Australia’s subcontractors are embracing innovative strategies to mitigate the effect of rising costs and delays on their business, a webinar has heard.

Hosted by design and construction software provider Autodesk, the session examined how subcontractors on major projects can improve their operations along with tools which are available to help.

The discussion was hosted by Sumit Oberoi, industry strategy manager at Autodesk.

Panellists included Shannon Thomas, Executive Manager for the BIM-MEPAus initiative at the Airconditioning and Mechanical Contractors Association of Australia (ACMA), Matt Fern, Digital Engineering Manager at major electrical engineering contractor Stowe Australia and Paul Wandmaker, an election by trade and now Technical Solutions Executive at Autodesk Construction Solutions.

According to panellists, the extent of challenge over recent times should not be underestimated.

“We have seen some large macro-economic issues come into play recently,” Thomas said.

“You are looking at things like the Ukraine conflict, inflation and supply chain issues whether it be delays, availability of stock or inventory build-up (where delays of one product flow through into project sequencing and result in accumulation of other materials).

“It’s almost like a perfect storm at the moment. Tight labour market, wage pressures and even clients delaying projects and risks of other companies going into administration.

“So there are a bunch of very real, very urgent and very critical issues which are leading to concern and pain throughout the industry.

“One of the key messages that some of our members have relayed to me is that it is certainly a time for caution. “

Fern agrees, adding that challenges revolved mostly around project delivery.

“All of those items fall in play for us,” Fern said.

“Obviously different areas of the business will address those concerns.

From my corner of the world, one of the biggest challenges is programming and the ability to hit dates which all of these things can influence – supply delays and whatever. Almost everything can be related back to programming which is influenced by a number of those elements.

“We have got highly competitive markets, subbies lacking the ability or the authority to influence an outcome, contractual issues, poor collaboration – all of those things are factors in influencing project delays.

“Everything all comes back to programming.”

In terms of strategies, Wandmaker encourages subcontractors to first look at quick and easy wins. From a technology and project management viewpoint, this involves keeping on top of design changes and getting these out to the build or instantly capturing site issues and making information about these available to your team and other stakeholders such as builders or other subcontractors.

It is also important to ensure that all relevant project information is available at the work front. This avoids team members needing to walk through geographically large or vertical sites to access information such as drawings, technical data or CAD sheets.

Thomas agrees, encouraging firms to also capitalise on tools provided by industry associations.

In AMCA’s case, these include access to industry forecasts by the Australian Construction Industry Forum, a toolbox talk manual,  an employer toolkit, updates on construction industry news and a WHS management system manual.  The aim, he says, is to help businesses and firms to make their businesses more resilient in the face of challenge and to provide useful and valuable information.

One particular initiative is BIM-MEPAUS, which the AMCA has run since 2010.

Focusing primarily on the mechanical, electrical and plumbing sectors, the initiative has developed data standards which aim to ensure that pre-defined parametric data fields used in digital models accurately represent the physical, spatial and performance characteristics of a building.

This allows practices and workflows to be developed to ensure that information is shared and applied routinely and consistently throughout the entire construction process whilst maintaining the integrity of the design.

Specifically, products and services offered include product data templates, Revit MEP Template a content and training and education

At the moment, Thomas says a key focus is to help organisations to implement and maintain effective digital strategies within their business.

When determining a digital strategy, Thomas says organisations need to think about how to get the right information to the right people at the right time along with how information can be used to make informed decisions.

After this, it is also important to think about where information should be hosted and how it can be made accessible to those who need it.

An additional focus helping organisations and workers to upskill and derive maximum value from their digital strategy.

Speaking of his own firm’s experience at Stowe, Fern says the organisation is pushing hard to maintain and improve its digital engineering capability.

For several years, it has been increasing efforts in its virtual construction and leveraging BIM use on site to deliver greater efficiency with fewer delays.

Fern says several factors have helped to drive successful outcomes when doing this.

First, efforts have been initiated and driven from the top (director level) down and have been accompanied by clear directions and expectations regarding roles and responsibilities that drive stakeholder ownership and accountability.

Moreover, efforts are being formalised. Indeed, the firm is currently developing a formal quality management plan. This will align with both the international standard for quality management (ISO 19650) and expectations of managing contractors.

In addition, site teams are viewed as clients by the drafting and engineering team. All digital and drafting efforts are thus geared toward the needs and requirements of those onsite.

In some instances, the firm’s growing capabilities have seen it deliver benefits to clients and site teams in other ways.

For one recent project, the firm was engaged in significant work on an en electrical switch room on an aging commercial building. There was no documentation whatsoever for the existing switch room. Using a point cloud scanner, the team scanned and documented existing conditions.  From there they were able to proof design and produce a BIM model for the new facility which leveraged the power in the existing facility to the greatest extent possible. Further, the team was able to produce progress scans and final as-built scans to maximise efficiency in future maintenance.

Finally, to further Stowe’s efficiency across multiple business units and sites, the firm is seeking to role out a connected data facility. Toward this end, it is trialing the Autodesk Construction Cloud and its underpinning common data environment to see if the software can offer everything which the firm is seeking.

Whilst the current environment is uncertain, Thomas says this is not a reason for organisations to cease planning and advancing their digital strategy.

“We talk about being cautious but in my view, I don’t think it’s a reason to stop planning or to stop implementing things like digital strategies,” he said.

“Organisations who have advanced their digital maturity have seen material benefits to their bottom line and are even seeing new opportunities.

“We would certainly encourage anyone listening (to the webinar) to stay on that journey and to look to implement things that set businesses up for the future.”


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