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Contech leaders say convergence is driving a construction industry renaissance

In the building industry, convergence is a blurring of lines between tech, process, and sectors such as architecture and manufacturing.

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In the building industry, convergence is a blurring of lines between technology, process, and sectors such as architecture, manufacturing, and entertainment. 

The goal? Finding better ways to design, build, and make space.

“Architects and builders are looking to manufacturing to make the construction process more like industrial assembly lines — modular, repeatable, and efficient,” Autodesk University writes. “And they’re finding ways to use standardized parts and digital tools to improve safety and accelerate project timelines.”

As VP Industrialized Construction at Autodesk, Amy Marks says construction business models are shifting to meet demands from a growing client segment called “convergence customers.”

“When you think about what a convergence customer needs, it’s very different than what just a general contractor needs, or just an architect needs, or just an owner needs, or just a building product manufacturer needs,” says Marks. 

“They need a platform of connected data. They need the interoperability between many different ecosystem partners, whether that’s in services, or technology, or products. They’re looking across the silos — they’re basically burning them to the ground at this point. And I think that changes everything.”

During her keynote address at the Advancing Prefabrication 2022 conference, Marks said 82% of the audience considered themselves convergence customers. 

But they’re not explicitly asking for convergence solutions, Marks notes. 

Rather, clients tell her they are looking for integrated support because their business models are changing and “there are forces on my business, and the way in which I do business, and how I make money that have changed.”

So if a contractor responds to an RFP by offering up an evolved framework that incorporates a convergence of prefabrication, technology, and advanced processes, the customer feels better enabled to achieve their project goals.

How convergence in construction actually works

Marks touches on two key ways convergence takes place in construction.

The first is a “horizontal” integration of different — but often adjacent — business types that merge, or incorporate another offering, to increase their shared value. “Architects are buying [pre]fab shops, and general contractors are becoming makers and makers are becoming designers of things,” she explains. 

We’re seeing “vertical” compression too, according to Marks. “Whether it’s the GC or the mechanical, electrical, or plumbing subcontractor, or the traditional building product manufacturer — they are merging together as makers.”

For example, she describes how an electrical contractor might not actually produce anything that’s included in the electrical skids they supply.

Instead, they function as a “product and system integrator” of the manufactured items provided to clients. Or the building product manufacturer who creates those items offers the entire skid as an aggregated solution. 

If you think bigger, Marks says, this type of convergence can enable the creation of smart buildings and even whole smart cities that function as vertically integrated environments. 

Envision future cities where “platform companies like Meta and Google own undersea cables to emerging geographies. The data center will be owned by them, the infrastructure that gets built around them potentially…I’m sure they would like it to integrate with their platforms down to the end use in their home,” says Marks. 

“And so I think it’s a very interesting conversation about convergence and platforms that’s much more far reaching than we think.”

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Shared context is key to evolve your business model

Merging previously separate industries or processes is not a simple task. To make it work, all the stakeholders involved must learn how to speak different languages (in a figurative as well as terminology sense) to bridge contextual gaps, Marks says.

“As you’re starting out and these business models are first changing, you have to understand the language of the genesis of the original core competencies. And then you have to understand the language of your adjacencies.” 

For instance, “the DfMA in a manufacturing setting has different interpretations than DfMA may in an architectural setting. You’re converging with and reconciling the [industry] language to make sure that you both mean the same thing.”

Merging with other specialties requires an appreciation of diversity and perspective to create shared understanding, and perhaps in the future, even a new language, Marks says. 

Randee Herrin, Senior VP of Construction Technologies & Manufacturing at TDIndustries Inc., says her construction and facilities services company utilizes a “model-led workflow” to spark collaborative understanding.

With this approach, all stakeholders come together to make shared decisions earlier than usual in the construction process, producing a virtual model (thank you, technology) for the project. 

“You have to step outside of just [your company], and engage the entire team — the general contractor and the owner or the other key subs — that means those decisions between the entire team need to happen earlier. And it needs to be much more cooperative and a partnership upfront, to have a better outcome at the end,” Herrin explains. 

