided facilities management application CAFM Explorer, was bought in October 2012, and France-based Artesys – developer of the on-premise oil and gas engineering document control solution Opidis – joined McLaren in April 2013. And McLaren continued to invest in its FusionLive product, adding some BIM capabilities in October 2013 and a business intelligence portal in April 2014. However, a series of marketing and other personnel changes meant I started to lose track of the company’s news from 2015.

Financial update

Judging from the group’s annual reports, this was partly due to financial challenges at Idox’s engineering information management (EIM) division (essentially the McLaren business). In 2015, Idox reported post-recession “headwinds” affecting the oil and gas sector leading to a “considerable down shift in activity”;  EIM revenues fell 21%, and Idox acted to “reduce the cost base”.  There was modest growth in 2016 with EIM revenues up 3% to £14.1m, but engineering revenue declined again, by 8%, in 2017. However, the business had started a transition to a SaaS-based model, and Idox talked up the prospects of its FusionLive SaaS application in 2018. EIM accounted for 14% of Group revenues, with revenue of £10.0m, with recurring revenues from maintenance and SaaS comprising 73% of that figure.

2018 Opidis rebranding

According to Idox, the rebranding was undertaken to align the identity of its products and services more closely, with the Opidis name selected for its existing roots in engineering information and clearly aligns with our mission to deliver the best portfolio in the market to our customers. Construction is just one segment targeted by Opidis – ranking behind Energy and utilities, Oil and Gas, and Renewables on the division’s website.

Opidis BIM for SNCF

Paris SNCF stationSNCF, France’s national railway (a long-time customer of Opidis), has chosen to extend its use of FusionLive to support a BIM strategy on the country’s largest construction project, EOLE (East-West Express), a project to extend the RER E west of Paris (news release). As the commitment to digitise the French construction industry gains momentum, SNCF is making BIM mandatory on its projects and chose to implement FusionLive BIM functionality, an integration between the cloud-based document management solution and the collaboration platform Bimsync by Catenda (see June 2017 post) on EOLE.

Xavier Gruz, EOLE-Nexteo Project Director at SNCF said:

“After evaluating the market, we extended the use of FusionLive to support our expanding BIM strategy. It was the only solution on the market that met our needs, allowing us to benefit from the combined experience of a strong cloud document management solution in FusionLive, and a specific BIM solution with Bimsync by Catenda. As a result, we’ll be able to receive BIM 3D models from all our vendors, saving significant time and money.”

Philip Woodrow, CEO of Opidis said:

“We’re delighted the SNCF team have extended their relationship with us, maximizing the new capabilities available through the FusionLive and Bimsync by Catenda integration. As BIM models uploaded to FusionLive are automatically available in the Bimsync portal, users can visualize, review, merge and resolve issues – simplifying access and collaboration, and removing the need to manually upload the model to multiple information silos.”

Håvard Brekke Bell, CEO of Catenda said:

“We are excited about SNCF’s position on open BIM and believe they will have a great impact and change the European construction industry for the better. At the same time, it is inspiring to be able to work together with SNCF and Opidis on such a large project, something that will benefit all users of Bimsync.”

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Ehab pioneering AEC blockchain

It might be something of an over-hyped industry buzzword, but blockchain is exciting academic and investor interest, with London-based Ehab an early beneficiary.

CBC homepageWhen I wrote recently about blockchain for construction contracts, I was also reading a little more widely about blockchain in preparation for a technology lecture I gave to students at Middlesex University. This included some discussion of  ‘smart contracts’ versus ‘Ricardian contracts’, and underlined that blockchain has far wider potential than cryptocurrency systems.

Researchers at University College London are looking at how blockchain can be applied in the construction sector. UCL is also home to the Construction Blockchain Consortium (CBC), a joint industry/academic initiative looking to support knowledge transfer, drive research and development and support education and training on blockchain-related technologies. The CBC’s themes show considerable diversity in how blockchain might be applied – under culture and change, for example, it talks about collaborative behaviours:

“The construction industry has become notoriously litigious as projects have larger sums at stake, and as a consequence of being a buyers’ market where contractors and sub-contractors are forced to price their services more competitively.  Blockchain has the potential to reverse the current trends by creating a ‘Panoptican effect’, where all parties’ behaviour is moderated as they known that there is the possibility that their conduct will be properly observed at a later date.”

