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People often ask me why the majority of the staff in Bryden Wood’s Singapore office are data analysts. I suppose it seems counter-intuitive for a firm focused on design and engineering for the built environment to put such stock in analytics. This however is a key aspect of Bryden Wood’s Design to Value approach and for me has always seemed like a natural extension of our long-term quest to deliver better design through a deeper understanding of how buildings really work.
Others at Bryden Wood have already written extensively about the importance of data and analytics in the design and construction industry. A major aim of design, at least in my view, is to deliver an outcome that fulfils the client’s requirements in the best possible way. It follows that if we can accumulate data about what our clients are seeking to achieve and analyse the data to generate insights to inform our design process, the better the result will be.
At Bryden Wood we have many industrial clients who are concerned with transforming raw materials into new products through complex processes. Our data analysts engage directly with clients to collect information about their processes and produce complex time-based models to simulate them and quantify the required inputs and resulting outputs.
This analytical work is diverse, ranging from a recent optimisation study for a pharmaceutical plant in Singapore, to a strategy for scaling up commercial supply of a new product, to investigating the likely production timescales for a future COVID-19 vaccine.
Some might say that it is the role of the client to understand their process and of course that is correct. However, a client is generally interested only in the process, its technical feasibility and ability to achieve their business needs. We are interested in designing a built envelope that houses the process in the most efficient way.
The only way we can do this effectively is by analysing the process. For example, the size and quantity of raw materials needed to produce the required volume of product will determine the size of the warehouse. The maximum throughput of the equipment that is used will determine how many pieces of equipment are needed to process the volume. The degree of process automation will determine how many human operatives will be needed along with the associated offices, meeting rooms, tea points and toilets. Every aspect of the process can be used to inform facility design.
Clients will often approach us with a pre-determined idea of what their project should look like. There is a lot of value in this because the client holds all the technical expertise about their process- more than we ever will. A client’s proposed solution will probably already be well aligned with their engineering requirements but it will also be just one of many possible solutions and our job is not to settle for the adequate outcome but to find the best.
This is another area where data analytics can help the construction industry. Many aspects of a process can be considered a variable. For example, a warehouse can be made smaller by changing the delivery frequency or providing more in-process staging. Throughput can be increased by changing the shift pattern or by reallocating products onto under-utilised equipment. New-build facility costs can be avoided by upgrading existing plants instead. There are many possible options for any business challenge and with digital simulations we can rapidly consider them and focus our attention on the best-performing ones.
This approach is applicable not just to complex factories but to projects ranging from schools to offices, prisons, airports and others. At Bryden Wood we use data analytics to deliver best-in-class designs in many building sectors. Our work in healthcare has recently culminated in the completion of the Circle Birmingham hospital which delivered a state-of-the-art new facility for 30% less cost than comparable hospitals.
Data analytics is one key reason we can achieve such major cost advantages on projects delivered in this way. By gaining a much deeper understanding of project and process requirements early on, we can quickly settle on a functional solution and start thinking about the most efficient construction method (and opportunities for introducing DfMA) far sooner than would be conventionally possible.
At every step in this process, the use of digital tools to visualise and interpret data is instrumental to engaging with client-side stakeholders in a truly collaborative working environment. Our analysts will often become embedded in client teams, building our process understanding while at the same time the client becomes embedded in our design team, allowing us to reach a shared agreement of what the best possible solution looks like.
Having been static and traditional for so long, the construction industry today is fast-paced and evolving in many ways. Bryden Wood is at the forefront of that change and we see data analytics as playing an ever more important role in a smarter, more productive and digitally enabled future.
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