The path to innovation in the construction industry is a long and winding one, but Aaron Akehurst is hoping the map he’s building will help others navigate that road.
Aaron is a senior integrated construction technology manager with PCL’s BC Region Integrated Construction Services (ICS) team in Vancouver. Over the past four years, he’s helped that office win and execute work by leveraging new technologies to create more efficient and accurate building practices. And he wants to do the same for other district offices.
“My job is to uncover stepping stones and then let the project teams step on them and see where they can take them,” Aaron says. “Technological tools are stepping stones that I want to put in front of project teams so they can stand on them and see how they can leverage them. That’s really what I see my and my department’s role as going forward: finding more of those stepping stones.”
Aaron has been with PCL since 2004, but only joined the ICS team in 2018. That move opened his eyes to the possibilities of technology in construction.
“Coming into this role, I didn’t believe in 3D. I could visualize two-dimensional plans; that made sense. I thought, ‘What do I need 3D for? That’s for people who don’t really understand plans,’” he says. “I changed course pretty quickly on that. I really started to see the value in 3D and how it really should be the foundation of everything we build.”
In that time, Aaron has worked hard to develop a holistic approach to technology for the BC Region. He’s had to convince others who were skeptical like he was, but he feels that tide is turning.
“Some people have spent their entire careers building off 2D plans; 2D is what they know and it’s always worked for them,” he says. “Now I’m seeing the next generation of project coordinators really pick up the tools and start to leverage them. There’s value in connecting people with the experience who know what problems to look for with the people who know how to solve those problems using the technology.”
Aaron’s efforts in British Columbia have not gone unnoticed. “Districts that are successful in leveraging technology have somebody like Aaron who drives the bus,” says Josh Allison, manager of virtual construction with the ICS team at PCL’s U.S. Head Office in Denver. “Aaron’s the perfect guy to have in a spot like that.”
Aaron attributes his region’s success in leveraging technologies to the willingness of operations managers to push the envelope, try our established technology tool sets and hold project teams accountable, as well as 14 years he spent in the project management stream before switching over to ICS.
“I grew up with all the current project managers; we all know each other really well. So when I’m bringing a solution to them, I’m thinking about how the project manager is looking at this problem,” he says. “I think that really brings a baseline level of trust to that conversation.”
Some of the technologies Aaron has championed in PCL’s BC Region include:
- Building Information Modelling
Building information modeling (BIM) software has been around for some time, but the construction industry has traditionally struggled to leverage it. BIM software creates a digital representation of the plans for a building, helping clients and builders visualize it and see the effect of adjustments right away. “Those building blocks, that geometry, can be extremely powerful if you can find the right way to share and present the information,” Aaron says.
Unmanned aerial vehicles — better known as drones — are becoming more popular and more useful on construction sites. According to Aaron, drones can capture hundreds of high-resolution photos of a site during a 15- to 30-minute flight, which can then be overlaid onto a BIM model and ensure work is being done and structures are being erected in the right places. “The drone information now becomes one of the spokes in that wheel, with BIM at the hub,” he says.
Dashboarding involves taking multiple data points and displaying them in a way where they can be easily compared and cross-referenced, helping site personnel make efficient, informed decisions possible. “We can see our plan versus actual production, and we can tie manpower on site into that,” Aaron says. “We can get productivities our from our trade partners and really give them data on where they are compared to the schedule and if they need to bring in more workers.”
- Job Site Insights®
Job Site Insights® is a powerful dashboarding tool, but it can also gather data from sensors around a job site that measure things like temperature, humidity, moisture and even noise levels. “Sometimes there are people living near sites who claim to have their own sound meters in their apartments and say we’re exceeding the noise bylaw thresholds after hours,” Aaron says. “We're able to pull up data on JSI® and say to the City, ‘No, this is what we're seeing on our data.’ That really builds trust with municipal governments.”
- Laser Scanning
Laser scanners can create two million points of information per second, accurately measuring interior and exterior specifications of a project that can then be compared to a BIM model to see how much the two deviate. Aaron points to a wastewater treatment plant project that PCL took over as a prime example of what laser scanning can do: “We’ve gone in and scanned all of the existing conditions and identified all kinds of locations where there was a supposed to be a pipe coming through,” he says. “It’s leveraging the BIM data with the laser scan data.”
While most of these examples show how technology can help while a project is being built, Aaron adds that they can also help while pursuing work and bidding on projects.
“BIM models can make a huge difference, even in the pursuit phase, so our teams can all communicate in the same environment,” he says. “They're able to look at that 2D information and overlay it on the 3D model so, for example, we can say, ‘This beam is going to need a gigantic crawler crane.’ Then the estimator has a workflow to make sure that crane is included in the estimate. We’re able to build a list of things we need into the estimate because we have a communication platform with the best possible information and we’re all working in that same environment.”
If you’re interested in learning more about how PCL could put these technologies to work on your upcoming projects, contact us using the information provided on this page. We’d love to hear from you!