… enter Ehab

ehab logoBlockchain R&D is also being funded by investors. In London, for example, the world’s first dedicated blockchain accelerator, StateZero Labs, announced its first, seven-strong, cohort of potential disruptors in February 2019. One of the applicants (receiving £50,000 in the form of an equity-free grant, cost-free office space in Kings Cross, mentoring and one-to-one technical support) is Ehab.

According to StateZero Labs, Ehab: “aims to disrupt the construction sector by building a data and process management tool that ensures sustainable and efficient operation of projects; from inception, to completion and post-lifecycle.” The startup was recently profiled on StateZero Labs’ website, where its founders (Josh Graham, Filipe Moura and Matheus Salvia) explained why distributed ledger technology, DLT, is applicable to construction industry processes:

“DLT is used to enable a variety of organisations to more fluidly and transparently work with each other. It is the much greater flexibility in permissions, data access and transferability which makes DLT useful for what we are trying to do. It is also very relevant to construction in general as having exact traceability of when tasks happened or products delivered is crucial for optimising the completion of projects.

Clearly, the construction industry is a vast sector, so – as the company’s name suggests (Ehab is short for Ehabitation) – its initial focus is on housing. It aims to “empower people to come together to collaboratively create affordable, sustainable and customisable housing projects, and share in the profits from these developments.”

Update (28 March 2019) – Also in housing, another blockchain pilot is set to be trialled in relation to affordable shared home ownership in either Berlin or Kiev this summer – reports BIMplus.

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PMWeb opens London office, targeting Europe

Already a busy market with numerous cloud-based information technology suppliers, Europe construction and real estate sector is now being marketed by another US-based business, PMWeb.

PMWeb-LogoFounded by Marc Jaude (now president of the company) in 2006 and based in Wakefield, Massachusetts (just north of Boston), PMWeb describes itself as provider of “the world’s leading Construction Program Management software”, and is mainly aimed at the owner-operator sector and the supply chains delivering these customers’ projects.

The solution portfolio covers: CapEx planning and management, project portfolio management, facilities management and real estate management. As the name suggests, its solutions are 100% web-based. Core product modules cover planning, engineering forms, cost management, scheduling, asset/facility management, and visual workflow. ‘Toolbox products’ extend functionality to include document management, custom forms, timesheets, a BIM 3D viewer and an integration manager.

PMWeb European partners

HKA logoPMWeb is strengthening its European presence with its partner, HKA-Tech, opening a London Office. PMWeb’s other European partner, Primaned, who operates out of The Netherlands, Belgium and Ireland, will work with HKA-Tech on new client cases in the UK and European markets. PMWeb announced that Europe would become an important target market for 2019.

HKA-Tech, founded as PCI Group in 1996, has long experience in construction industry software, including Meridian Prolog (acquired by Trimble in late 2006) and Primavera. PCI was acquired by Hill in 2008, and, as Hill PCI became a PMWEb dealer in 2011. Since 2013, HKA-Tech has been PMWeb’s largest implementing reseller with 39 offices in 19 countries.

HKA-Tech and Primaned launched their new partnership at an event in the City of London on 5 March (this event, held at the Brewers’ Hall, followed a Glimpses of BIM event).*  European clients Art-Invest and NHS Property Services told the audience about how they digitised their construction management and how they benefited from using PMWeb. Alasdair White, head of construction at NHS Property Services said: “PMWeb has really enabled us to increase efficiency, to the point that we now spend almost 100% of our budget”. Update (29 March 2019) – Read more about the NHS implementation of PMWeb in this BIMPlus article.

PMWeb early adopters in Europe also include United Nations (Switzerland), APM Terminals (Denmark), Philips (Netherlands), and the European Investment Bank (Luxembourg).

