The latest Autodesk University user conference, held in London in June with an estimated 2,000 attendees, showcased some of the recent achievements in the automation of design and construction. Touting a theme of “the opportunity for better,” the construction software firm updated users on the coming convergence between construction and manufacturing processes. It offered real-world examples, including the mapping of jobsites via autonomous robots, the benefits of using manufacturing practices on a project site, as well as developments in the fields of generative design and machine learning.

Sam Ramji, vice president for Autodesk’s Forge cloud platform, outlined the industry’s challenge of meeting the demands of the built environment. By 2050, for example, the global construction industry will need to produce an estimated 14,700 buildings per day to support the world’s growing population, despite workforce and environmental obstacles, he noted.

“In order to solve this fundamental capacity problem, we have to fundamentally rethink the way we make things, balancing the inevitable need to do more with the reality of doing it with less,” Ramji said.

Meeting that “massive design challenge,” he says, is also “the biggest design opportunity.” The increasing use of tools to analyze data from construction sites—such as Autodesk’s BIM 360 Construction IQ software—will play a larger role in getting the industry to deliver projects more efficiently, he adds.

“As we construct more buildings, the opportunity for improvement is to analyze this data in order to improve the quality of the product and reduce the number of accidents” by better predicting jobsite risks, he says.

But switching up processes in order to analyze project data requires significant effort by the contractor. Royal BAM Group, a Netherlands-based construction firm, learned this when it made the commitment in 2017 and started digitizing and analyzing its project data via Construction IQ.

While BAM was already collecting and recording a wealth of project data, the company estimated that roughly 80% was not being used for analysis. With Royal BAM’s permission, Autodesk started collecting data from its projects, which it then incorporated into its Construction IQ tool to better predict and manage risk.

For its efforts, the contractor says that it is now digitizing 95% of project data points and estimates it has achieved a 20% improvement in quality and safety. At the same time, Royal BAM says that it is now able to spend roughly 25% more time focusing on tasks and “risk items.” Earlier this year, Autodesk took Construction IQ out of limited trials and opened it up to the entire BIM 360 user base as a free add-on to the project dashboard ( 2/26).

The rise of prefabrication also generated some head-turning results. A dramatic adoption of manufacturing processes and practices on a London high-rise residential project with twin towers was explored in depth by Matt Gough, innovation director for MACE Group, a U.K.-based contractor and consultant. The results achieved on the East Village No. 8 project—built several years ago—still stand as examples of what’s possible in the future, according to Gough.

In terms of schedule improvements, MACE’s on-site assembly of prefabricated components enabled the contractor to erect 18 stories of residential units within 18 weeks. Gough says the contractor completed the project 30% faster than a traditional construction approach, while requiring 50% fewer workers than usual. Moreover, “It was our safest high-rise project with over 2 million man-hours completed without an incident,” he says.

By Scott Judy in London