Back in June of 2015, a relatively unknown company by the name of Daqri introduced an augmented reality-enabled hard hat that they dubbed the Smart Helmet.

While there clearly is not yet massive adoption among the trades for a more than $1,000 hard hat, that doesn’t mean Daqri has ceased innovation. In fact, as Construction Junkie reports, the company unveiled its next wearable device purpose-built for the architecture, engineering and construction industry: Smart Glasses. (Not to be confused with Google Glass, of course…)

Here is a video showcasing Daqri’s products at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show:

And here is a case study produced by Autodesk and Mortensen showcasing the Smart Helmet:

Learn more about the entire product line at Daqri’s website.

Part of the magic that separates Apple from being just another consumer technology manufacturer is the relentless pursuit of perfection. Steve Jobs famously describes lessons imparted from his adoptive father imploring him to make the unseen components of a product just as beautiful and carefully executed as those that are plainly visible.

Jobs’ final product, possibly his magnum opus dedicated to the company he loved so dearly, is in fact the Apple Campus 2 project, otherwise known as the “spaceship.”

The Verge’s Jacob Kastrenakes does a recap of a more in-depth article by Reuters pointing out the following nuggets:

One particular highlight of the report is Apple demanding that doorways be perfectly flat, with no subtle bump between the outside and inside of the building. A construction manager told Reuters that “months” were spent debating this, because they’d have to spend time and money figuring out a way to accomplish it. Apple reportedly wouldn’t give in because it worried that “if engineers had to adjust their gait while entering the building, they risked distraction from their work.”

But wait, there’s more!

  • No vents or pipes could be reflected in the building’s glass exterior
  • There are 30 pages of guidelines on how to use wood
  • Apple inspected “thousands of ceiling panels” to ensure they were “immaculate inside and out”
  • Debate over what doorknobs should look like went on for over a year and a half

Ever since GoPro tried to launch their new line of drones for their adventure enthusiast market, problems have tarnished the normally stellar reputation for solid, quality-built imaging technologies. Forbes’ Ryan Mac wrote a thorough analysis of the saga, with the provocative headline, “The Sky Is Falling For GoPro.”

The article opens with a story of a disappointed customer’s experience:

Six days after the release of GoPro’s first-ever drone in October, Brian Warholak was itching to get airborne. As an employee at a Chesapeake, Va.-based government contractor, Warholak, 43, had few opportunities during the workweek to fly his new toy. But on Friday, he left his desk early, unpacked his GoPro Karma from its carrying case and set it on a manicured lawn near the company parking lot.

In the video of Warholak’s aeronautic excursion, the drone lurches upward, pausing for its master to pan the attached camera. What it captures initially is unremarkable: a nondescript office building and a mostly empty car park. Then, two minutes into the voyage, the device bricks. Its four propellers cut out and the drone begins a five-second, 170-foot freefall toward earth. It smacks a few tree branches on the way down for good measure and lands camera upward to capture its owner rushing to the crash. “F***, now where is the rest?” Warholak is heard saying on the video. “Son of a b****.”

Here’s the video in question:

A short while back, I had a chance to meet an extraordinary young man named Brandon Andrews. As he was transitioning out of the Navy SEALs, he launched a new company called Trident CM LLC, with the brilliant idea to recruit former SEALs to provide construction quality management on DOD projects.

In the built environment, from the Northridge earthquake, to Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, and other disasters, resilience has become an imperative. But what does that even mean? (more…)

I am an outsider. Among construction defect and quality management professionals, my involvement with green building makes me stick out like a sore thumb. Among green building professionals, advocates and activists, my responses to claims that green buildings are better quality leads to some very awkward moments. Without adopting more sustainable practices, existing design and construction professionals will face irrelevance. Without addressing the increased risk inherent in high performance buildings, true sustainability will be unachievable.

Yesterday I was sitting at the park, flipping through the latest news stories on my iPad, while my daughters were playing. One article in particular caught my attention—in much the same way that a lightning bolt striking my head would have caught my attention—and I haven’t stopped thinking about it since.

Architect and writer Lloyd Alter, is a powerful ally in educating and informing people of both the importance and the beauty, that sustainable design and construction bring to the evolution of the built environment. He is an outspoken proponent of green practices in general, and LEED in particular. Any time that the “plastic people” (as Alter refers to lobbyists and others representing the interests of big chemical companies) try to smear LEED or green building for their own benefit, his column at TreeHugger is the place to typically find the most well-formed rebuttals.