PMWeb London launchPMWeb president, Marc Jaude (centre), speaking at the formal launch in London, said:

“I am extremely happy with the commitment shown by both HKA-Tech Partner Gino Wideen and Primaned Managing Director Mark Schenk in the months prior to the event. I’m confident our European partners will deliver the highest quality of services to the UK and European market.”

[* I delivered a keynote at the BIM Glimpses event, organised by Phil Shatz. Client commitments prevented me attending PMWeb’s launch.]

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think project! acquires BIM vendor Ceapoint

Germany’s think project! deepens its BIM portfolio by buying fellow German company Ceapoint.

Thinkproject-logoMunich, Germany-based SaaS construction collaboration vendor think project! has acquired the German building information modelling (BIM) specialist ceapoint aec technologies GmbH (no transaction value given; news release).

Ceapoint logoThink project! says ceapoint’s product line DESITE will be positioned as an integrated and open solution within the think project! portfolio, and its cloud functionality will be expanded and distributed internationally in future.

DESITE from CeapointWith its product line DESITE, the Essen-based ceapoint has offered solutions for BIM since 2010, specialising in BIM management and BIM coordination, and supported customers in implementing and using BIM in planning offices, construction companies and with clients. Customers include construction companies such as STRABAG and Max Bögl, planning offices such as Schüßler Plan and clients such as German Rail and DEGES. Further, DESITE is the BIM technology for the BRZ Group, the European specialist for organisation and information technology for medium-sized companies in the construction sector.

think project! and DESITE are said to be highly complementary BIM solutions and provide perfect cross-selling potential for international distribution. With DESITE, additional BIM functionality such as collision (clash) and model checking, 4D simulation and analysis for users will become available in the common data environments, CDEs, of think project! and EPLASS.

Thomas Bachmaier“With DESITE we can make our solutions for BIM Collaboration even more powerful. Plus, we gain an experienced and competent team of BIM specialists within our group. We will become an even stronger partner for our customers in the increasing digitalisation of the construction sector” says Thomas Bachmaier, founder and CEO of think project! (right).

“We are now part of the European-wide think project! Group and therefore have a stronger position in the dynamic BIM market. We want to take this as an opportunity to expand our product line DESITE, and especially expand our cloud functionality and for its international distribution” says Dr. Jochen Hanff, CEO of ceapoint.

Through its own research and development activities, think project! has been expanding its BIM capabilities for some years. It signalled its BIM intentions in early 2015, and launched its BIM toolset in July 2015. Interviewed in January 2019, Bachmaier said the company was set to continue growth, both organically and by acquisition, with investment in mobile solutions and BIM likely. The ceapoint deal ticks both boxes, and once integrated into think project!’s portfolio and internationalised may be offered to English-speaking customers. In 2018, think project! acquired UK-based contract change mangement specialist CEMAR, giving it a platform to target its customers in the UK and other regions including the Asia-Pacific region.

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Buildiro launches tradesman app

Start-up Buildiro is launching a mobile application aimed at independent construction contractors, and helping offline merchants get online, but faces significant marketing challenges.

Buildiro logoAccording to Lukas Polach, founder and CEO of London-based startup Buildiro, the average tradesman spends a significant portion of every job in their van, traveling to the hardware store in search of supplies and tools. In traffic-snarled cities like London, time spent sourcing materials can account for as much as 30% of builders’ billable hours. Buildiro’s new mobile application for iPhone and Android users, launching this week in London, aims to expedite the procurement process, saving independent contractors time and money.

Make sourcing and procurement easier

The Buildiro app has, Polach claims, been designed, built, and tested by builders, for builders – inspired, in part, by the simplicity of other e-commerce mobile apps (“JustEast makes finding and ordering food quick and easy – we want to do the same for construction materials and products“). Polach leads a team of five, and has largely self-funded the business to date, though a Czech start-up accelerator is also providing some support.

