Monday, April 28, 2008

Journal #26: JIT and D&C

As I am running out of time and ideas for journal entries, I thought I'd put some more thoughts on the dynamics of the Design and Construction course. I am putting together the final report with my group, which is basically a summary of how we designed our study, what conclusions we drew from the data, and how we'd change the way the study was done for future students (they want to continue this type of study next year).

When I was researching different types of lean construction applications that we could use for the study, I read a lot of The Machine That Changed The World which is a history and analysis of lean production. Lean production is an production management technique, originated in post-WWII Toyota factories, that focuses on minimizing waste and creating flexible manufacturing lines. The concepts promoted by lean construction essentially have made Ford's assembly line obsolete.

One thing that is funny about the D&C class is that many new construction management techniques are used without any real reference to the research being done that promotes these techniques. For example, the D&C project is absolutely a "fast track," where the design process is concurrent with construction. It wasn't even a choice for Larry to design the process like this as there is such little time that construction must be started as soon as possible. Still, concurrent construction practices are changing the bidding and management practices continually.

Another example of this is an application of lean construction/production of "Just In Time" or JIT. JIT promotes efficiently managing your inventory by reducing it as much as possible, and thus reducing waste and saving money. The concept is that new materials arrive just as the previous materials are being used up, so any inventory is used up very quickly. Toyota did this by having majority/partial ownership (daughter companies or something like that) of their direct and most important suppliers.

JIT takes in part in D&C because as soon as we get supplies, they are immediately installed on the site if there is no delay (like today's delay: weather). There is hardly any inventory sitting around, as there is not any room available. Although it could be convenient to have all the supplies sitting waiting for us, it is not feasible. So deliveries must be scheduled with the week's work, and the work is dependent on the delivery being on time.

Think this is a legitimate comparison? Maybe throw it in the report? Maybe not, but I could look good in front of my advisor for bringing it up.

Journal #25: Johnny Lee at TED

Carnegie Mellon researcher Johnny Lee recently made a presentation at one of the famous Technology, Entertainment, and Design exhibits. Lee is known widely for his hacks of the Wii remote for many different uses (multitouch display, whiteboard, mounted head gear...). Moreover, he is a guy of seemingly endless talents, which is apparent at his site Little Great Ideas. Either way, you can watch the TED presentation here.

After watching you kind of get a feeling of how great it is to see someone who absolutely loves their work, and is mostly free from any sort of industry desires. My favorite quote, after discussing how quickly the video gaming companies incorporated his work, was "i was just pretty excited to see some sweet new games."

This is also pretty interesting to me as I had to take an architecture course this semester (to fill my CIT depth requirement as their LEED class got cancelled 5 days before classes started!) and I learned to do things like create my own infrared pen or headset with relative ease (check out some of my projects). I had watched Lee's YouTube videos at the start of the semester, and never dreamed of making something like the headset or pen, but now it seems like a weekly assignment.

Lee's comments on the influence of video sharing communities like YouTube are also insightful, and are relevant to the blogging community too. It's also funny to me that this ability to share ideas and commentary can receive serious backlash from professionals. The one I'm most familiar, mostly because I read a lot of them, are sports bloggers. There is constant criticism from professional sports journalists that these are untrained writers who know nothing of professional courtesy/code. Still, the bloggers argue (and many of the best ones are the ones that actually are professional journalists in other subjects) that they provide a unique perspective that most everyone else has; watching their t.v., talking with their friends, and reading articles. I find myself much more attached to my blogs now than anything written in Sports Illustrated.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Journal #24: Precautionary Principle, Risk Assessment Systems

There was a ton of confusion in class today about what the Precautionary Principle actually was, but I felt pretty clear on it from the reading. Before I start, lemme give a little definition so as not to confuse myself as I continue on through this post, and I hope I'm somewhat right here. The Precautionary Principle is a method that allows for the prevention of possibly harmful acts or actions based on portions, but not concrete evidence that has associated uncertainty. So there is a controversy whether laws should be enacted based on absolute final evidence, that could have resulted in damage that cannot be reversed, or some uncertain evidence, where evidence could be proven wrong in the future.