In fact, Alter was clearly prepared for a fight in response to a piece I wrote analyzing the failure of the first LEED Platinum project. (He acquiesced after I replied to his comment, but boy was I worried about getting tarred and feathered at TreeHugger…)

Which is why when I read the following opening sentence from Alter, I knew something was up:

I am nervous about writing this post; no doubt the lobby groups that promote plastics and fossil fuel use and hate green building will jump on it.

Indeed, the story that Alter shared is astounding. Here is an excerpt from the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) regarding their findings associated with a fire at an office building in La Farge, Wisonsin:

Over the course of 18 hours, the officers and firefighters from La Farge, along with those from numerous surrounding departments, were faced with a growing array of challenges, including the location of the fire, the materials used in the building’s construction, the limitations of the town’s firefighting infrastructure, and more. The fire would eventually destroy a significant portion of building, resulting in an estimated $13 million in property damage and related losses.

After Chief Stittleburg contacted NFPA, and as more became known about the details and circumstances of the fire, the more it came to resemble a cautionary tale in the use of “green” or “sustainable” construction materials and what they can mean to firefighting efforts. The rooftop PV array, designed to reduce the building’s reliance on fossil fuels, also presented serious challenges to firefighters. In some respects, the La Farge incident became a kind of “perfect storm” fire, one that grouped a handful of challenges I’d seen elsewhere into a single event. NFPA accepted Chief Stittleburg’s invitation to visit La Farge and review the fire, and I was asked to travel to Wisconsin to see for myself how these factors combined to create an especially challenging fire situation—and to bring back the lessons learned at that fire.

Sifting through the ashes…

There were a lot of factors that contributed to not just the fire itself (although according to local news, the actual cause of the fire was never determined), but the manner in which the fire spread, and difficulties associated with fighting the fire. Here is a breakdown:

  • Solar photovoltaic panels on the roof caused numerous problems, especially because during the fire the panels energized the metal roof preventing safe access
  • Continuous concealed airspaces were probably the greatest contributor to the rapid and uncontrollable spread of the fire (more on that later…)
  • Combustible insulation fueled the fire, whereas fiberglass insulation is generally considered noncombustible and is often used as a firestop
  • A major factor in the rapid failure of certain structural components during the fire was the use of lightweight materials including engineered lumber products (also a factor in the failure of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation Headquarters) and steel-stud framing
  • Due to the spread of the fire through concealed spaces, the fire sprinkler system was relatively ineffective
  • A rupture of the sprinkler system in the attic resulted in a depletion of significant domestic water stores for the region

Analysis

The story of the fire in La Farge, Wisconsin is not an indictment of green building practices. What it is, is yet another illustration of just how important quality is throughout the built environment.

When you have a large area of a roof that doubles as a source of electricity, guess what? You have to take necessary precautions to avoid inadvertent discharging of that electricity, which could in turn cause serious threats to life-safety and health. If the circuits of PV panels do not automatically shut down when there is a short in the system, or fire is detected, then safeguards need to be implemented. Why do we have Ground-Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCI) required in bathrooms and kitchens? Because electricity and water don’t mix. Neither, apparently, do fire and energized PV panels mix.

Secondly, one of the first things I learned when researching and analyzing fire-resistive construction defects is the importance of managing concealed air space within wall cavities. Open air space within wall cavities allows fire (and the accompanying smoke and heat) to rapidly spread between building areas. In fact, a vertical open air space acts just like a chimney. It doesn’t matter if your building is “green” or not—the basic laws of physics and building science still apply.

Third, as Alter points out, why on earth would anyone use combustible materials for insulation when “green” noncombustible products are readily available? More frustrating for me personally, is the fact that the insulation in question is none other than recycled denim insulation. I was involved in the investigation of a project using this type of insulation. Not only was the insulation to blame for widespread mold (improper installation in a high humidity region), but the manufacturer refused to release any testing data related to the product’s fire resistive qualities. Let’s just say that that case did not end favorably…

Poor quality is still the biggest risk to sustainable design and construction

At one end of the spectrum in the AEC (architecture, engineering and construction) industry, there are folks like Lloyd Alter who continue to push for ever-increasing standards of building performance. At the other end of the spectrum, are people like firefighters that are just hoping that buildings will meet minimum standards of quality so they can go home and see their kids at night.