Available in the Google Play and Apple App stores, the application locates building supplies near any job site, and will eventually give builders real-time access to merchants’ inventories. With more than 500,000 products in its menu, Buildiro is essentially a free professional procurement specialist. In line with its social media inspirations, the app is being launched via a Facebook Live event at 10 a.m. UTC on 2 March 2019.

Buildiro also helping merchants get online

Polach says:

Lukas Polach (Buildiro CEO)“We created Buildiro to reduce the time that builders spend searching for supplies, and to help smaller, offline merchants get online. Many of the smaller building-supply stores in London – as elsewhere – don’t have an online shop, and contractors cannot see what these sellers offer without visiting. Buildiro was designed to give local merchants better online visibility, and in the process, improve the efficiency of independent contractors.”

For any builder, three factors affect the materials supply chain: availability, distance from the job site, and price. Large contractors often have teams to navigate the supply hurdles, but most small and medium-sized firms do not. That’s where Buildiro comes in. Using the app, an independent tradesman can create a list of needed supplies and search for the closest merchant stocking all of the items – viewing multiple merchants in one app is more efficient than separate website searches or using multiple vendor apps (where available), Polach says.

A graduate in civil engineering from Brno University of Technology in the Czech Republic,* Polach conceived the app two years ago when he managed a small construction firm in North London. During one job, Polach needed materials and he used his phone to search for a local merchant. According to Google Maps, the closest store was six miles away. But while stuck in traffic, Polach spotted a smaller merchant just a mile from the job site. Not only did this local supplier have everything Polach needed, the products were actually cheaper than the larger retailer. The idea for Buildiro was born.

London roll-out

The first phase of the Buildiro app release will be for builders and merchants in Greater London postcodes, where Buildiro staff will be working with merchants to help them connect inventories to the app’s database. By mid-2019, Buildiro will be rolled out in other cities across the United Kingdom, and eventually, worldwide. Polach adds:

“We are very excited to release the Buildiro app to builders in London, the first of many digital solutions we hope to bring to the construction industry. Globally, the building trades are among the last sectors of the economy to digitize. Our vision is to build workflow and management systems that enable the independent tradesman to improve their job-site efficiency.”

Version 2 of the application is scheduled for the second half of 2019 and will allow buyers to order materials online. Polach envisages also connecting Buildiro to the builder’s accounting system so that purchases can be easily associated with projects for invoicing purposes.

The Extranet Evolution test

Buildiro screengrabExtranet Evolution tested the early stage Buildiro app on an Android smartphone. Upon opening, users are immediately prompted to search for items (cement, screws, etc) – I entered “hammer” – and a drop-down menu is quickly populated with choices.

I could then seek merchants within a mile of my southeast London location (or enter a postcode). The search then identified five merchants (Screwfix, Wickes, Topps Tiles, Selco and Travis Perkins), along with closing times, and starting prices. Clicking on a merchant – Wickes, for example – then opened up a page allowing me to call the store, plus a navigate button to guide me to its location, plus a swipe-able listing band. This start with the lowest priced “hammer” and I could quickly swipe across numerous other inventory items found in the search. I could then select an item, enter a quantity, and a priced list started. Compiling a list of, say, four different items involved entering them one by one in the field at the top of the screen – I then got a four bands of products that I could swipe to find my selections.

Encouragingly, closing the app did not mean I lost my list, but I could not see a way to manage multiple lists (if I was buying for more than one job, for example) or to keep some favourites. The application’s user profile feature is shown as “coming soon”, so perhaps this is something that will be possible “soon”. Buildiro says it will “eventually” give real-time access to merchants’ inventories; at the moment, the app accesses merchants’ catalogues – I would need to call my local store (using the app’s call button) to ensure my required items are in stock. “Click and collect is part of our vision for Version 2,” Polach told me.

If I simply wanted to find nearby merchants, I still had to enter at least one item in the search tool – though looking at some mockups shared by Buildiro (see below right), I am guessing this function might also be “coming soon”.

