A pair of software companies have come together in hopes of revolutionizing the construction industry.
Splash Modular, a North Carolina-based software designer, has been acquired by Slate Technologies, a developer of an artificial-intelligence software platform for the construction industry.
The two companies share a concept of delivering data to stakeholders efficiently to help streamline the overall construction project process from design to completion.
“One thing that really pushed me along here to join these guys is, I think the impact of this technology is far beyond what any of us actually can comprehend,” said Joel Hutchines, former Splash Modular CEO and current Slate Technologies vice president and head of industrialized construction.
He recently spoke to Equipment World about the acquisition and the anticipated future.
According to Hutchines, Splash software connects design teams in the industrialized construction process with the manufacturing, assembly and supply-chain stakeholders, bringing all data into a parametric design file. This helps general contractors identify, integrate and manage industrial construction (IC) solutions and suppliers all while reducing the cost and risk of projects, decreasing building time and improving quality, he says.
“It was an idea that as we developed it, everybody started to realize that there was a different way, and we could drive a lot of efficiency,” he said.
In March, Slate Technologies digital assistant was released. It uses AI and machine learning to improve the productivity of professionals by enabling better, earlier decision making to help them manage construction site initiatives while maximizing revenue. The system was built to execute multidimensional analysis across internal and external data sources, learning as it goes to offer full transparency into the building process. Data sources used by Slate include ERP systems, emails, RFIDs, 3D models and other construction-related information; along with public data such as weather, labor and traffic, dark data locked in silos and nonintegrated systems within general contractor and subcontractor organizations.
Through its acquisition of Splash Modular, the Splash blueprint and toolset will enable Slate's new Scripting as a Service (SCaaS) offering to general contractors involved in the building process to access data sets that are fully and seamlessly integrated with their projects to reducing project time, cost and risk.
“This notion of being able to deliver data to stakeholders to personas in the construction industry, to enable them to make better decisions, was something that resonated extremely well with me,” Hutchines said. “My focus was really on the designer. How do we empower architects to do a better job understanding how to design for manufacturing and assembly and for the supply chain, without manufacturers, assemblers and supply chain sitting in a room together and showing them how to do it?”
Early on in development of both technologies, there was discussion of acquisition or partnership. The challenge was to deliver the data to the relevant people at the right time to help them make better decisions and make the entire construction process more efficient.
“We were taking a very similar approach to different stakeholders,” Hutchines said. “Being part of Slate has allowed us to just take the concept to a whole new technical level that I'm super excited about. Originally, I was thinking in terms of architects using configurators and now architects can interact with a virtual assistant that can understand and give them situational data; it's just elevated everything.”
Once the acquisition was made, he focused on how to take what manufacturers and suppliers are doing and give it to designers but also take everything else that happens on site and all the other data and deliver that to both designers, suppliers and contractors to close the loop and impact change as early as possible in a project lifecycle.
While Hutchines was focused on the manufacturing supply chain and delivery of that data to designers, Slate was looking to take other data all the way through the process from the designer to the project manager. It appeared to be a perfect match.
As many contractors know, one of the toughest issues to manage is the variety of systems, techniques and data around any project. It’s a lot to keep track of on one job, let alone several going at once.
The intent with Slate and Splash is to take the pressure off and deliver the data by integrating with their existing systems.
“We still are building a backbone of our system to allow you to act upon the data as best as you can,” Hutchines said. “Our system might recommend a schedule change and we have a scheduling tool in our system that can do that, but you don't have to build your schedule in our platform.”
Currently, an architect might produce a design intent without any resolution of how it is going to be built. Price estimates are established with margins built in all the way through.
“The whole construction industry is built on the margins as safety barriers because of design intent,” Hutchines said. “If I was a contractor, I'd look at complex plans, put up to 50% on it, because I had to figure it out down the line.”
Too often it is a lose-lose situation. For example, if an architect is asked to make a change for some cost-saving measure, it is not until project end that any true savings are realized. What if those projections were known in real time?
“The more that we can provide transparency and data flow between stakeholders in construction, the less risk there is and, essentially, the more that we're going to be able to produce projects that have at a better cost and on time,” Hutchines said. Joining Slate has given us the opportunity to take our vision to the next level and provide the IC (industrial construction) sector with a tool that will absolutely change the game.”
He suggests that going forward the difference could be astronomical in how companies are able to perform and adjust to changes in a project lifecycle.
“We’re not scared of change down the line and can have contextual data to understand the impacts of every decision,” Hutchines said.