The fire that devastated the headquarters of Organic Valley in La Farge, Wisconsin doesn’t show the failure of green buildings. It shows the failure of our industry, once again, to meet basic standards of quality.


Resources:

After a period of introspection, I realized that the name AECforensics.com didn’t really tell the full story or capture my intent of creating and sharing content. The bigger purpose for me in both publishing content, as well as the primary motivator for doing forensic work, has always been improving quality in the built environment. The goal continuing forward is to break down barriers and share lessons learned with the people that need it the most.

Below is the video announcement:

Enjoy! And thanks for watching.

A giant sinkhole swallowed two buildings whole – and it was caught on video:

Luckily, reports indicate that nobody was harmed. The collapse took place on Monday in Guangzhou, China as construction workers were digging an underground railway tunnel. Narrowly escaping disaster, the workers sounded an alarm and nearly 300 people were successfully evacuated from the surrounding area.

Via Sydney Morning Herald and Associated Press

This is a special guest post from Kathi Frelk, Marketing Coordinator at Anderson Lock – “a total door opening supplier with an emphasis on doors, frames and electronic access controls.” I’ll admit I hadn’t known much about the company before they contacted me. Anderson Lock has been a family-owned business since 1960, with locations in Des Plaines and Schaumburg, Illinois. Two things that immediately set them apart in my opinion: the fact that Anderson Lock is a certified Women’s Business Enterprise (rare in this industry), and the company’s rigorous quality standards, as you’ll read about below.

If we haven’t tested it, we don’t sell it.

For access control products, that foundational company philosophy is increasingly difficult to adhere to. New electronic security products are being introduced to the commercial / institutional marketplace with futuristic features that can’t even be seen or touched! IP (Internet Protocol) Networks are rapidly replacing hard-wired systems. IP and RF (Radio Frequency) are both wireless, but they don’t always work together. And, taking away wires is only one facet of multi-faceted electronic security products. New system configurations require new locking hardware. And each new device needs to be tested before we specify or install it.

Since 1960, Anderson Lock has earned respect from door hardware industry leaders by consistently providing quality products and services. Because we install the products we sell, some readjusting occurs on jobsites, when a customer calls with a problem. We’ve provided beta testing for many kinds of door hardware, giving valuable feedback to manufacturers.

An ever-changing variety of electronic door hardware products are installed on multiple doors on the Electronics Lab within our main office. Additional security products are installed inside the glass-walled lab, which is used for product testing as well as for training for both our lock technicians and our customers.

Anderson Lock spends at least two weeks testing each new product. “We run them through the courses,” says Jeff Parcell, our Access Control Manager, who thoroughly inspects each new device with forensic precision. He reads through all the product literature before taking it into Anderson Lock’s Electronics Lab, where he and his colleague, Jeff Asta, hook it up to other system components.

Keypads, key fobs, card readers, biometrics and pushbutton transmitters are all tested with locking devices. Ease of operation and installation are important considerations when deciding which products Anderson Lock will specify. Confirming product claims is an essential element of the testing process.

One product claim that didn’t “check out” in the real world “built environment” was for a networked access control lock that came with a claim for being able to work up to two hundred feet away from the control box. It worked if the distance was completely unobstructed, like in an open hallway. However, most of the existing hospitals and schools that would be interested in that particular lock would not have enough unobstructed “pathways” to make the product cost-efficient.

And cost is a key consideration for institutional, commercial and industrial customers. They expect high quality, heavy-duty, reliable security hardware, at a price that fits into their budget. They don’t seek fancy as much as functional.

When our experienced hardware sales representatives “troubleshoot” on the phones for products we’ve sold, they observe that the “problems” are frequently caused by “not following installation instructions” carefully. Electronic products require more attention during installation than traditional mechanical locks. Wires need to be carefully handled, and must not be pinched, cut or improperly connected.

Product testing is hands on. It is thorough. It is as objective as possible. We try to prevent “call-backs” …unless it is from a satisfied customer calling us back to do additional work!


Thanks again to Kathi Frelk and the Anderson Lock team for this great guest post. We welcome your comments below.

On Friday, 12 September 2012, I will be speaking in Atlanta, GA at the Retail Design & Construction Conference – a national symposium focused on sustainable design and construction in the retail sector. My session, which has been approved by the AIA for continuing education units, is called Quality Assurance vs. Quality Control. Rather than give attendees some boring paper handouts, I created an entire website with all sorts of resources and information on the subject of improving quality in the built environment.

