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May 1, 2012

ShopBot: A Tool Looking for Opportunities
Filed under: Carpentry — Tags: — nedpelger

For $5,000 US, you can purchase a small CNC machine. This small Computer Numerically Controlled milling machine can do amazing work. The ShopBot cuts aluminum, plywood, plastic and lots of other materials. Google SketchUp can direct the cutter to make almost anything you can dream.

Here’s an excerpt from the Boing Boing article:

I work at Stanford’s design school — called the We designed and made much of the furniture we used in our new building space in Google’s Sketchup and machined the material using a 4′ x 8′ ShopBot owned and operated by Rob Bell. The process was very fast, and relatively cheap. ShopBot + Sketchup allowed us to do many cycles of design/build/test, which ultimately yielded some very refined artifacts.

This tool will create some great opportunities for some creative construction folks. If you think about the projects you do, then how a tool like this could change things. Then think about a way you could get paid to be the person that makes those changes happen. For someone, this will be a wonderful opportunity.

Do you have any ideas how this could be used in construction?


December 8, 2011

Walking Beside the Active Transportation Bandwagon
Filed under: Innovation in Construction — Tags: — nedpelger

Engineer Sam Schwartz, former New York City traffic commissioner, did a nice blog post today titled A Traffic Engineer’s Lament. He bemoans the fact that engineers no longer run transportation departments in most cities and states in America. He further laments that the traffic engineering of the last century focused so strongly on cars. Here’s an excerpt:

An example I’ve used time and time again in New York City is that the Brooklyn Bridge, when it was largely a rail and walking bridge, handled 430,000 people daily.  In the 1940’s, we ‘modernized’ it by removing the rail; its daily person carrying volume dropped to 180,000.

During my lifetime, the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge between Brooklyn and Staten Island was built with 12 car lanes but no bikeway, walkway or transit right-of-way. As a teenager I was able to bike from Brooklyn to Staten Island by taking a ferry. Once the bridge opened, the ferry stopped running and driving was the only choice—here in transit-rich New York City.

Schwartz preaches the benefits of Active Transportation, defined as any form of transportation that is all or partly human powered, as one of the ways to revive America. Traffic engineers and medical professionals should jointly embrace Active Transportation designs as a way to create healthier communities.

To me, the blog reinforces an important point about engineers. We have a tendency to maximize the gain in a given system, but too often won’t look beyond the current rules for what is truly the highest and best use. I challenge you and me to go beyond the short term maximum efficiency and strive to deliver a better value.

Just yesterday I was meeting with a customer on a large apartment and mixed use community and he challenged me to think beyond the normal way we build. He wants us to conceive of our best view of the future and try to deliver the best parts of it in this project. Of course I know we still have to make the costs work, but I love the challenge.

Consider your current project and think about improvements. Get in the habit of improving your processes. It pays.


January 18, 2011

Are We That Bad at Innovation?
Filed under: Industry outlook — Tags: — nedpelger

I was reading a Nadine Post article in ENR. She’s my favorite construction writer and so often provides useful info in a compelling manner. She described some prefabrication of hospital construction components in Europe, then stated:

But that’s no surprise: When it comes to innovation, Europe leads and the U.S. follows. However, just because something has been done in Europe doesn’t mean it is easy to accomplish here.

The portion of that statement that I put in bold lettering above just annoyed me. I thought, “That’s not true. How can she make such a sweeping statement? I’m going to send her an email and show her why that’s wrong!” Then I tried to think of examples of construction innovation in the US. Drew a blank. How about examples in my own construction business? Drew mostly another blank.

I considered the change from the old energy hog T12 fluorescent light fixtures a few years ago to the efficient T8, now to the super-efficient T5. But that hardly counts as innovation. The green building approach doesn’t really pass muster as innovation either, being a mix of common sense good design or just trendy ideas. Besides, just specifying an updated product really doesn’t constitute construction innovation. Improvements in the way we actually build or deliver the project would be construction innovation.

With few exceptions, we mostly build things the same way we did 30 years ago when I started as a project engineer on sewage treatment plant projects. Or do we? Do you think we’ve progressed with construction innovation in the past few decades? Can I tell Nadine she’s wrong?