The most important point that was brought up was that a system should be put in place to try and limit the uncertainty. This way, when a potential act is being reviewed, a review board or something can quantify the uncertainty. So if an energy company's review board is looking at a new material that could be used as fuel, they could have an Life Cycle Analysis system to base their decision on. Obviously all risk is not going to be able to be found, but performing proper risk assessment through a predefined system that has been proven to work often.

Also, since there is no way that all uncertainty can be accounted for, the discussion came down to deciding what to design for. This is constantly a common theme, and guess what, happens to be the subject of my first and a few other of my journal entries. Sounds like it will constantly be a decision wrestled with in engineering.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Journal #23: Aldo Leopold Legacy Center

That article below I posted on the top ten green buildings actually had a linked case study to one of the buildings, so I decided to read into it and do a little analysis of why it was at the top of the list. The Center is a meeting place and archives center in the name and death place of the founder of the modern conservation movement.

Immediately visible is that this building received a highest Platinum level rating in LEED with 61 points, so they went above and beyond as only 52 points is required for Platinum and 69 is the most possible.

The design greatly minimizes energy and water use, but those most interesting aspect to me was that the construction was based on obtaining materials directly from the site. The construction process was then very different, as all woodwork and material fabrication was done completely on site. It was also very dependent on volunteer work, which I'm sure made the process frustrating for any planner, but was central in the effort to involve the community as much as possible. Also, 95% of the construction material was recycled. I wonder how hard it is to organize an effort like that, as waste is very, very apparent on any construction site. But on a small project like this I'm sure it was easy to keep track of the material, and if everyone is of a single mindset of the goal of the project (as the volunteers would be), it could be easy.

This underlines the point that if the workers, the employees on the lowest level and on the frontline, that construction could be much more environmental friendly.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Gates Center Blows It

AIA/COTE Announces 2008 Top Ten Green Projects.

Way to go jerks.

Journal #22: Sustainability with D&C??

Deanna's comments on the Life Cycle Analysis implications of materials used in construction, which is a lot of what my research will be centered around next year, had me wondering about the implications of those used in the current Design and Construction class. Since I was able to pull another 9 units from this class with an independent study, another study could be performed by students (maybe just for 3 or 6 units as a mini) to evaluate the sustainability aspects of the final "as-built" design. They could even throw in the theoretical score from the current LEED rating system! Or I guess I could do that myself for this year, but that sounds like a lot added work. Well, not really, but enough work that I wouldn't do it unless I got paid somehow.

This had me wondering even more how different a design process it would have been if someone like EPP or CEE had been the client instead of MSE (Materials Science Engineering). The design this year had students pitching different concepts that they believed would appeal to the client, such as different metals or shapes that applied to carbon atoms. CEE was the client twice before, but that was for a concrete lab and loading dock, which I don't think was centered around sustainability or an exceedingly environmental design. It would be interesting if the client did want detailed presentations on the material being used and how it centered around sustainability. Seems like the construction process could be very different as well and challenging.

So, when one of the D&C classes is faced with this, here's my hint. Good luck.

Journal #21: LEED and Employee Conditions

After reading the paper on small and medium sized enterprises' (SMES) investment in environmental measures, I again thought of another way for LEED to add to their construction management rating system. The paper focuses on the concept that SMES can benefit greatly from investing as worker conditions are improved as a result, and can increase productivity and attitude.

As I have discussed before, LEED does take some measures to address worker conditions such as points for air quality control (HVAC) and dust control. Still, this is standard practice at most sites I feel, and LEED could look into promoting further worker protection. This is hard to do on a construction site, as work is very driven with few breaks during the day. And since construction is mostly outside there is not much to improve upon with worker environment, along with AASHTO regulating safety conditions. So, as I can't really think of any right now, LEED should give double points for that super creative project manager who thinks of a great way to improve worker conditions.

It also occurred to me that LEED could even strive to make an entirely separate distinctions for the construction of a building and the design aspects of a building, as they are entirely different process, though often linked. This could spawn a whole slew of contractors who promote their adherence to LEED practices.