If you have visited AEC Quality .com at any point over the last month, you’ll notice that there haven’t been any new posts.

During August and the first week of September, I have been preparing for my presentation at the Retail Design and Construction Conference in Atlanta, GA.

The Road to AEC Quality .com

My first professional experience in the construction industry began in construction defect litigation. So from the beginning, I saw first hand, just how poor quality is in the built environment.

After investigating over 10,000 buildings, I have yet to see a building that is completely free of defects. And sometimes, the defects that I (and my colleagues) see are clearly the result of carelessness, if not shear stupidity.

That said, I have only seen a handful of projects where some sort of catastrophic failure was imminent – and even then, I don’t think I’ve ever seen an entire building that was actually on the verge of collapse.

Some defects are worse than others.

It was a few years back, when I was standing on a roof in Las Vegas in the middle of July. The temperature on the ground was around 110, but the surface temperature of the roof tiles was measured by another expert to be almost 160. I was there for destructive testing (DT), and watched as the crew carefully removed and set aside the roof tiles. Then they cut back the felt underlayment to reveal the roof sheathing beneath. Sure enough, right there on the roof sheathing was staining caused by water intrusion. In Las Vegas.

If we, as an industry struggle with keeping water from getting past the multiple layers of a roofing system in Las Vegas, how are we ever going to pull off projects that are truly sustainable?

Since my first day working on a drywall crew as an apprentice to the world’s greatest one-armed drywaller, I have been committed to improving quality in the built environment.

So when I was given the opportunity to speak at a national conference focused on sustainable design and construction, the topic was obvious: Quality.

However, I have only an hour to speak about a topic that I could go on for days about. My goal during that talk is two-fold:

  1. Inspire
  2. Empower

The only way that we are ever going to improve quality in the A/E/C industry is by changing cultural perception. Until everyone takes responsibility for quality, we’ll remain right where we are now – everybody pointing fingers at one another. My hope is to inspire people to make quality the #1 priority on every project. In addition, I want to give people some tools that they can use to empower them in that regard.

The result:

AEC Quality .com – a website dedicated to the pursuit of quality in the built environment.

What you can expect to find there:

  • Some definitions of Quality
  • Insight into the impact of quality on the A/E/C industry
  • A discussion of the diffence between Quality Assurance and Quality Control
  • Case Studies
  • Lessons learned about Quality management from other industries
  • The relationship between Safety and Quality
  • Practical ways to improve Quality in the built environment
  • Numerous resources, including books and articles exploring Quality both inside and outside the A/E/C industry

This is just the beginning

I will try to keep adding content to AEC Quality .com over time, and I have some additional projects in the works. AEC Quality .com (this site) will continue as a blog where I share news and insight from others and from the dark recesses of my own mind. And the best way to stay informed remains The A/E/C Brief – my free email newsletter. For real-time updates of the latest developments in our industry, follow me on Twitter: @AECQuality.

To paraphrase wine impresario and social media juggernaut, Gary Vaynerchuk:

You, with a little bit of me, are going to change the A/E/C industry – whether they like, or not.

The short answer: No.

My latest article for Retail Design & Construction Today, Defects in construction are inevitable, is now live. Here is an excerpt:

In software, every project is different. And while some processes can be automated, humans are responsible for the bulk of the work. Want to know a secret? No software is completely free of defects, or bugs as they are also known. The most successful software development companies put equal importance on adding new features and functions, as they do to resolving defects. So rather than denying the existence (or even the possibility) of defects, competent developers anticipate defects and deal with them accordingly. In fact, sometimes it is hard to know whether a certain function is a defect or a desired characteristic, leading to the tongue-in-cheek refrain: ‘It’s not bug, it’s a feature!’

Imagine if the construction industry placed equal importance on resolving inevitable defects as it did completing projects. I personally think that this process of maturation is essential if we are going to deliver projects that are more sustainable. Similar to the first step of a 12-step recovery program, we need to admit that we are powerless over the existence of defects and our quality control programs have become unmanageable.

The goal for those of us in the design and construction industry is to strive towards continuous improvement.

This news, also from RDCToday.com, doesn’t help the situation:

According to an analysis of federal data by the Associated General Contractors, over the past two years nearly 750,000 experienced workers have either found jobs in other industries, returned to school, retired or otherwise left the workforce.