Image of a construction site
Construction Tech

Hacking Construction

During wattx' first fully remote Hackathon we organized our team Busienss Development, Product and Data teams to work on different challenges in construction.

A simple platform for smooth collaboration on construction sites; a rating platform for high quality craftsmanship and construction planning; keeping track of budget - in real-time; or a tool that allows the user to automatically create sustainable facade designs based on a few parameters - sounds promising? We think so, too! That’s why, for two days straight, we have worked intensively on those ideas - all related to digital solutions in the not very digitally transformed construction industry - in order to shape some vivid first solution concepts.

What’s more is that our first hackathon in a long time was also our very first remote hackathon - which presented its very own challenges. And needless to say, physically hacking together in a 48h-shift with joined beers and pizzas out of the cardboard box sounds like a lot more fun. But given the current situation, we made the most out of it and came up with some creative forward thinking ideas - with an elected winner by the end of it.

We divided the team in four different groups, each with experts from different wattx disciplines, including Business Development and Product management, UX research and design, Data Science, as well as Engineering, to work on different challenges - and off we went.

Team picture of wattx
wattx team in google meet

Topic 1: Enabling smooth collaboration on construction sites

The first team tackled a problem that was the most stated during discovery research done prior to the hackathon: Different parties involved in construction projects, such as architects, construction planners, or subcontractors, often work on the base of different understandings or even documented plans for construction.

The resulting improper execution on site can lead to

  1. Clients or investors having to deal with extended deadlines, high additional costs, or lengthy troubleshooting,
  2. Architects or construction planners having to (costly) account for the above issues, and
  3. Subcontractors having to deal with responsibility discussions and fight for who’s to fix construction faults, wait longer to be paid, and start working on new lucrative projects.
Overtime in construction shown
Overtime in construction

And thus ConSmo was born

The solution and MVP the team came up with and which was named ConSmo (short for Smooth Construction or Construction Smooth) tackles all of those issues by

  • creating transparency on project participants, requirements and responsibilities, as well as project progress in real-time
  • avoiding communication blockers due to hierarchies on-site, and
  • the option to report and submit any sort of irregularity by any party - the moment it’s been spotted.

Additionally, the tool enables on-site workers to communicate or provide direct feedback to planners without the necessity to install an additional app or create an account by integrating with their already used applications and tools; while allowing the construction planner to provide up-to-date documents and project plans and make it accessible for every stakeholder automatically.

Topic 2: Assessing the work quality of architects and subcontractors through a transparent Scoring System

In Germany, craftsmen constitute a scarce resource, and oftentimes architects, as well as construction planners, are struggling to find good subcontractors whenever their usual partners are not available. Deciding for a new subcontractor is a high risk as the quality of their work is not known in advance, and in more cases than not price wins over quality. On top of that, lengthy conversations with potential subcontractors in order to evaluate work quality is a time-consuming task that might delay potential construction works.

“Superb” tackles the transparency issue

The team’s idea Superb offers a curated database of previously screened companies of all crafts. It is based on an intelligent rating and referral system which allows architects and construction planners to check out potential subcontractors and their previous works first. On top of that, Superb integrates with all email programs to ensure fast and efficient communication.

For architects and construction planners the benefit is evident: The access to a curated and trustworthy pool of experts and references leads to a higher quality of the work on-site and a less time-consuming selection process.

The contractors on the other hand benefit from a free potential pool of reliable customers that go for quality work. They get a free membership badge and benefit from many advantages such as discounts on their partner companies’ products (for instance Viessmann heating systems).

Topic 3: Hacking AI into Time-, Resource- and Cost-Estimation

With each construction project comes unexpected costs. In Germany alone, €4.2bn more per year is spent because budgets are underestimated. And the reasons can be manifold: Clients or investors realized needs during the erection process that were hard to anticipate beforehand, or architects or planners were picking qualitatively higher and pricier materials than the budget of the client allowed for, just to name a few. Additional direct costs can be caused by replacements of stolen or damaged materials, unavailability of calculated materials, or sometimes even misjudgments of surrounding conditions, such as underground soil. Indirect costs refer to the usual personnel costs that must be paid despite recurrent interruptions of work.

An additional factor is that cost estimation is oftentimes based on gut feelings - or, in the better cases, on experience - but not on data: The project planner starts each new project by setting up a new Excel sheet so that learnings from the past can easily be neglected.

Within those excel sheet calculations, in many cases, ...

  • price developments due to material costs and markups of subcontractors are not taken into consideration.
  • documented learnings from old projects are not included
  • it is hard to identify cost-points which lead to underestimation due to a lack of clarity
  • additional costs occur with a crucial time lag in the project calculations

The result? Every third project goes at least 10% over budget.

BudgetLee, an easy and intuitive tool for real-time budget tracking that processes inputs from different data sources

The initial price estimation at the beginning of each construction project can be improved with AI, using historical data collected from all users of the platform. This means that a planner can leverage not only their own project experiences much better but also the learnings from a wide range of other projects.

The tool further identifies where over- or underestimation is taking place on a project level - in real-time. This information is sent as feedback to the respective planner and collected in the database for future projects. Price developments that go back to changes in the market are also considered by the tool by scraping the most current developments. In addition, BudgetLee generates to-do-lists automatically, so that all budget relevant activities are being considered in the calculations at all times.

BudgetLee consists of two main components, a cloud-based, user-friendly budgeting tool as well an ML-based algorithm that identifies missing components and unrealistic estimates.

Illustration of a venture idea by wattx - Budget Lee
BudgetLee mission

Topic 4: Creating automated sustainable facade designs with the use of a Parametric Design Tool

As regulations for construction become more and more stringent, AEC (Architecture, Engineering, and Construction) experts struggle to control the rising costs of materials and resources as well as the decreasing motivation to achieve more than the regulatory bare minimum. In practice, most decisions are driven purely by profit maximization over quality as well as sustainability. In publicly announced tenders, for instance, usually, the cheapest bidder wins, which doesn’t necessarily translate to the best choice in the long run. On the contrary, this often leads to problems as well as constant amendments to the initial plans and thus delays during construction.

Having fast profit in mind, deadlines are additionally set too tightly, and, hence, technical decisions are made without the necessary time or competence, leaving the execution of mediocre solutions to the stakeholders and craftsmen on site.

Let us introduce you to “Thermio”

Thermio makes it easier for users to make informed and sustainable choices with the help of already built-in energy codes for different countries and regions, and to visualize the various viable options available depending on the regional constraints.

It’s been created as an easy-to-use plugin, which is compatible with most 3D software in use, to assist the architect and planning experts during the construction designing and conception process.

With all necessary information already fed into the tool in regards to energy codes, materials, and costs, the architect or planner only has to input the constraints and requirements to receive a number of options available at his disposal. Instantly.

Thermio customers can choose a solution that is optimized for their specific requirements. Getting a life-cycle cost calculation on top of the base offering, the customer is finally motivated to invest in sustainable design.

Illustration of venture idea by wattx called Thermio
Thermio illustration

Header image by Igor Starkov:

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