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Monday, August 22, 2016

Is PLM the Answer to the BIM Paradox?

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Cloud The technology and processes that collectively make up what we refer to as Building Information Modeling (BIM) are now firmly established in Architecture, Engineering, and Construction (AEC), and BIM adoption continues to grow. Despite the growth in BIM, many observers would agree that the industry isn’t fulfilling its productivity potential, and statistics support this perspective. A July 2015 article from McKinsey ( highlights a widening gap in productivity between manufacturing and construction globally.

Why is construction productivity flat despite increasing investment in BIM? Why is manufacturing productivity outpacing construction? Those two questions highlight what I refer to as the BIM Paradox. Pondering this paradox isn’t enough, however. We need to understand the reasons behind it, and take action to resolve it. It’s logical to begin by looking at how manufacturing has achieved its impressive productivity results.

Manufacturing productivity growth can be attributed to many factors, but three stand out above all others. First, is the application of lean principles, which at their core rest upon identifying the seven sources of waste ( and systematically eliminating them. The second factor is standardization and modularization. When I refer to standardization, I’m not talking about producing thousands of identical widgets. Instead, standardization combined with modularization enables organizations to efficiently design and produce a wide range of configurable products.

This brings us to the third factor—Product Lifecycle Management, usually referred to as PLM ( Manufacturers have learned that decisions made early in the design process can have a profound impact on everything from material costs to manufacturing efficiency and maintenance expenses. PLM is a strategic business approach that integrates people, processes, business systems, and information to help organizations deliver better products with lower costs over their lifecycles. Some people will inevitably raise the objection that an office building, hospital, or waste water facility is not a “product”. Taking a lifecycle perspective helps to clarify the parallels. Facilities and infrastructure are designed, built, and operated—just as products are.

If we accept that the deliverables of AEC projects are indeed products, then how can lean principles, standardized modules, and PLM be applied successfully?

Many years ago, I learned a valuable analogy from a Japanese expert in lean practices, a man who learned directly from Taiichi Ohno, considered the father of the Toyota Production System. He emphasized the importance of repeated incremental improvement, which he compared to the process of draining water from a pond. Only when you lower the water do you find where all of the rocks (inefficiencies) are located. The first step toward improvement is identifying waste, an activity that can conveniently leverage experience from past projects. The next step is determining the root causes of that waste, and then problem-solving to eliminate those causes. This usually requires prioritizing to attack certain issues first. Once a project is complete, you can reduce system slack in the form of schedule and budget contingencies. To use our pond analogy, this is equivalent to lowering the water and finding more rocks. This is not an event, it is a process, and must be continuously repeated to achieve productivity growth.

Coming back to PLM, it’s important to recognize that PLM underpins both lean practices and standardized modules. By improving how information is organized and how changes are managed, PLM can prevent the re-introduction of waste into processes once it has been eliminated. PLM plays an even more important role in managing how designs are standardized, organized into configurable modules, and efficiently manufactured based upon this information. Attempting to implement lean practices and modularization without PLM is like constructing a building without a solid foundation.

CIMdata is the leading independent global strategic management consulting and research authority focused exclusively on the PLM market. If you are interested in understanding how PLM can benefit AEC, I would encourage you to contact us.


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