In the current economic scenario, innovation, interoperability, and cost-effectiveness are the key deliverables in AEC Software solutions, S.D. Khan points out.
Well, it won't be an understatement to say that the progress of modern construction is directly linked to AEC Software. Technological assistance from computers has reached such a stage that a developer can plan and execute projects with unquestioned ease. Nonetheless, during the past two years or so, the country has witnessed an economic slowdown wherein each sector has had to bear the brunt of sluggishness.
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InteroperabilityToday, software solutions cater to the entire construction process starting from conceptualization, cost management, detailing, fabrication, erection, and follow-up. Notably, time and cost overruns are now minimized through interoperability wherein all the vital links in the hierarchy such as architects, contractors, engineers, and plumbing professionals are being brought on a common platform. This does sound like a recipe tailormade to clinch business deals in these times.
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He adds, "Infrastructure with integrity is the main component in today's construction world. The contractor's life is a very difficult one today. He has to stick to aggressive schedules without even minor compromises in quality. With not too many qualified technical resources, he is forced to interpret technical information from design consultants accurately while executing the project. This necessity is going to be the mother of the re-invention of reinforcement placement and fabrication drawings in India. Placement drawings will help contractors understand how and where to place the reinforcement accurately. Fabrication drawings will guide fabricators on the effective fabrication of steel. Both these will also contribute towards better documentation resulting in an easier approval process in the very near future."
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Informs Mr. Jagadish, "Our product positioning mainly concentrates on reinforcement engineering, materials and time saving, and profit margins. We were creating software that enabled engineers to execute accurate design and analysis. But we realized that however accurate the designs are, the ability to execute the project as per the designs determined the actual success of the design engineers. So, our solutions evolved into a design and detail package that ensure accuracy for contractors while execution. Over a period of time, we learnt that the profitability of contractors is what helped them stay motivated towards adhering to design details submitted by engineers. Our software then included features to help contractors, fabricators and developers achieve material prudence."
Delving more into the topic, he expresses, "Today there is a clear separation between the engineering and execution phases of infrastructure projects in India. There is less interaction between the engineering consultants, contractors, and developers on a common platform. As projects become more crucial, deliveries more urgent and profit margins more stringent, collaboration and co-participation between different roles in the Construction Industry has become very important. Developers want to see every intricate detail in the project while the consultants want to ensure that the execution is perfectly in line with their recommendations. Contractors on the other hand, expect continuous data flow from different phases of the project life-cycle to ensure availability of all minute details that facilitate profitable construction. Software solutions have also become generic and not role dependant. Only those solutions that can be used by an engineer, draughtsman, a contracts manager or a purchase engineer without too much of a learning curve shall successfully ensure this interoperability between different players. All software solutions will aim towards achieving this in the next few years," he foresees.
As if this was not enough, advancements in the AEC Software Industry are taking place at quick pace and consumers can now look beyond the much celebrated 5D & 6D. Pointing out the developments, Mr. Gupta observes, "Currently, we see a trend of 4D, 5D, 6D BIM aggressively catching up in the Construction Industry. Typically, BIM uses three-dimensional, real-time, dynamic software to increase productivity in design and construction stages. It is very beneficial as it brings all the stakeholders such as architects, structural engineers, plumbing, electrical, HVAC and other service consultants and contractors on the same page. This eliminates iterations faults at design level thereby reducing the execution time challenges which in turn avoid delay and cost overrun of the projects. At SoftTech, we are moving towards streamline integration of BIM product such as, REVIT to Projects Module of Opticon - our Construction ERP. This will intelligently link individual 3D CAD components or assemblies with all aspects of project life-cycle management information. Our product development focuses on leveraging BIM products to monitor the project progress by mapping the daily execution report of the building model and view the actual vs. planned progress."
Cost OptimizationMoving on to cost-effectiveness, in order to maintain grip over the market, AEC Software companies must incorporate this ingredient in their offerings. And it seems that the players in this segment have taken cognizance of this reality. Elucidating this, Mr. Chatterjee says, "We see polarity of many customers towards concepts like BIM-(Building information Modelling). Tekla BIM has been around for a very long time and we are one of the pioneers in creating softwares that help in complete building life-cycle during the construction phase. Let's imagine a scenario: as we know a contractor today is responsible for timely construction of a project. He is also responsible for every detail that has been supplied to him by the designers and architects. A small delay in materials availability or managing the logistics will have cost implication. Imagine now that your contractors can analyze the construction project model to optimize the cost estimates and schedule data. Our products allow better planning as a result of accurate quantity take-off, effective coordination and shared insight. This is 'Imagineering' at it best."