The Extranet Evolution analysis

Buildiro mockupBuildiro is targeting a large but very fragmented market, much of it focused on small-scale extension, refurbishment, repair and maintenance activities. This comprises about a third of all UK construction orders – worth around £53bn in 2017).

Out of around 5.5 million small businesses employing under 50 people in the UK, almost a fifth – just over a million – are construction businesses, collectively turning over around £185bn a year. But within this figure there is also a high level of self-employment. Out of 2.4 million UK construction industry workers well over a third – 37% (or nearly 900,000) are self-employed, compared to the average for the whole economy of 13%.

While many of these individuals will be working for specialist subcontractors on a wide range of new build, commercial, industrial and infrastructure projects, the domestic home improvement and alteration market across Britain (excluding Northern Ireland) is worth around £30bn (see this Barbour overview), and Buildiro’s initial focus – Greater London – is the biggest single regional market in terms of value, at around £7.5bn.

So, the market opportunity is huge, but the sector’s fragmentation makes marketing a new mobile application a huge challenge. Multiple trade associations cover both general builders and the myriad of  different specialist trades, but none have saturation coverage, so marketing partnerships will only reach a fraction of the potential builder market. Buildiro has recruited someone to onboard builders’ merchants to the platform, so perhaps outlet ‘point of sale’ promotion of the app will work alongside Buildiro’s Facebook activities and a Google Adwords campaign it is running.

‘Word of mouth’ is likely to be critical in promoting Buildiro adoption, just as personal recommendations of tradespeople are often most effective for them in winning new work. SME and self-employed workers in this sector are heavy users of mobile phones, but continuing skills shortages, particularly among younger workers (and likely to be made worse if Brexit goes ahead), may limit Buildiro’s exposure to some of its ‘digital native’ targets.

Incidentally, talking about the Buildiro business model, Polach used the words “free forever” in respect of the costs to its builder users. This immediately reminded me of Copenhagen, Denmark-based GenieBelt and its 2015 launch (the company recently merged with Belgium’s Aproplan to become LetsBuild). Maybe Buildiro’s procurement technologies complement the on-site communication and scheduling specialisms of the newly merged business – particularly if day-to-day task management is constrained by delays in acquiring basic tools or materials.

[* Polach was introduced to Extranet Evolution by Ondrej Piska, co-founder of PCS – see September 2019 post.]

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Bentley and Trimble launch new Hololens 2 products

Microsoft’s new Hololens 2 mixed reality headset was launched at the Mobile World Congress alongside solutions from Bentley and Trimble.

The launch of Microsoft’s latest Hololens 2 mixed reality product, showcased at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona yesterday (25 February 2019), has prompted the immediate announcements of two related products by Bentley Systems and by Trimble.

The Hololens 2 will cost US$3500 and ship later this year exclusively to businesses, which will also have the option to rent the devices from US$125 a month. As well as being lighter and more comfortable to wear for longer periods, the HoloLens 2 features a much broader field of view, eye-tracking, better gesture recognition, and a heavy emphasis on cloud integration (ZDnet article).

Bentley Synchro XR

Bentley logo 2017Bentley Systems presented Synchro XR, its app for immersively visualising 4D construction digital twins with the new Microsoft HoloLens 2. As a Microsoft mixed reality partner representing the architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) industry, Bentley demonstrated how users can interact collaboratively with digital construction models using intuitive gestures to plan, visualise, and experience construction sequencing.

Bentley Synchro XR and Hololens 2

Synchro logoBentley acquired 4D pioneer Synchro Systems in June 2018, and in October 2018 positioned the Synchro deal as a key step in expanding its construction-oriented toolset, and mentioned integration with Microsoft Hololens was part of the development roadmap.

Project digital twin data is visualized with the HoloLens 2 via Bentley’s ‘connected data environment,’ powered by Microsoft Azure. With the mixed reality solution, construction managers, project schedulers, owner operators, and other project stakeholders can gain insights through immersive visualisation into planned work, construction progress, potential site risks, and safety requirements. Additionally, users can interact with the model together and collaboratively experience 4D objects in space and time, as opposed to traditional interaction with a 2D screen depicting 3D objects.

