The construction industry is slowly moving towards digitization with implications for the world’s cities. According to the McKinsey Global Institute industry digitization index, construction is among the least digitized industries (falling below hospitality and just above agriculture and hunting).
Times are changing. Construction teams report issues on iPads directly from the job site. Developers and construction companies now store a large volume of historical reports on their common data environment (CDE) platforms creating a treasure trove of information about buildings around the world. Firmus, a Tel Aviv-based construction technology company, helps find risks in a project’s design by using artificial intelligence and machine learning to leverage historical data to create better buildings for the future. Their software helps builders learn from previous identical mistakes by detecting similarities. Harel Meshulam, co-founder and CEO of Firmus, explains: “Our vision is to create a ‘lessons-learned database’ for our clients as the ‘smart-memory’ of the construction industry.”
Firmus allows construction companies to upload 3D models from commonly-used software like Autodesk. All data, stored and uploaded, is anonymized to protect commercially sensitive information. The software highlights potential design risks and flaws before construction begins, then offers design solutions to improve the quality of completed projects. The biggest value proposition for construction companies is the ability to deliver completed buildings on schedule and on budget by reducing dreaded change orders that cause costly delays. According to a McKinsey report, large projects can take 20 percent longer to finish and can become 80 percent over budget upon completion due to unsophisticated systems, poor planning, faulty engineering and rising supply costs. Using technology to build better buildings more efficiently is a win for affordable housing advocates and a competitive advantage for construction companies.
According to Deloitte’s 2020 engineering and construction industry outlook, overall market growth will follow the overall GDP growth rate. The adoption of digital technology can help alleviate labor and productivity issues while keeping up with demand. “The industry’s traditionally low margins, combined with increasing project complexity, fierce competition from Asian companies, and supply chain constraints, will likely continue to put extra pressure on US companies’ profitability in 2020,” Deloitte predicts. “Inherently disruptive technologies have the potential to provide the efficiency, productivity, and safety breakthroughs the industry has sought for decades.”
We asked Harel a few questions about the Firmus product and what it means at the city-scale.
Why is this such an important issue to fix?
The most significant opportunity to protect a project’s costs happens before shovels hit the ground. The earlier Firmus can detect design errors, the earlier companies can address these issues, which results in reducing the likelihood of unforeseen costs. The margins for construction companies are only around 4 percent of the project’s value in a successful project. Design, coordination, and clash issues lead to a 2 percent loss on the average project value. By detecting issues early on, in the pre-construction phase, even if we save companies 1 percent of the project value, it has the potential to increase the profitability of the project by 25 percent.
Why is Firmus the right team to fix this issue?
We are a team of construction specialists, data science experts and business development professionals. Our CTO comes from Israel’s elite 8200 cyber force. (FORBES estimates more than 1,000 companies have been founded by 8200 alumni, from consumer products such as Waze and Wix to cybersecurity security and data privacy companies such as Check Point, Adallom, and CyActive. “Tech giants like to gobble up 8200 firms like hors d’oeuvres,” FORBES reports. Alumni startups have been acquired by Oracle, Apple, Cisco, Facebook, and Microsoft, to name a few.)
Back to Harel: Our primary purpose is to help general contractors’ transition from the design phase to the construction phase faster — with no surprises. The best way to achieve that is to include lessons from historical data in new designs. Our vast experience in data science combined with construction knowledge makes us the best team to execute our mission.
Why is this tech scalable?
The problem we are solving is a common obstacle in every construction project worldwide, which is why we are program agnostic. Our deep learning systems allow us to analyze input without modifying data, text, or photos so it can be used by all industry stakeholders.
Firmus is serving European customers today and has a waitlist of customers as they expand into the United States in 2020. To learn more about Firmus, visit www.urban-x.com/company/firmus/.
– Jennifer Jefferson