Agile (with a capital “A”) project management is a set of practices for moving complex projects along as efficiently as possible, with the primary goal of meeting customer needs through continuous innovation.

It is also a practice I’ve used on multiple occasions in a variety of contexts, and I’ll be honest — there is a reason the folks in software development swear by Agile for actually getting things done: It works. (more…)

First the robots came for manufacturing jobs. Then they went after skilled labor. Now, robots are going after inspectors.

Reuters’ Alwyn Scott reports on a new business line at GE dedicated to a mostly automated process of inspecting buildings and other facilities:

General Electric Co has begun testing autonomous drones and robotic “crawlers” to inspect refineries, factories, railroads and other industrial equipment with an eye on capturing a bigger slice of the $40 billion companies around the globe spend annually on inspections.

In trials with customers, aerial drones and robots are able to move around and inside remote or dangerous facilities while photographing corrosion or taking temperature, vibration or gas readings that can be analyzed by computer algorithms and artificial intelligence, Alex Tepper, head of business development at Avitas Systems, a startup GE formed for this business, told Reuters.

Some notes:

  • First and foremost, this is for petroleum, transportation and energy distribution systems
  • GE will not be replacing all human involvement, though it will be leveraging artificial intelligence to further improve the inspection technology
  • IBM has already proven the use of AI in detecting manufacturing defects

The primary driver for developing this capability is attrition among experienced inspectors. This parallels what is happening in the construction industry: highly experienced skilled professionals are retiring, yet few younger folks are drawn to the industry.

California will require that all residential housing comply with zero net energy requirements beginning in 2020. My own personal conversations with many of the builders in Southern California points to a real reluctance — if not outright denial, in some cases — about meeting those goals.

Patrick Sisson, writing for Curbed, reports that across North America, it is clear that some builders are bucking the status quo resulting in some rather positive news:

According to a new report by the Net-Zero Energy Coalition, while its still on the fringe, this type of sustainable construction is rapidly gaining popularity. In 2016, 33 percent more net-zero units were built across the U.S. and Canada than the previous year. The 8,023 new single-family and multifamily units will eliminate the equivalent of 16,406 cars and 77,929 tons of CO2 emissions each year, versus buildings that met code compliance.

The majority of the new buildings, 61 percent, were part of larger, multi-unit projects. The largest multi-unit project (663 units, completed and occupied) and the largest single-family project (350 units, in design) are both at the University of California Davis’s West Village, a huge residential project that’s expected to grow substantially in the coming years due to expansion.

It should come as no surprise to longtime green building professionals that UC Davis is leading the way. The school has been home to many of the most pioneering green building benchmarking and best practices research over the past several decades.

Energy modeling is not exactly a brand new science, but it certainly hasn’t been around very long, either.

In essence, energy modeling is a software-based approach to predicting how much energy a given building will use based on its location, orientation, wall/roof/slab design, windows, doors, etc. In California, for example, energy modeling is a critical aspect of designing any project and carries a great deal of influence on the permitting process. In Europe, there are very real country-wide energy usage agreements that set measurable goals for building performance. (more…)

Timothy Schenck, writing for Engineering News Record, discusses the elaborate solution that was implemented during the Empire State Building’s retrofit in order to protect pedestrians:

When engineers made plans to reinforce and upgrade the carrying capacity of the Empire State Building’s mast and tower by adding 39 tons of steel, they had to find a way to protect pedestrians from falling rivets, tools and materials. Roofing the observatory and building bridges over the sidewalks 1,250 ft below were lousy options. The top of the iconic New York City building has an open-air observatory at the 86th floor and premium viewing spaces at the 102nd and 103rd levels. Annually, these spaces host about 4.3 million visitors and generate about $85 million in revenue. Soaring above the busy streets, a 200-ft-tall steel broadcast tower bristles with antennas that generate about $20 million more. Together, the observatory, mast and tower are the crowning jewel of the 86-year-old icon, which is owned by the Empire State Realty Trust Inc.

The search for an alternative to scaffolding dates to February 2014, when the ESRT’s building engineer, engineer-of-record Thornton Tomasetti, site safety engineer Plan B Engineering and contractor Skanska USA Building Inc. began to consult with New York City Dept. of Buildings officials to devise a plan that would not only protect the public and workers but also allow for the strengthening of the mast and tower without having to resort to sidewalk bridges.

They came up with a design for a sheltering “cocoon,” which sits on a 560-sq-ft aluminum elevated work platform, or “dance floor.” The platform is braced from below by steel brackets through the conical ice shield, which is there to shatter ice falling from the tower.

It just goes to show that proactive safety and risk management practices don’t have to be boring, and in fact, there is a lot of room for innovation in those areas.

According to a press release by the University of British Columbia, researchers have developed a concrete formulation that includes recycled tires for a more resilient and sustainable building material:

The researchers experimented with different proportions of recycled tire fibres and other materials used in concrete—cement, sand and water—before finding the ideal mix, which includes 0.35 per cent tire fibres, according to researcher Obinna Onuaguluchi, a postdoctoral fellow in civil engineering at UBC.

