Autodesk adds to AI-in-construction offering with the acquisition of Pype
I’ve been talking and writing a lot about the perceived technology gaps in AEC and much depends on the size of the enterprise and type of project. But one thing is clear: the industry is drowning in poorly managed and seldom utilized data. Autodesk, across its massive AEC portfolio, aims to address this, and today announced that it will acquire Pype, which uses machine-learning algorithms to automate project management processes.
In operation since 2015, Pype’s web-based, SaaS solutions have been used (mostly in the US) to move projects from construction planning to owner handover. Pype has 4 main offerings: AutoSpec, which enables construction teams to create submittal logs — cataloging the massive amount of info passed between the architect and contractor, to ensure the current materials and processes are being used. Closeout is a dashboard and automated document collection system to ensure that the project ends with all changes made, material accounted for and the site cleaned up after physical construction is completed but before the project is turned over to the owner. eBinder is exactly what it sounds like, and converts closeout documents into an indexed, hyperlinked and searchable turnover file. Finally, SmartPlans finds and extracts submittals from drawings and exports product, equipment, and finish schedules into Excel. (I bet Autodesk will expand to other formats from “export into Excel”.)
I believe it’s that last, SmartPlans, is where artificial intelligence (AI) most comes into play right now. SmartPlans uses machine learning to extract submittals and schedules. When human beings do that, they count windows, doors, wall plates, and so on and tally them up into bills of materials. These are then checked by a (yup) checker to make sure nothing was missed. If anything was unclear, a submittal was made to the architect and everyone waited for a reply. Automating this makes so much sense –there’s no value-add in counting, but it’s essential to the process. According to Pype, “what once took days can now be completed in less than a few hours”.
Autodesk says Pype will “empower general contractors, subcontractors and owners to gain even more value from Autodesk Construction Cloud by automating critical construction workflows such as submittals and closeouts to increase productivity and mitigate project risk”. AI will “reduce tedious manual entry and human error that can lead to rework, cost overruns and schedule delays on construction projects. [Pype’s] artificial intelligence and machine learning [algorithms] automatically analyze and extract critical construction data such as project plans and specifications to be used throughout the project lifecycle. By automating these traditional manual workflows and converting real-time data into actionable insights, construction teams have the power to increase collaboration and project efficiency”.
Construction Cloud was Introduced in 2018 and combines BIM 360 with the Assemble, BuildingConnected, and PlanGrid acquisitions. It already offers some AI capability — Construction IQ enables companies to analyze data captured with and stored in BIM 360 products to identify specific high-risk issues like subcontractor performance across projects, to predict the risk created by involving them in a project. That’s hard, and the algorithms used need to be trained to identify specifics; finding outlet covers with Smartplans is a much more accessible road to AI for many in the AEC industry.
Autodesk didn’t say how much is spent on Pype, but did throw this into the press release: “Since 2017, Autodesk has invested in nine construction technology startups. The company also acquired Assemble, BuildingConnected, and PlanGrid; these three acquisitions alone total more than $1.1 billion.” I’m guessing Pype cost less than any of those.
The transaction is expected to close by October 31, 2020, and it is expected to have no material impact on Autodesk’s second quarter and fiscal year 2021 guidance presented on June 3, 2020.