BOTH Trimble’s Nathan Patton and BuildingPoint’s Sam Hough, are well qualified in their efforts to change the construction narrative when it comes to digitisation. As one of the publications group, xyHt’s top 22 young geospatial professionals to watch, Nathan, who has a varied background in surveying, alongside, Sam, a digital workflow in construction specialist, have plenty of experience.
For the two of them, it’s all about the common data environment, but there are still reservations in the industry. Here they answer the questions posed to them by the Civil Engineering Surveyor’s Danielle Kenneally on embracing digitisation.
Great to meet you – please give our members a short overview of who you are and what you do.
Sam Hough: With a background in the geospatial and construction sectors, I have spent more than seven years on the ground before moving to KOREC. At KOREC, my role is to introduce businesses to Trimble’s digital construction solutions under the Trimble BuildingPoint brand, to help them adopt new workflows, understand their challenges and suggest ways of meeting those challenges profitably through the adoption of technology. There’s so much potential in this area, simply because this is a side of construction that has evolved very slowly.
A tape measure costs just a few pounds, so the outlay for a new digital solution has to be justified. Like CICES president, Andy Evans, mentioned in the January issue of the Civil Engineering Surveyor, it’s all about risk versus reward and it’s my job to ensure that those rewards are evident and achievable.
Nathan Patton: I have a degree in geomatics engineering from the University of Calgary supplemented by work experience as a surveyor in the oil and gas industry. Following my graduation in 2018, I worked as a legal/construction surveyor for Stantec working on community, property, construction surveys, which enabled me to experience the adoption of technology in many different scenarios.
Trimble offered a leadership development programme that provided me with a broad introduction to everything that it does and ultimately led to my position as product manager in strategy and innovation in building construction. This role is all about solving problems with technology and identifying what’s really going to make an impact in the future.
Do your roles overlap in any way? How do you work together?
As the technology becomes easier to use, skilled operators may feel that their experience and qualifications are best suited to manipulating that data rather than collecting it.Sam Hough: Definitely. BuildingPoint UK and Ireland was the first Trimble dealer in Europe, possibly the world, to bring setting out with the Trimble XR10 mixed reality solution to construction. Nathan is paving the way for us to assess the viability of the technologies that are coming and understand them with particular reference to the UK and Irish markets.
It’s a two-way process based on feedback from our customers and a great example of this is BAM Shetland – BuildingPoint customers who already work with Trimble on the adoption of ‘Spot’ the agile dog robot.
Nathan Patton: We’re eager to continue to develop and work together on the challenges that the construction industry regularly faces. We work very closely with our customers and we often come together to test solutions in the field for feedback and to better understand what our customers in the UK and Ireland really need.
Does this include helping to digitise the industry together? What does digitisation mean for the construction industry and how long would it take to make that transformation?
Nathan Patton: Everything is about the digitisation of the construction industry. Our ethos is to connect the digital and physical worlds and that dictates our strategy which is built around the idea of connected data. The end aim is to make digitisation accessible, make construction more simple, more profitable and of course to allow teams to communicate and collaborate better. This reduces rework and mistakes and consequently profits are higher. Also important is the sustainability of connected construction and the reduction of carbon emissions through reduced rework and better planning. How long will it take? It’s ongoing.
We heavily acknowledge that there is a fear of technology and change so we try to look at every product we build with particular reference to who is going to use it and how we can make it straightforward to use. Sam Hough: As Nathan mentioned, it’s all about the common data environment. For example, a Tekla, FieldLink or SketchUp user can employ Trimble Connect to talk, to share data and to communicate effectively and that assists the take-up of digitisation.
Whilst early adopters significantly assist technology adoption, it is legislation that really drives change and if that legislation is in place, it will assist people to change.
The BIM Level 3 mandate is a good example of this because 2D, poorly detailed drawings, are now becoming a thing of the past. How long will it take? It is still to be determined... it never stops because innovation never stands still.
One of the reasons digitisation remains a distant dream for many is the lack of skills and talent required for the change1, is this something you are hearing and are there other drawbacks for companies digitising their business?
Sam Hough: The positives we hear from businesses is that Trimble has created solutions that work for the people who have habitually used a pencil, a drawing and a calculator, rather than for qualified surveyors and engineers to use. We have the proof that this technology delivers and I would counter the McKinsey article there.
Forward looking companies, like the ventilation specialists, AV Unibrak, report that within 30 minutes their mixed reality site worker was teaching others how to use the technology, in this case the Trimble XR10 HoloLens, and also exploiting many of its more advanced features. This technology is designed for an easy roll-out to all site operatives, irrespective of any qualifications they may or may not have.
Nathan Patton: We heavily acknowledge that there is a fear of technology and change so we try to look at every product we build with particular reference to who is going to use it and how we can make it straightforward to use. It’s a focus for us that acknowledges a current lack of skilled labour within the industry.
Are there real fears about what digitisation means for employees in terms of being replaced by robotics?
The industry has voiced some concerns, but robots and autonomous systems free up humans to focus on critical thinking and higher priority tasks that get the most out of them as well as releasing them from the hours needed to perform repetitive tasks.Sam Hough: Yes, for sure. As the technology becomes easier to use, skilled operators may feel that their experience and qualifications are best suited to manipulating that data rather than collecting it. I don’t think jobs will be lost, but I do think that the skill-set will change. The skills required for the manipulation of data will become highly sought after, enabling engineers to make better, faster decisions.
Nathan Patton: The industry has voiced some concerns, but robots and autonomous systems free up humans to focus on critical thinking and higher priority tasks that get the most out of them as well as releasing them from the hours needed to perform repetitive tasks. Robots will enable more efficient construction and consequently new roles and jobs will be created dedicated to leveraging robotics on site.
Do you think then that the industry should embrace it?
Nathan Patton: Yes – simply, we can’t afford not to anymore. From a monetary perspective, the typical profit margin for a construction company in the US is around 4-6 % and that’s just not enough and it’s also not sustainable from a business point of view or from an ethical point of view when you consider that the construction industry contributes around 40% of all carbon emissions.
Sam Hough: I’m often out presenting at conferences, often to new and potential clients, and my most frequently used introduction is: ‘The most dangerous phrase in the language is: ‘We’ve always done it this way’.
Nathan, you were named as one of xyHt’s top 22 young geospatial professionals to watch, what has that been like and how do you live up to the hype? Do you think you bring fresh eyes and energy to an industry that is known to be slow when responding to changes2?
It’s about finding the right way to show the value of digitising construction and questioning the older, preconceived drawbacks equated with adopting these technologies.
Nathan Patton: It was an honour to be named. I followed the publication at university and it was a goal for me to one day make that list, so personally it’s a very satisfying achievement. From a professional standpoint it’s just a validation of what we’re doing and a driver to continue that development. Being young and new, I can see past ‘we’ve always done it this way’ and objectively look at how we can continue to improve.
Sam Hough: Nathan regularly contributes on white papers, shares many ideas on social media and is motivated to change the industry. I definitely think he’s lived up to the hype.
While there has been progress towards digitisation, the construction industry still trails behind when compared to other industries like retail and manufacturing3, how will you go about changing that culture in your respective roles?
Sam Hough: It’s about reiterating the above, about educating people, about illustrating that this technology is not hard to adopt and that you will see a return on investment.
Nathan Patton: It’s about finding the right way to show the value of digitising construction and questioning the older, preconceived drawbacks equated with adopting these technologies.
Sam Hough TCInstCES, Business Manager (UK), BuildingPoint UK and Ireland, and Nathan Patton, Product Manager in Strategy and Innovation in Building Construction, Trimble, talk to Danielle Kenneally