Real time costings

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A recent survey shows that UK engineers and architects are lagging behind their European peers when it comes to practising lean construction management. Nemetschek is trying to change this by working with CSSP, a developer of cost management software.

Nemetschek, the developer of Allplan and VectorWorks, recently commissioned a European wide study looking at New Business Potentials for Architects and Engineers. According to the report, economic factors such as cost planning and TAI (Tendering, Awarding Contracts and Invoicing) still play a somewhat minor role in the United Kingdom. By way of comparison, European architects and engineers rate these areas much more highly and would prefer software that is equipped accordingly. The study shows, however, that an ideally configured AEC solution needs to contain more than CAD if it is to satisfy the increased demands of architects and engineers. AEC Magazine talked to Harald Krohmer, Managing Director of Nemetschek UK about how the company is looking to address some of these issues.

One of the main findings highlighted in your report shows that UK architects and engineers are not paying as much attention to ‘cost reduction’, and ‘Lean Construction Management’ as the rest of Europe. How is Nemetschek looking to address this?

Harald Krohmer: In short, we intend to extend the functionality and features of Allplan in relation to the building construction information services and use the unique selling point of 3D to carry out volume calculations in combination with cost estimation, project management and finally tendering.

If you talk to anyone involved in the construction process – including the customer, architect, surveyor – you’ll find that they are convinced that you need to have an informal database, a way to communicate or transfer all this information, and to be able to manage project changes more effectively. At the end of the day we talk about costs, we talk about the fact that a building is planned for a certain budget and commonly during the lifecycle of the project you run out of budget. People notice this, but their awareness of the financial implications is not precise. What we want to do is help those involved in the construction process get a closer view of the change management requirements.

To help introduce lean construction processes, such as ‘just in time’, ‘collaboration management’, and ‘platform communication’, we intend to collaborate with companies covering cost estimation, tendering, and project planning, and then users can benefit fully from 3D. The third dimension calculates the volume, and the fourth dimension calculates the volume along with all the costs. We want to enable our users to have more control over ‘change management’ so they are the owners of the costs at all stages of the project.

Some of your customers are already doing this in mainland Europe, in countries like Germany, but how will this be implemented in the UK?

HK: We are looking to collaborate with CSSP, a UK company who is focussed on project management and cost management of building and construction projects. We are working together to find a standard way of importing design catalogues and element catalogues from our side (the design side) into the cost calculation side. Of course there are several branches of construction – you have the engineering parts, you have house-building parts, you have infrastructure etc – they all use different elements and catalogues. We recognise that we currently have more or less seven applications in the market and we intend to offer seven different catalogues of elements to be the basis for the customisation of this type of collaboration.

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For instance, you have the pre-cast market, engineering for street works, and residential buildings for wooden framework or timber houses. All the time you have the same application (Allplan) but it’s customised differently.

But hasn’t this type of implementation for design catalogues been done before?

HK: To date, all the systems in the market have shipped as ‘naked’ systems, and the differences in the future will be to develop customised systems and catalogues in relation to the main applications of these construction companies. As an added value or unique selling point to their customers, they are able to reduce the cost calculation differences from +- 15% at the beginning of a project to +-5%.

“We want to enable our users to have more control over ‘change management’ so they are the owners of the costs at all stages of the project.”

If you think about big industry companies, who are building several supermarkets in the same way around the country, if you can offer them a way of designing, planning, and cost calculating precisely and from the beginning – it’s a real plus for them in terms of time and money.

So what’s the technology behind this? How are these design catalogues stored?

HK: They are stored in the Allplan format – we import this. We have another product, a catalogue import product and database, called Alltop, which can be used to read different files – we can read XML files, and we can read ACSII files to import them as standard catalogues. Then after doing the design, based on those catalogues, they can be communicated to the cost calculation and tendering part of the software.

And this is where CSSP comes into play?

HK: Yes. The catalogues are more or less designed – they have to be customised in relation to the customers’ application and main building and construction proposals. We have to have a basic load in our system based on applications, markets, and expectations, and then do the final customisation together with the customer – in the case of the construction firms, in relation to their specific projects.

For instance we have customers over here in Germany that are offering a unique service to engineering companies whereby they can calculate projects of up to 50 million Euros within a week, in 3D, with the output being a very precise volume calculation. Then Allplan’s role ends and the next partner comes on board, which in the case of the UK is CSSP. We transfer the volumes from Allplan to CSSP’s products and they do the real cost estimation, and once they have identified the suppliers they do the real tendering, in a very precise way.

New Business Potentials for Architects and Engineers is available from www.nemetschek.co.uk

More info on CSSP can be found at www.cssp.co.uk

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