Now it feels like I am really reaching to find LEED criticisms, and maybe I should start pulling together my arguments for my final project.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Journal #20 - Design and Construction Division of Work

Since Deanna said people had been posting random things in their blog and that this was ok, I am going to write a little about the independent study I am performing this semester. Myself and two other masters students, Joe N and Greg G, are collecting data from the Design and Construction class regarding old and new construction management practices. The study is split into three parts: production rates, laser scanning, and percent project complete. The production rates are divided into what we have defined as indirect and direct work, and are compiled weekly from timecards submitted by each student. The percent project complete, which has only had data for the past 4 weeks, gauges how much (percent) each predefined weekly activity is completed by the end of the week. The laser scanning is a way to compare what the actual site resembles in comparison with CAD models (designed vs. as built).

As of now, we have only collected and compiled data, mostly regarding the production rates. But soon we need to start drawing conclusion, which our advisor wants in the form of recommendations on how we would improve the division of work or scheduling. This, I feel, is very hard with such an atypical project, and also hard as Larry Cartwright (the class professor) has molded this class's structure over many, many years.

What, from my understanding, has been different about this year's class so far has been the lack of presence of Larry in the construction aspect. This is mostly due to the experience of Brandon B, the construction manager (one of two or three student leads in the class.) Construction is scheduled daily, with the construction manager communicating via email or phone with those currently on the construction team what needs to be done the next day. The project manager (me) schedules weekly meetings with Larry, the construction manager, and another student on the scheduling team (which is just a team of two). The designated activities for the next week are determined at this meeting, and Larry can discuss how these tasks are to be completed.

I think that after these initial meetings the construction manager could meet with the construction team, or at least a core of them, so everyone is completely aware of what needs to be done. There is always a general idea, but it is commonplace that time is taken everyday to discuss how the activities are to be completed, and often these are unfocused conversation without the attention of everyone who should be aware (like me). A centralized meeting that is focused could be helpful in this regard.

Any suggestions would be very helpful, it is really tough to offer improvements to the management in this class.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Journal #19: Another LEED Idea

Since meeting with Deanna, and setting my goal on finding as many solutions for implementing more green practices in construction through LEED as my final project, my journal entries will kind of be more and more focused on LEED subjects. At some point (soon) I will start tabulating my problems with the current LEED construction ratings or lack thereof. So in this post I am going to present a couple of ideas that I think could LEED could incorporate in their New Construction rating system.

Innovation in Design is definitely an integral part of the LEED rating system, where architects and designers can headline the green aspect of their building through some unique design aspect. In all my project management/construction courses, value engineering, or finding a better solution than what was planned, has always been highlighted as a staple of a good estimator, planner, or scheduler in construction. LEED could encourage new construction green practices by rewarding them in the rating system. It isn't far fetched at all, as I've already discussed new environmentally friendly aspects of building information management (BIM).

Another concept I thought of was, if LEED starts using regional rating systems, that certain construction practices should be required/encouraged based on location. Temperature, materials availability, rain/sun... these are aspects that could definitely be taken into account when designing a construction system, which I am sure is already commonplace among many regional contractors. Either way, construction practices should absolutely be considered when thinking of regional rating systems.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Journal #18: Wal-Mart's Energy Efficient Stores

I think I remember saying somewhere in some blog entry where I had never seen any efforts at any of the construction sites I have worked at to promote green buildings and green practices. This is because they were mostly mall and housing type sites. Maybe this was due to my assumptions or some sort of construction site prejudice, but I don't think any of the sites really did have any aspirations for that.

However, when I was at a Lowe's construction site, there was a Wal-Mart being finished next door. It seemed like mostly detail and interior work, so I couldn't see much, but I wouldn't have expected their environmental building practices to be any different than a place like Lowe's (which seemed non-existent).

Well, I came across a blog post that mentioned Wal-Mart introducing a second generation of energy efficient stores. So I checked out the Wal-Mart press release on the first generation of these stores introduced, the first one being a "superstore" in Kansas City. It sounds like, along with some choice materials such as LEDs, the main focus was on heating and air-conditioning (HVAC), and the refrigeration system.

I didn't read anything about LEED certification or any goals to obtain it, but I'm sure had Wal-Mart achieved LEED status in buildings it probably would have received more press... which is too bad, because it sounds like Wal-Mart is doing very good things for a large corporation that expands their store numbers constantly. Hopefully there could be some sort of way for LEED to certify large chains of buildings like this, or recognize them in someway.