Prior to forming technology service provider MEMKO, Miro Miletic spent 20 years at Boeing, and he believes that architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) can learn a lot from the aerospace industry.

When Miletic began his career with Boeing in the 1990s, the aviation industry was at the precipice of tremendous change. Although designers still produced paper drawings for each aircraft, 3D CAD was emerging as an alternative. With the 777 aircraft, Miletic was part of the first team to design and build an aircraft using 3D CAD as the master model. The next step was the 787: the first aircraft designed without paper using Model Based Definition (MBD). Everyone from supply to production worked from digital models. The design process realised incredible new efficiencies with this move.

Today, Miletic urges the AEC industry to recognise the efficiencies it too stands to gain from a digital transition. His decades as a Boeing executive gave Miletic an appreciation for the art of integrating solutions across industries. Since founding MEMKO in 2007, Miletic has been more focused than ever on that goal. MEMKO provides technology solutions, engineering and training for industries including aerospace and defence, as well as AEC.

However, Miletic has seen within the AEC sector a potentially crippling reluctance to learn from other industries. Eagerness to adopt solutions from other sectors was one of Boeing’s greatest strengths, he notes. For example, when the company switched to the use of large-scale carbon-fibre composites with the 787, experts looked to other industries using those materials, from yacht manufacturing to sporting goods.

“The learning is not directly transferable but you can adopt those ideas to suit your industry,” Miletic says. “It’s very important to learn from other industries and then modify to suit your particular industry requirements — but I think it requires a certain person and organization that has an open mind.”

Miletic sees this transfer of knowledge across industries as a potential solution to a problem plaguing not only Australian AEC, but the industry worldwide: inefficiency and waste. But it is the possibilities for creating solutions to this problem that attracts Miletic to the AEC field.

“The opportunity for breakthrough changes in addressing these challenges is phenomenal,” he says.

Getting buy-in

In many regards, Miletic finds that projects owners are ready for innovative new solutions for reducing inefficiency. Improving design and construction productivity is a particularly big concern for the Australian Government, as it remains the major funding source for most of the country’s infrastructure projects.

“The Australian government realised quite early that the lack of productivity in the sector is costing it and, ultimately, the taxpayers money,” Miletic explains. “So there was an inquiry into the productivity of the Australian AEC industry sector about five years ago.”

While Australia has not gone so far as, for example, the United Kingdom with its mandate requiring use of building information modelling (BIM) on government projects, the country is supporting research from industry associations, academia and others to improve productivity. In addition, as traditional manufacturing sectors such as automotive decline, the Australian government is urging manufacturers across those supply chains to move into the AEC sector. Miletic predicts that this will naturally lead to greater “cross-pollination” of ideas across industries.

Many of the country’s AEC companies seem reluctant to adopt this mindset of finding value outside of the traditional way of doing things. However, the aerospace industry once shared that reluctance. Miletic recalls arguments against adopting the automotive industry’s total quality management concept in the 1990s.

“In aerospace we were saying ‘we’re different, we don’t have the volume of production that automotive has’. Now I’m hearing similar things from my AEC colleagues,” he says.

Critics who say that the investment in tools that simplify the design process is unjustifiable because “every building is unique” are not looking at the bigger picture.

“It’s not true. Instead of focusing on products, you focus on process,” Miletic says.

Integrated design tools such as BIM can allow designers and contractors to simplify common elements across their unique projects, speeding each project’s time to market while providing more successful projects.

Exploring new solutions

Miletic sees big opportunities for improving AEC industry productivity in the project planning and execution phases, primarily by taking modelling and simulation to a greater level of detail than is currently practiced. In the BIM projects he sees, he finds architects, engineers and fabricators may do just enough modelling to create a detailed drawing for their own use, but rarely does he see these efforts integrated. This lack of data integration leads to change orders and other slowdowns in the field.

“There’s a lot of problem solving onsite, and all of this is waste,” Miletic says.

But there’s another area where greater use of integrated modeling tools can drive efficiency, and that’s in facility management and operations.

“The design and construction phase is really minimal compared to the 40-50-year lifecycle over which the building has to be maintained,” Miletic says. “Managing that information through the life of the effort is really the biggest opportunity.”

In that regard, MEMKO was able to use the 3DEXPERIENCE Platform from Dassault Systèmes, for whom MEMKO is a value-added reseller, to help one Australian Government Agency to digitally structure its building data from hand drawings dating to the 1890s to today’s CAD files.

“The challenge they were facing was to manage that information so it’s easy to retrieve for their maintenance and design providers,” Miletic explains.

MEMKO used the 3DEXPERIENCE platform to create an electronic drawing management system that stores and indexes building information, making it easier than ever for maintenance and future design teams to retrieve asset engineering data.

Should the building owner want to upgrade or modify one of their properties, the design team simply needs to search and retrieve the current information related to the asset, do their design work and then, once the design is finalised, the building owner can upload new information for future access by their maintenance provider.

Next steps

For now, the evolution to more integrated design and construction teams is still at the beginning. There are great opportunities to improve efficiency in entire lifecycle. AEC customers need to consider how to connect architectural design to the fabrication or construction phase by using sophisticated BIM solutions like 3DEXPERIENCE Platform.

Miletic points out that Australia is a country of growth, and as the growing population drives the need for more infrastructure and other construction, it will become increasingly necessary for AEC professionals to bring projects more quickly, affordably and successfully to market. To do so will require greater collaboration across companies and, perhaps, industries.