Next Generation Advanced Work Packaging (AWP)

In the past couple years, I’ve had the privilege of speaking with many leading owner and engineering and construction companies around the world. The challenges they cite are largely the same:  productivity, workforce, and deploying AWP. Some talk about “construction-driven execution” and “getting back to basics.” In a recent meeting, one industry leader provided the insight that AWP is really just “a modern approach to constructability.” While I largely agree with these companies in identifying their challenges and insights, I also think that the industry is still looking for the root cause. In this column, I’d like to offer my thought that the root cause for our challenges is that we lack a modern production system. Moreover, I believe with the right focus and R&D effort we can build on AWP to become this production system – something I’ll call Next Generation Advanced Work Packaging.

For our purposes, let’s define production as “the processes and methods used to transform tangible inputs (raw materials, semi-finished goods, subassemblies) and intangible inputs (ideas, information, knowledge) into goods or services (outputs).” Next, let’s consider the activity of digging a trench. One production method involves shovels, wheelbarrows, and dozens of workers doing manual labor while another involves a GPS-enabled and semi-automated hydraulic excavator. The choice of production method is important:  when we just talk about productivity without examining the underlying methods, we really risk arriving at suboptimal outcomes! 

Once a production method is selected, it can be systematized to maximize output. The throughput of sandwiches was doubled at Subway restaurants when nature’s system of “bucket brigades” was employed.  Professors from the University of Chicago and Georgia Tech showed that if workers would just move upstream to take over the work of their predecessors instead of moving to the start of the assembly line, production would self-balance and achieve maximum output. Classical industrial engineering problems of bottlenecks at various work stations were avoided and inventory buffers became unnecessary. CII Research Team 265 (2010) concluded that such industrial engineering systems could attack the 50-75% of work in construction that is non-value added (NVA).

So, here’s my recipe for creating a modern production system for our industry – and what will be needed to create Next Generation Advanced Work Packaging:

  1. Research is needed to help clearly define owner AWP deliverables during scope definition. In order to maximize the project’s Return on Capital Employed (ROCE) or Return on Investment (ROI), the owner will also need to outline the values assigned to the manufacture of the product.  These values will create the objective function to be optimized by the production system.

  2. Research is required to help organize work packaging at suppliers and amongst providers who create subassemblies (e.g., prefabricated, preassembled, and modular components). Currently, the interfaces amongst Engineering and Construction Work Packages (EWP, CWP) is unclear regarding the involvement of the supply chain.

  3. Research regarding the start-up, commissioning, and operation of the completed asset is necessary. CII’s Fiatech Committee is already developing the requisite knowledge to interface EWP’s with operations in something called the Facility Information Model (FIM). However, more remains to be accomplished in order to maximize the objective function.

  4. Research program management is desired to integrate these three new areas of inquiry with existing AWP knowledge and operations research / management theories. The speed at which the Next Generation AWP production system can move will be governed by its weakest link, so methods must be devised to highlight and address problem areas. Eventually, these systems will also need to be embedded in new releases of design and product lifecycle management (PLM) software suites.

The creation of Next Generation Advanced Work Packaging will simultaneously address the industry’s challenges surrounding productivity, workforce, and deploying AWP. By building a state-of-the-art production system as described above, capital projects will be able to leverage the industry workforce and supply chain to drastically reduce or eliminate non-value added time in planning, engineering, procurement, construction, and maintenance activities, thereby maximizing project ROCE and ROI.

Beginning this Fall, CII intends to start a portfolio of research and development into the Next Generation of Advanced Work Packaging. The Institute invites all interested companies and individuals to become involved immediately with this important initiative!

[This article was previously published in the Fall 2018 edition of The Voice Magazine, the official magazine of the Construction Users Roundtable in Collaboration with CII.]

Date posted: December 7, 2018