Talking of the approach that SoftTech has adopted, Mr. Gupta states, "The key to achieve cost optimization is standardization through process. Technology and manpower play the key to enforcing best of breed processes. Business process needs to go through continuous analysis and tweaks to adapt to changes due to external factors. There are different kinds of solutions available from different genres of companies from SAP to small regional players that can easily confuse the buyer organizations. The trend of "seeing-is-believing" with what's available on the screen through a product presentation did not prove to be the most effective way of finding the best fit."
He continues, "We at SoftTech with a pure play niche in AEC for more than 17 years bring a 360 degree view of the challenges and emerging trends of construction companies. Our core focus has always been cost, project and materials management while we certainly enable our customers' end-to-end processes. We are the only company that covers the entire breadth and depth of construction as a vertical with a line of products that suit business models, size and such other attributes of the target audience. We have also developed unique third party integration points with companies like Autodesk SAP and Microsoft in the areas of automated BOQ generation; enhanced business intelligence capabilities and most importantly project scheduling and monitoring. To top all that, SoftTech as an organization has immensely contributed to the overall construction community with through e-governance innovations like AutoDCR and PWIMS."
Dr. Joshi exclaims that the way to go is SAAS (Software-As-A-Service) model wherein companies only have to invest in buying user licenses on a feature-to-feature need basis. "No server hardware and heavy duty networking equipment has to be invested in. Also, there's no spending on the daily maintenance like database tuning and backups," he argues.
Array of OfferingsIt was way back in 1995 when AEC Software companies made a foray into India and by the year 2000, the market had matured considerably. The Indian Construction Industry has benefited a lot from these advancements, and the results are for all to see. Over the years, developers have churned out one engineering marvel after another, the Bandra - Worli Sea Link and the Delhi Metro Rail for instance. Do we need to say that software(s) have been instrumental here?
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Talking about the benefits of Tekla Structures, Mr. Chatterjee informs, "It provides an accurate, detailed, and data-rich 3D environment that can be configured for and shared by contractors, structural engineers, steel detailers and fabricators, as well as concrete detailers and manufacturers. Every nut and bolt can be modeled to enable optimized prefabrication and site management. Some segments that we cater to are PEB, Steel detailing, Offshore, Construction Management, Concrete and Rebar Detailing."
"The best part about our solutions is that we cover the entire workflow from sales, bidding, cost estimation, and conceptual design to detailing, fabrication, erection, and follow-up. Other than this, we are very happy to offer solution like BIMsight which facilitates smooth coordination and collaboration between all the project stakeholders with reduced RFIs. The best part about Tekla BIMsight is its user friendliness and even a sub-contractor anybody can use it. Simply put, you can do complete clash detection or review your model in real time 3D and also create mark-ups and notes. This will immensely help you streamline your coordination and avoid costly mistakes. With mobility access to Tekla BIMsight, we have extended our commitment to the construction industry, which can access all the model information right on their handheld devices," he adds
Talking about company's productive gains, he says, "Tekla Structures software reduced the material wastage by 3.5 to 4% and increased productivity by more than 30% at the Chennai Airport Expansion Project. At the Central Park tower in US, it is estimated that the total savings were close to $600,000 and 10 weeks. Similarly, the Mumbai Airport Terminal 1B was modeled and detailed within 15 days in Tekla Structures and the detailers could exactly convert the architect's concept into reality."
Apprises Mr. Jagadish, "With RebarCAD V 9.11, we are extending the pleasure of using our software to contractors who traditionally have found it difficult to prepare drawings on their own and have relied on drawings from consultants to prepare Bar Bending Schedules. It has become so simple that even a minimal CAD knowledge is sufficient to detail any type of complicated reinforcement. We have also ensured that contractors and rebar fabricators enjoy quantified material savings through our software. We have included tools that can help plan fabrication at the point of engineering. The result is a smarter and effective rebar engineering process which not only minimizes excessive consumption but also avoids the cost of man-power, storage and handling expenses for that part of steel that is in excess."
According to him, the cost of reinforcement in reinforced concrete structures contributes 15-25% of the cost to the contract value of a project. Hence, there is a need to control all activities related to reinforcement steel. The activities to be controlled are planning, indenting, ordering, procurement, inventory management, storage, utilization, measurement, and reconciliation. "Well, our detailed engineering product RebarCAD is quite unique in the sense that it not only helps in the detailed engineering phase but also helps in rebar processing and handling," he remarks.