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Perceptions of industrialized construction have evolved too

“The future is about data. It’s enabled by the [virtual] model and…by offsite manufacturing,” says Herrin, who thinks the construction industry is in the midst of a renaissance, as future-oriented firms rethink their approach to building spaces.

After all, who doesn’t want their job to be made easier and to access greater project certainty through data, she says. 

“To me, it’s how many constraints can we remove? We’re managing a workforce that’s hard to find right now — a declining workforce. And we could sit with that problem or we could say ‘how can we solve it through off-site manufacturing?’”

In addition to the obvious benefits of industrialized construction, some old-school misconceptions are also being debunked, says Marks.

She scoffs at the idea that manufactured building products — a key element of construction convergence — are not considered beautiful or that architects and designers say, “I will not have prefab on my project.” 

“Those kinds of things are so 10 years ago,” she says. Now there’s widespread interest and acknowledgement of industrialized construction. Project stakeholders just need help understanding how to incorporate prefabricated solutions into their construction plan. 

One way or another, every building now incorporates manufactured products in construction, she points out. 

“So yeah, I think at the end of the day, the word prefab won’t exist. It’ll just be products.”

This article originally appeared on Make Space, DIRTT’s editorial platform that shares perspectives from the design and construction industries.

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Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka-shing’s firm to sell stake in fintech upstart

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Li's CK Group said in a statement that it holds less than four percent of AMTD Digital's parent company, AMTD Group, and has entered negotiations to sell those shares
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Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka-shing’s firm is selling its stake in the parent company of fintech upstart      AMTD Digital, according to a statement released Thursday, after the company enjoyed a massive rally this week.

Hong Kong-based AMTD Digital was worth more than $203 billion when New York markets closed on Wednesday, making it the world’s fifth-biggest financial company on paper, Bloomberg reported.

AMTD Digital was listed just three weeks ago, and reported $25 million in revenue for the financial year that ended in April 2021. 

Li’s CK Group said in a statement that it holds less than four percent of AMTD Digital’s parent company, AMTD Group, and has entered negotiations to sell those shares.

CK added that it has no representatives on AMTD Group’s board and has no business dealings with or shareholdings in AMTD Digital directly.

The sale would put distance between CK and AMTD Digital’s founder Calvin Choi, a former investment banker who is appealing a ban by Hong Kong regulators for failing to disclose conflicts of interest.

Li’s CK said its current four percent stake was left over from a sale nearly a decade ago, where CK sold a majority of its AMTD Group shares.

AMTD Group was set up in 2003 and lists CK Asset Holdings as a co-founder, according to its website.

Analysts have partly attributed AMTD Digital’s current rally to the small portion of shares that were made available for trading.

“The low free float in the company’s shares means it will be easier for big shareholders to push up the stock price,” research analyst Thomas Nip at Valuable Capital in Hong Kong told Bloomberg, adding that the stock is highly overvalued.

Oktay Kavrak, director at Leverage Shares, told Bloomberg that AMTD Digital was heading for a “nosedive” given the speed of its ascent.

AMTD Digital’s swift rally had prompted questions of whether it was the next “meme stock” — shares that skyrocket due to retail trading mania — similar to video game chain GameStop.

In January 2021, small-time stock traders banded together and rocked Wall Street by driving up the prices of shares like GameStop and cinema chain AMC, reaping massive profits.

But there is no evidence yet of a clear link between AMTD Digital’s stock movements this week and trades driven by social media interest, with some users of Reddit forum WallStreetBets dismissing the connection.

On Tuesday, AMTD Digital said it knew of “no material circumstances, events nor other matters relating to our company’s business and operating activities since the IPO date”.

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Blue Origin sends first Egyptian and Portugese nationals to space

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A Blue Origin New Shepard rocket launches from Launch Site One in West Texas north of Van Horn
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Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin on Thursday launched six people to space, including the first from Egypt and Portugal, on the company’s sixth crewed flight. 