Noah Eckhouse - BentleyNoah Eckhouse, senior vice president, project delivery for Bentley Systems, said:

“Our SYNCHRO XR app for HoloLens 2 provides a totally new way to interact with digital twins for infrastructure projects. Users benefit from a new perspective on the design and a deeper, more immediate understanding of the work and project schedule. Instead of using a 2D screen with a mouse and keyboard, the user can now walk around the model with their body and reach out and grab digital objects that appear to co-occupy physical reality. This is a powerful way to review work that is completed and to prepare for upcoming work at the jobsite.”

Menno de Jonge, director of digital construction for the Royal BAM Group, said:

“We are currently using SYNCHRO and HoloLens 2 mixed reality solution for the construction site for a large museum project in the city of Rotterdam. The real need for a digital transformation in our industry is about avoiding rework at our construction site. Using this technology, we can easily visualize the construction schedule. Then, we can see if we are behind in schedule, we can flag any potential problems or issues, look into the problems, and get back on track.”

Alex Kipman, technical fellow, AI and mixed reality at Microsoft, said:

“The newly announced Microsoft HoloLens 2 is a self-contained holographic computer that enables hands-free, heads-up interaction with digital models. It builds on the breakthrough innovation of HoloLens and is even more immersive, more comfortable and delivers industry-leading value right out of the box with partners like Bentley. We’re excited to work with Bentley, a mixed reality partner, to provide the opportunity for customers to take advantage of the HoloLens 2 and SYNCHRO XR technology to experience a new dimension of creativity and teamwork for their AEC projects.”

Trimble XR10

Trimble logoTrimble announced a new wearable hard hat compatible device that enables workers in safety-controlled environments to access holographic information on the worksite: the Trimble XR10 with HoloLens 2. In addition, an expanded set of Trimble software and services will be available to provide field-oriented workflows that leverage constructible 3D models and mixed reality to solve daily work tasks.

The Trimble XR10 is the first device created with the Microsoft HoloLens Customization Program and integrates the latest spatial computing technology into a certified solution for use with a hard hat for worker safety. With a wider field-of-view, improved usability and a unique, flip-up viewscreen, the Trimble XR10 with HoloLens 2 combines state-of-the-art mixed reality and safe operation in restricted access work areas.

The full solution provides even greater accessibility to 3D models by front-line workers. Field-oriented workflows enable broad adoption of mixed-reality for jobsite activities to improve efficiency, productivity and quality of work. Continued development of the cloud-based collaboration platform, Trimble Connect™ for HoloLens, is enabling workers in the field to get more value from constructible 3D models and transform daily work such as assembly and inspections.

In early 2018, Trimble acquired, first, Florida, USA-based e-Builder (February 2018) and then Viewpoint (April 2018), incorporating the former UK-based 4Projects and MCS Priority1 businesses, adding them to a collaboration portfolio that already included the Meridian toolset, SketchUp, Trimble Connect and a mobile-oriented platform, Trimble ProjectSight.

Aviad Almagor, director of Trimble’s Mixed-Reality Program, said:

“Microsoft has provided both the vision and execution needed to stay at the forefront of the mixed-reality evolution. We’re excited to extend our collaboration with Microsoft in producing a safety-first mixed-reality solution that can be used in production environments such as construction, where workers are building, monitoring and inspecting products and services that deliver tangible value every day.”

Microsoft’s Kipman said:

“The ability to access and interact with holographic content has inspired new visualization, collaboration, and production workflows in enterprise markets. For people that spend their days on the work site, the Trimble XR10 with HoloLens 2 and Trimble’s portfolio of software unlocks the power of mixed-reality to help them get more work done.”

Update (28 February 2019) – Bentley Systems has announced the call for entries for its 2019 Year in Infrastructure Awards, which will be decided at the YII2019 event in Singapore in October, when the theme will be ‘Advancing BIM through Digital Twins‘.

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