What’s your detailing story pre-PDC/DBM days?
I grew up in Kalgoorlie, here in Western Australia, which is where I completed my apprenticeship. As a young draftsperson I was lucky enough to find a great mentor in my first employer Gary, who came from a drawing office manager background. Joining Gary doubled his company’s resource numbers overnight and at the modest size of just two people it was an intensive and at times intimidating career start. I completed my tertiary studies on the board but my very first job was on a 486 computer using AutoCad v12. I realised pretty quickly I knew relatively nothing!
From early on I was also given direct client exposure with engineers, fabricators, and mine site owners, who serviced the gold and nickel industries working on greenfield and brownfield sites. This exposure meant I was drafting anything from structural steel, mechanical chutes, civil works, process piping, electrical and hydraulic schematics. Basically anything and everything that went into a gold or nickel processing plant or a service industry. Site trips were sometimes hundreds of kilometres away, so making sure you had every measurement and cross check was crucial. Point cloud technology of course has made much of that redundant now.
In 1999 I moved to Perth to work as a designer in oil and gas, and then into the grain handling industry with CBH. It was the later in which I would come to know PDC who would take our design layouts and produce detailed fabrication drawings of the chutes, conveyors and structures.
In my interview for PDC I was shown all the new things they were doing with 3D in AutoCAD and StruCAD. It was another case of feeling well out of my depth, but having around thirty old school drafties in the office there was plenty of experience to call upon for help.
Is there anything about the early days in your career that you miss now?
There are a few things I miss. First of all, the characters! If you have been in any drafting office for any length of time you will have come across dozens of them. Witty and a little crazy, they are the great sharer’s of knowledge. It is always a sad day to see an old detailer retire, especially the ones that helped you out in your early days. If there is ever a legacy you want to leave behind, it is that of helping someone become more than just a CAD operator, and maybe leaving a catch phrase or two.
The most rewarding part of my early career was problem solving and detailing solutions in the 3D virtual world and then seeing that solution being built and becoming the physical. I would sometimes explain to people who asked me what I do that it’s a bit like playing with Lego all day, except on the computer. In truth it’s probably not at all as simple as playing with Lego but it was certainly just as enjoyable.
The most memorable project I worked on was the Cyclone George Memorial for FMG. This is a twelve-metre-high twisting turning leaf sculpture to commemorate the lives lost at the Cloud Break mine site in the Pilbara. The engineers presented an internal steel skeleton much like a radio tower but we were able to steer them to a much cleaner solution of a central reducing pipe core with baffle plates, allowing the fabricator to align the 6PL weather resistant steel skin to it.
My role is now project delivery, and as fate would have it both of the construction modellers I worked with twelve years ago on that sculpture are currently helping to deliver a 20,000t Third Runway Concourse at Hong Kong Airport. One is in the parametric custom component team, and the other is helping coordinate our off-shore Manila team.
Has there been a defining project or period for Perth-based detailers?
Perth’s boom-bust resource cycle forces resilience in our local industry. The companies that have stood the test of time are those that innovate, look outside their existing markets and diversify with complimentary digital offerings.
This global experience allows our Perth based team to take on projects anywhere in the world, because there are always individuals in those regions that hold relevant experience in projects we take on.
The innovations our technical and project teams have come up with in recent times, are defining the type of large scale and international work we can take on. With large projects comes an emphasis on model integrity and control, and it is those innovations which enable us to work in a much smarter way, and drive high-end results.
Your thoughts about off-shore detailing or “Local shop-fronts for off shore detailing”?
Perhaps the most rewarding experience of my career was moving with my wife and young family to Manila, Philippines where we lived for three and a half years. Manila is one of the world’s most densely populated cities at around 43,000 people per square kilometre. The social, political, natural and cultural challenges faced are issues we in our privileged Australian life, never have to contend with.
In spite of the different challenges we face, one big takeaway from working in our offshore office was that for all our differences we still crave the same basic desires in life.
Operating a business in a geographical area like the Philippines is full of challenges. Some examples include team members having an average of 2 hours each way to the office before putting in over ten-hour days. When the wet season comes, flooding is prevalent and people cannot safely get into the office at all. There are cultural requirements when there is a death in the family. It is for these reasons and many others that support, understanding and cultural sensitivity of the working environment is critical when you have offshore detailing offices.
I am now based back in Perth. Having part of my project team offshore and isolated from the project management group is by far the biggest factor that can adversely affect our projects. The offshore centre is never a separate entity and can never be treated as such. They are as much a part of the project team as the person sitting next to you. And while some of the best and hardest working construction modellers I have worked with are in our offshore office, nothing should be just thrown over the fence with an expectation it will be sorted out. Even with the best planned project, daily communications from the project leads is essential to keep an alignment with the execution plan, and coach throughout the work fronts assigned.
What are the most satisfying aspects of your work?
Within the office the most satisfying aspect of my work is seeing a project coming together because of the talented construction modellers we have. Generally construction modellers are problem solvers by nature; and giving individuals the freedom to find solutions and create innovative ways of modelling and detailing a job is rewarding. It is also satisfying running a profitable project where the contributions that experienced modellers bring to a project via design assist are recognised, appreciated and compensated.
