A 30-story hotel goes up in China in just 15 days, and a fully customized elementary or high school in the U.S. can be ordered “in a box.” These phenomena speak volumes about the future of building.

The Construction Americas conference presented by FIU last week at the Miami Airport Convention Center featured these and other trends and brought together professionals and students for a day of learning and networking.

“We can only teach in the classrooms so much,” said Irtishad Ahmad, director of FIU’s OHL School of Construction, which organized the event. “Industry is moving very fast. We really cannot catch up by changing our curriculum. That’s why this [conference] is so valuable for the students as well as educators like me. It’s also important for the industry because they are connecting with the students that they are going to hire soon.”

OHLSC ceo panel

Gilberto Neves, far right, president and CEO of Odebrecht USA, joined other CEOs for an early-morning panel at the Construction Americas conference presented by FIU.

Speakers forecast increased productivity
Leaders from top international companies such as Skanska, Odebrecht, Facchina and OHL Arellano discussed the future of the business. Technology experts followed up with a panel dedicated to digital innovations that have transformed how buildings are designed and erected.

“The change we’re going to see in the next 15 years in our industry is unlike anything we’ve ever seen,” said Steve Jones, a senior director at Dodge Data & Analytics. Jones talked about the single biggest impact on today’s thriving construction industry: building information modeling, or BIM, which describes the process of designing a building collaboratively using computer models instead of sets of drawings. In this way architects, engineers and clients can share information in a single file and communicate more effectively.

Equally important, BIM supports the integration of functions such as materials ordering, contractor scheduling, price estimating and more. As Jones explained it, waste is reduced, errors go down, costs are lowered and time is saved.

“This is bringing an enormous amount of certainty to the process,” Jones said. Making his point in dramatic fashion, he showed a time-lapse video of the construction of a 328-foot tower in Hunan Province, China, that was completed in just 360 hours.

Jones also talked about high-quality pre-fabrication made possible with the aid of digital templates. The technology allows for attractive, customized designs that take basic building materials and traditional construction out of the equation. The result: a cost-effective and sustainable facility—a school, a hospital—built of components, including exterior walls and whole rooms, that are manufactured and partly assembled in a plant before shipping to its intended site for final placement, the so-called “in a box” approach to new development.

Expo features school-involved companies
An accompanying exhibit hall, which showcased large and mid-size construction firms alongside vendors who support the building industry, gave students a chance to talk with potential employers.

“They’re eager to see students,” said Jose Pereyra, who is working toward a master’s in construction management, a degree program that introduces modeling systems as part of the curriculum. He believes that employers increasingly look for candidates with skills in that area. “[Companies] see that BIM is the future, and they know they lag on some technological knowledge,” he said. “[FIU students] have the knowledge.”

Luis Jimenez, an account manager for concrete provider Supermix, which exhibited a new product, reiterated his support of FIU students, whom he has had out to the company for tours of its test lab.

“We will always welcome students,” said Jimenez, who encourages young people to gain industry exposure in any and every way possible. He advises them to take initiative when meeting those in the field. “Don’t be afraid to say, ‘Can I see your place?’” he tells them.

That directive dovetails perfectly with the goals of the OHL School, which has cultivated strong industry relationships to provide students with the experiences to succeed. “The South Florida construction industry is our laboratory for these students,” said Ahmad, the school’s director. “We take them to the real world.”