Recycled-rubber roads are not new; asphalt roads that incorporate rubber “crumbs” from shredded tires exist in the U.S., Germany, Spain, Brazil and China. But using the polymer fibres from tires has the unique benefit of potentially improving the resilience of concrete and extending its lifespan.

“Our lab tests showed that fibre-reinforced concrete reduces crack formation by more than 90 per cent compared to regular concrete,” said Onuaguluchi. “Concrete structures tend to develop cracks over time, but the polymer fibres are bridging the cracks as they form, helping protect the structure and making it last longer.”

Fiber admixtures are certainly not a new concept in concrete, but by using rubber from old tires, this product is diverting waste from landfills, thus helping to offset the heavy carbon footprint associated with concrete production.

According to Dylan Martin at BostInno, a new startup called Dispatch has successfully raised a $12-million round of venture capital from an enviable list of investors that includes ServiceMaster, Liberty Mutual Strategic Ventures, Salesforce and Assurant.

What does Dispatch do?

The easiest way to describe Dispatch is this: the Boston startup has built a software platform that lets people book home services professionals for things like pest control and appliance repair, with the ease of use found in apps like Uber.

[…]

Dispatch’s software helps home service providers offer features that people have come to expect with the proliferation of apps like Uber, OpenTable and Airbnb, such as the ability to schedule appointments, communicate with providers directly, receive job updates and make payments. The startup said its software now serves more than 50,000 homes a day.

Why does this matter? Dispatch’s CEO and founder Avi Goldberg says that, “by creating that operating system and infrastructure, we’re giving the toolkit to enterprises so they can compete for homeowners that want a modern customer experience.”

Earthquakes are a serious design consideration when it comes to the built environment. Particularly in areas along the Pacific Rim, where seismic activity is somewhat regular.

CNN reports on an innovative, and certainly very aesthetically striking design concept in Japan that is intended to help a building not so much “fight” earthquakes, but will rather “live with earthquakes.” That is according to the building’s architect, Kengo Kuma. Here’s more info:

The latest quake proof innovation involves a curtain of braided carbon fiber rods anchoring a building to the ground almost like a tent with thousands of guy ropes. This design is currently being tested on a concrete office block in Nomi in Japan’s Ishikawa prefecture.

The rods extend from a frame on the building’s roof and are fastened to the ground at a specific angle. Inside the same rods reinforce the stairwells and windows. The curtain of thermoplastic carbon fiber composite adds a soft, rippling aesthetic to the building. While the rods are flexible, they are also incredibly strong — strong enough to restrain the force of an earthquake.

When the ground begins to tremble causing the building to shift left or right, the rods stretch and pull it in the opposite direction, preventing it from shaking.

Perhaps it should come as little surprise that Sweden’s new Museum of Failure sounds like the perfect museum for a person like me. Jason Zasky, writing for Failure Magazine (which is now one of my favorite subscriptions), reports the following:

The Museum of Failure isn’t on any list of the Top Things to do in Sweden—at least not yet. The new museum, which opened last week in Helsingborg, a city of 130,000 people on Sweden’s southern coast, has already attracted worldwide media attention and is drawing visitors from around the globe. In fact, Chinese tourists have been arriving by the busload “to look at the Donald Trump board game,” notes curator Samuel West, a former clinical psychologist who has more than 70 different failed products and objects on display in the 450-square-meter space.

The underlying message of the museum—that we can all learn from failure, that even the largest multinational companies fail spectacularly, and that business executives have the most to gain from an appreciation of failure—is worth considering. In fact, the museum’s essence recalls the work of the late Robert McMath, who spent decades building a collection of tens of thousands of failed consumer products, housed in his Ithaca, New York-based New Products Showcase and Learning Center, which I had the opportunity to visit in 2000. McMath would go on to write several columns for Failure, including one about Breakfast Mates, which explains how Kellogg’s went wrong when it tried to sell cereal and milk—a winning combination, if there ever was one—together.

Zasky was lucky enough to score an interview with the museum’s curator, Samuel West — which I highly encourage you to read in full. In the interview, West explains that absolutely none of the companies whose products are featured would agree to discuss their inclusion:

Most of the brand managers didn’t even reply to my emails or LinkedIn requests. I do understand that it’s sensitive but I was naïve to think that with the focus of the museum being to learn from mistakes, that they would cooperate. Failure is kind of cool now, and failure isn’t as stigmatized as it used to be—or so I thought. I was wrong.

As for me, I can’t wait for an excuse to visit Sweden to check out the Museum of Failure!

Construction Dive’s Hallie Busta reports on the recent acquisition of construction software startup FieldLens by commercial real estate startup WeWork.

Never heard of either? You may not be alone, if you have been working in the built environment for some time. Chances are, however, that you’ll be hearing a lot more about WeWork and their highly profitable, avant garde approach to co-working commercial office spaces. One just opened down the street from me, for example. (more…)