Open to build: Howick's software stance for smarter construction


Image - Tekla

By Nick Coubray, CEO, Howick Ltd

Since day one, Howick roll-forming systems have been built to be compatible with a range of software tools, enabling customers to drive them with their software of choice.

This was a strategic decision. Our expertise is in engineering world-class light steel framing machines, not in making software.

At least that was our assumption.

Late last year we set out to validate our thinking, and in the process gain a deeper insight into how the construction world is using software currently, and what the scope for improvements is. 

In the interest of brevity, the outcome was unanimously in favour of our existing strategy. We remain committed to an open language set-up and to collaborating with the construction software specialists producing world-class solutions.

Here is a summary of the insights and our rationale for that decision.

Adoption of construction technology is growing

Historically, the building sector has been a laggard when it comes to the uptake of new technology to help it build better. Over the last 5 years, we have seen more forward-looking construction businesses finding productivity gains from increased digitalisation, specialisation, lean assembly, and just-in-time delivery. However, while things are now moving forward, many builders continue to build the way they have always built.

There is still resistance to change, yet the innovators in the sector are awake to the potential for smarter building approaches. Indeed, embracing technology is becoming a necessity for a sector that is striving to thrive and evolve in a challenging global economic environment. 

The state of play with construction software

To understand the state of play for construction software, we recently asked the industry about their experiences.

We wanted to know what software is in use, how they use it, what benefits it brings, and what they see as its shortcomings.

While not explicit in the research, there was a key question we hoped to answer: “Can we improve the value and performance of our machines by developing our own software?” 

With hundreds of decision makers contributing their experiences, we now have a better insight into these things, and it clarified where we need to go as a business with our own systems.

You can read the full insights in our Construction Software: State of the Nation report via our website.

Construction software landscape in 2023: A complex environment

Construction software is a complex field dealing in many structural technologies and a vastly inconsistent international legal framework. It encompasses an array of categories, from architectural and MEP design to framing detailing and engineering analysis. 

There are many existing players, each with their own specialisations, strengths, and weaknesses.

The complexity of the market makes for a challenging selection process for firms looking to identify the best software tools to work with. That is especially the case if their existing set-up and experience is no more extensive than working with a basic Excel spreadsheet.

Adapting to new ways of working takes courage

Technology adoption is hard. As well as the upfront costs of tooling and licensing, it often takes a change of mindset about building approaches, and a potentially large time and training investment to transition to new systems and ways of working.

Once a preferential software is in place, it is far more efficient to use it wherever it can add benefit. 

Enabling customers to continue using the software they know and are already familiar with makes a lot of business sense. If we are to encourage more construction businesses to make the shift to smarter, more efficient building practices, we need the process to be as simple as possible, and software usage is part of that equation.

Keeping up with new developments

The speed of evolution in technology is breathtaking. 3D and artificial intelligence are already having an impact. We saw an amazing example of this at our recent STEEL HORIZONS event, where STUD-IO founder Scott Mitchell presented an astounding AI As A Client installation. 

Keeping pace with progress to ensure existing software remains fit for purpose is a major undertaking. Software firms cannot rest on their laurels, they must continually evolve or be left behind. Our time is much better spent evolving our roll-forming systems and making sure they work seamlessly with the software out there than developing new software that may become obsolete in no time at all.

Continuous improvement in existing packages

As well as keeping pace with new developments, it is imperative that software manufacturers focus on continuous improvement and on providing exemplary support and training to license holders.

Our survey highlighted numerous challenges for developers to address in the existing software suites available.

The opportunities for improvement centre around better user interfaces and improved functionality to increase adoption.

Other upgrades required include the need to:

  • provide more robust capabilities including the ability to handle complex multidimensional designs
  • increase integration and interoperability so packages seamlessly communicate with other tools
  • reduce the complexity of learning and using existing software
  • increase reliability and provide better support so technical issues can be resolved quickly.

Staying true to our purpose 

We are systems engineers by training and construction manufacturing experts at heart. This is why we adopted an open software stance for Howick machines at the get-go. While it is important to review such decisions occasionally, we stand by our decision. It remains the best approach for our existing customers and will help new customers considering acquiring a Howick system for the first time. 

Software is a vital component in the mix. That is exactly why in our view it needs specialists focused on constant development and support to realise its potential. 

We are committed to ongoing collaboration and partnership with construction software specialists who are deeply invested in developing, supporting and evolving software-as-a-service solutions for the construction sector.

Our mission remains to develop world class machines that produce light steel building components with maximum efficiency and precision. On this basis, our stance on the software used to drive our machines is unchanged. It will remain open at this point as we see it helping our customers build better, faster.

September 2023   #Features