At a time when companies struggle to reduce “optional” expenses like conferences and travel, one organization of determined visionaries still attracts strong participation as it drives efforts to bring efficiency-enhancing technologies to the workplace.

FIATECH, an industry consortium heavy in the capital facilities sector but drawing increasing interest from other areas of construction, fielded a strong turnout of technology leaders at its annual conference in Las Vegas on April 6-9. Attendance was down about 17% from previous records, but those who came despite the recession said now is the time to integrate improvements to position their companies for the next growth cycle. They were rewarded with first looks at significant new technologies.

Photo: Tom Sawyer / ENR
Ronald Lynn, Vegas inspections chief, gives
Golden-i a try.
Image: Mindtime Inc.
Conference participants who took the "GPS of the Mind" survey tended to fall to the futuristic side.

One FIATECH team demonstrated a new open-source set of software utilities to aid implementation of standards-based exchange of design-element and relationship data, such as used to plan and build industrial facilities. The team showed iRing, set to launch on May 29. It is an online adaptor that transforms data from any source format, whether it is in an Excel spreadsheet or a sophisticated 3D modeling program, into a representation that is referenced to classes, relationships and definitions in an online ISO15926-Reference Data Library (RDL), a globally and publicly available store of plant component data. “When you map your system with the iRing adaptor, you make reference with the reference model and your system, whatever it is,” said Robin Benjamin, a Bechtel engineering automation manager and team leader of the project to develop the iRing exchange software. Having a common, neutral, public reference base is a key to interoperability, he said.

The RDL, hosted in Norway, is like a combination dictionary and grammar guide that standardizes words, their meanings and the way they can be connected, without telling the writers what to say. The iRing will serve as an interoperability network grid that collaboration partners can use at no charge to transform and exchange design contributions, regardless of the native design products used.

In live demonstrations, participants scattered around the world automatically exchanged data representing design developments from multiple platforms and authoring software. “Now we are all talking the same language and not defining data differently—and then doing it again on every project,” said Benjamin.

Another attention grabber was a presentation by John Furey, president and CEO of Mindtime Inc., Ketchum, Idaho, who has studied the way people think by collaborating with linguists, psychologists and management experts. One result is an online profiling tool that debuted at the meeting. It uses a set of 18 questions to “mind map” personalities and thinking styles within an organization. Additional questions can be included, and the data can be parsed by job function, department, title and many other ways, but the core questions provide a key to unlocking the puzzle of group motivation as well as goal and vision sharing.

A third showstopper at the conference was a heads-up display, Golden-i, also shown publicly for the first time. It is a voice-operated headset for displaying data on a chip and for interfacing with a computer either by direct Bluetooth connection or over the Internet to remote locations. Its sharp graphics, ease of use and overall “wow” factor had attendees lining up to try it. The developer, Kopin Corp., Westborough, Mass., is looking for beta testers and will start sales this year.