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March 4, 2013

Bringing Buildings to the Cloud

Chelsea Lang

With the emergence of cloudsourcing and heightened collaboration among inventors, the cloud is becoming an integral part of the manufacturing process. But so far it has made few appearances within the building industry.

However, according to Greg Howes, a founding member of the Digital Fabrication Alliance (DFA), we may soon see the cloud’s role expand its reach to aid in the design and construction of everything from houses to skyscrapers. In a recent interview with Earl Dodd, president of Ideas and Machines, Howes explained that cloud’s window of opportunity has been built into digital fabrication – a small but growing subset of the multi-trillion dollar building industry.

There, a number of architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) software packages exist to turn a normally labor-intensive building process into a digitized, fully-automated process from design to construction. Specifically, they are able to simulate a structure’s design in three dimensions and convey the data to machines that then cut and mill the components.

But if the software exists to handle both the design and the 3D printer-like computer numerical control (CNC) machines that execute the designs, what’s keeping the building industry from reaching the digital age? According to Howes, the problem is a lack of interoperability between software that has created a disconnect between the 3D design software and the CNC machines.

Howes hopes that the cloud will enable structures and all their parts to be conceived, designed and engineered in a fully simulated 3D environment, streamlining the design and production process, improving efficiency and ultimately boosting profits.

The specifics of his prognostications, however, were a bit harder to pin down, because no one can predict whether adoption will be instigated by consumers or industry innovators.

Howes thinks it’s unlikely cloud integration will be achieved throughout the workflow simultaneously. Instead, he expects the first integration point will likely deal with the marketing of a recently completed building or home (or another critical point where the profitability will be instantly recognizable).

Theoretically, this success will then prompt builders to expand the digitization into design and fabrication phases, by which point the transformation into the cloud will be complete.

Full story at Digital Manufacturing Report

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