Citing some telling examples of the benefits that RebarCAD has yielded at various projects, he informs "A leading infrastructure group working on the Metro Rail found the software not only useful for the preparation of placing drawings but also to manage the complete rebar solutions at site. The software updates rebar quantity available at site, along with the bar type and diameter length for future drawings too. Hence, unnecessary rebar storage at site is detected, re-utilized, and hence, the wastage is minimized up to 95%. On the other hand, a leading developer doing residential projects achieved faster rebar drawings and was able to reduce steel wastage. And the bench mark they achieved is preparing 80 drawings using 2 draftsmen in a month."
Mr. Gupta states, "Since its inception in 1996, SoftTech has put forth an impressive array of innovative software products for AEC vertical such as STRUDS, SEPL-RETWALL, SEPL-ESRGSR, OPTICON, AutoDCR PWIMS, and CreoLex. These innovative software products in Architecture, Engineering and Construction space enable government as well as private enterprises. They help these organizations in covering the entire infrastructure development cycle of plan, approve, procure, manage and maintain. We also have a suite of e-Learning solutions for engineering and vocational education. It offers unique digital learning experience to engineers, technicians and students by bringing practical education within their reach."
Speaking about E-Surveying Softech's offerings, Mr. Kamath informs, "We have prepared such a software for "Survey Engineering" that designs roads, creates contour maps, generates earthwork quantities and exchanges data between CAD and Google Earth." Well, one of E-Surveying's customers was accustomed to using an average method for finding out earthwork quantities. "But when we proved it to him that the average method gives wrong results, he immediately adopted our software, spent time in learning it, and was able to generate accurate results, which ultimately resulted in higher payments. By investing a meagre amount of Rs.12,000 he earned an additional Rs.1,00,000 in a single project."
On the other hand, Dr. Joshi avers that, Ravish Systems has designed and implemented EndUserERP.com, a cloud based ERP application for the infrastructure sector (builders and contractors). It runs in W3C compliant web browsers from the Ravish Systems cloud and companies pay only for the features they use. No hassles of maintenance, heavy investment in hardware and networking and not even software application maintenance. Procurement, Inventory Management, Project Management, Contractor Management, HR & Payroll are some of its major modules. Each module has a dedicated dashboard containing tabular and graphical information that business heads require to take decisions. Being web based, site management and control is very easy to accomplish."
Brushing Aside the DoubtsSoftware is not new to the Construction Industry, but, due lack of knowledge, many a time it has been observed that people invest in wrong solutions. Secondly, there is also a general misconception that software can do magic and manage the entire business. Industry experts have got a rational explanation to these misplaced beliefs.
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Explains Mr. Jagadish, "First of all, we must understand that each software is unique and useful in its own way. It depends on the user. The company needs to identify the right problem and then invest in a particular technology or evaluate the solution to match its pre-existing problem and salvage its investment. For instance, RebarCAD adds value in every stage of the construction life- cycle. Consultants will enjoy benefits by a quicker turnaround of drawings which tends to increase productivity and reduce the preparation of rebar drawings by 25%. The biggest advantage for a consultant using RebarCAD software is getting the BBS automatically and a greater ROI. Contractors enjoy huge material savings (30 Lakhs for every 1000 tonnes of Rebar*). Every hurdle the contractor faces on getting accurate drawings will be resolved completely by producing on time BBS and drawings to meet project deadlines. The off-cuts and scrap minimization will also reduce the project cost. Developers will have more control over project cost by reduced Rebar consumption. Also, professional drawings guarantee the quality of the project and give quicker and higher returns on investments. Fabricators/ Suppliers/ Bar Placers will benefit by receiving professional and accurate placement drawings to estimate accurate rebar quantities and reduced off-cuts and scrap. RebarCAD also links to fabrication systems such as Schnell, Armaor, and Steelpac."
According to Dr. Joshi, "One needs to buy what is implementable and not what has the highest number of features. If the software that takes care of 80% of your requirements is available, go for it. The remaining 20% of the features will never be used."
Opines Mr. Kamath, "I feel there is considerable maturity now among the engineers in the industry but there are still some misconceptions in the market such as open source projects are not worth, Indian software are not at par with the international ones, costlier software are really worth it, newer software are better, and that a particular solution should deliver all the requirements."
Mr. Gupta offers a logical reasoning, "There are a lot of ground realities to be straightened before we decide for an appropriate software product for the organization. The most critical aspect is "people". The maturity and skills of the work force of our customers significantly impacts the outcome. SoftTech has considered these ground realities both as a product as well as implementation. The results directly reflect in our flat 2 months successful implementations and ongoing support."
Clearly, AEC Software solution providers are moving in the right direction in terms of offering innovative products and ensuring cost-effectiveness. Sooner rather than later, construction and infrastructural activities will witness an upward trajectory which will breathe a new life in the AEC Software market.