Outside the office the most satisfying aspect of my work is seeing a project either being fabricated in the shop or being erected in the field. I travelled with one of our Manila project managers to the United States for the detailing kick-off for a new building at Stanford University in California. It was fortuitous timing as my colleague’s previous project ‘181 Freemont’ in San Francisco was topping off that same week. We were able to time our visit for the topping off ceremony with the iron workers. Standing atop 181 we could see San Francisco’s tallest building ‘Salesforce Tower’ directly across from us, which was another structure the Manila office had been involved in.
What was the primary motivation for joining the ACMA? or maybe, What do you see as the biggest benefit of ACMA membership?
Several months ago, Brad, Clayton and Phil gave a presentation to our DBMV Perth Office. They spoke about ACMA’s mission and offerings to its members. I was impressed with the presentation and saw ACMA as a good resource for industry insights, and gaining visibility across what we do. There are abundant opportunities in our industry and unifying our approach to how we add value and standards to projects is a great opportunity.
What do you see as the main challenges facing our industry?
The disruptions that constant technological developments bring means we are constantly needing to evolve our ways and systems just to stand still. While this in itself is a challenge, there are new and exciting ways of working with the engineers, architects and owners at the front end of projects through IPD that differ substantially to the traditional approach of coming in at the back end. Not just design assist but becoming an integrated part of the engineering delivery and model development.
Attracting the right talent has always been a challenge. And nowadays to ensure our business is viable into the future, it is critical to instil in our cadets that efficiency and doing the job right the first time will ensure longevity.
The things we taught our cadets in the past are still very relevant in terms of creating a thinking construction modeller. However within every project there comes a chance to improve a process or develop team member skills, and there is so much we need to teach and put in their toolkits that will serve them in the coming years.
Above all the quality of work we as an industry deliver, will determine how successful we are in building lasting partnerships with owners.
What software package do you use and what were the deciding factors that prompted your choices?
Within DBM Vircon our predominant software is Tekla Structures, the development time put into this software and the systems created around it by our technology team gives our group a very stable and efficient platform to deliver our largescale projects.
We are also developing Advance Steel further within the Perth office for industrial work.
Do you think construction modellers & detailers are given the recognition they deserve for all the “non-detailing” work they do?
Resolving errors, omissions and conflicting information within the design documentation has been something detailers have always done. However it’s something that’s not always tangible or recognised by the client. If a brick layer only received 80% of his bricks, he could likely still build 80% of your house walls. Unfortunately if we receive 80% of the design intent, it can substantially hold up a much greater percentage of the project.
I once started a project with a 60% design set of documents, with client expectations we could still hit the first sequence IFA six weeks out from starting. That was an extremely stressful project with much time being spent raising hundreds of RFI’s for design information and a constant justification on why our IFA’s were late or incomplete. Like my analogy above, it is like blaming the bricklayer because the brick factory cannot make and deliver the bricks fast enough. Having a client who understands where the bottlenecks are occurring and applying support in the correct place is critical to all stakeholders.
While there is an onus on the detailer to interpret the design and move it to a detailed product, the basics of the engineering deliverables need to be provided, I would say it is one of the biggest elements of successful project delivery in having the stakeholders on-board with this. Unfortunately even if it is understood it is often ignored when the pressures of cost and schedule come into play. Late or incomplete information is one thing but the disruption and additional cost when revisions come in is another that clients do not always understand. The further into the process you are, the more backtracking and reprocessing that needs to be done. The knock on effect to other work fronts is also impacted and if a project is not communicated in a timely manner as to those impacts, you will be chasing your tail for the remainder.
The amount of work required to produce a clash free model when interfacing structural, civil, mechanical, piping, electrical and vendor, as well as the solutions to those problems, are generally resolved at the coal face by the construction modeller. Unfortunately much of what we do to help move the project forward goes unseen. You are never judged on what you have got right, or on issues that never saw the light of day because they were already taken care of.
How do you see the future for our industry and Is there any advice you would give to somebody who wanted to become a construction modeller?
The future is exciting, and being a construction modeller can be a rewarding career if you chose it to be. I think automation and technology will change how work is done from bringing the detailing model further into the engineering and fabrication realms.
The next generation of construction modellers will need to be prepared for a rapidly changing industry and a path of continual learning. The industry will always need new blood and the role of the construction modeller I believe will always be needed because everything we design has the human element and creating is in our nature. Thomas Carlyle said: ‘Every man is my superior in that I may learn from him’. If you look at everything through that lens and be prepared to be coachable, I believe the industry will serve you well, and you it.
Driving an old work ute in forty-degree heat, dodging emus up to Agnew Gold mine 400km north of Kalgoorlie, I pretty much thought at the time that maybe that would be the furthest I would travel for a project. I wouldn’t have imagined 20 years later flying out of my home base in Manila, Philippines into L.A. California to kick off a 10,000-tonne seismic designed structure for the LAX midfield concourse expansion that would be modelled, detailed and controlled in 4 separate geographic offices. What a wonderful experience!