Mission “N-22” saw the New Shepard suborbital rocket blast off around 8:58 am local time (1358 GMT) from Blue’s base in the west Texas desert.

The autonomous, re-usable vehicle sent its crew capsule soaring above the Karman line, the internationally recognized space boundary, 62 miles (100 kilometers) above sea level. 

“I’m floating!” a crew mate could be heard saying on a livestream, as the capsule coasted to its highest point and the passengers experienced a few minutes of weightlessness. 

Both the rocket and capsule separately returned to the base — the latter using giant parachutes — completing the mission around 11 minutes after lift-off.

The crew included Egyptian engineer Sara Sabry, and Portuguese entrepreneur Mario Ferreira, both the first people of their countries to leave Earth.

It also included Coby Cotton, one of five co-founders of the YouTube sports and comedy channel Dude Perfect, which boasts more than 57 million followers.

A Blue Origin spokeswoman confirmed all six crew were paying passengers — though Sabry’s seat was sponsored by nonprofit Space for Humanity.

Blue Origin has not revealed its ticket prices. 

Past flights have included celebrity guests who have flown for free, including Star Trek legend William Shatner. 

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Natural disaster losses hit $72 bn in first half 2022: Swiss Re

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'Secondary' natural disasters like floods and storms -- as opposed to major disasters such as earthquakes -- are happening more frequently, according to Swiss Re.
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Total economic losses caused by natural disasters hit an estimated $72 billion in the first half of 2022, fuelled by storms and floods, Swiss reinsurance giant Swiss Re estimated Tuesday.

Though the figure is lower than the $91 billion estimate for the first six months of 2021, it is close to the 10-year average of $74 billion, and the weight is shifting towards weather-induced catastrophes.

“The effects of climate change are evident in increasingly extreme weather events, such as the unprecedented floods in Australia and South Africa,” said Martin Bertogg, Swiss Re’s head of catastrophe perils.

The Zurich-based group, which acts as an insurer for insurers, said the losses were also propelled by winter storms in Europe as well as heavy thunderstorms on the continent and in the United States.

So-called secondary natural disasters like floods and storms — as opposed to major disasters such as earthquakes — are happening more frequently, the reinsurer said.

“This confirms the trend we have observed over the last five years: that secondary perils are driving insured losses in every corner of the world,” Bertogg said.

“Unlike hurricanes or earthquakes, these perils are ubiquitous and exacerbated by rapid urbanisation in particularly vulnerable areas,” he said.

“Given the scale of the devastation across the globe, secondary perils require the same disciplined risk assessment as primary perils such as hurricanes.”

Swiss Re said floods in India, China and Bangladesh confirm the growing loss potential from flooding in urban areas.

Man-made catastrophes such as industrial accidents added on a further $3 billion of economic losses to the $72 billion from natural disasters, taking the total to $75 billion — which is down on the $95 billion total for the first half of 2021.

– Insured losses at $38 bn –

Total insured losses stood at $38 billion: $3 billion worth of man-made disasters and $35 billion worth of natural catastrophes — up 22 percent on the 10-year average, said the Swiss reinsurer, warning of the effects of climate change.

February’s storms in Europe cost insurers $3.5 billion, according to Swiss Re estimates.

Australia’s floods in February and March set a new record for insured flood losses in the country at so far close to $3.5 billion — one of the costliest natural catastrophes ever in the country.

Severe weather and hailstorms in France in the first six months of the year have so far caused an estimated four billion euros ($4.1 billion) of insured market losses.

The Swiss group also mentioned the summer heatwaves in Europe, which resulted in fires and drought-related damage, without providing estimates at this stage.

A warming climate is likely to exacerbate droughts and thereby the likelihood of wildfires, causing greater damage where urban sprawl grows into the countryside, Swiss Re said.

“Climate change is one of the biggest risks our society and the global economy is facing,” said the group’s chief economist Jerome Jean Haegeli.

“With 75 percent of all natural catastrophes still uninsured, we see large protection gaps globally exacerbated by today’s cost-of-living crisis.”

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