A steady stream of corporate announcements regarding project suspensions, restarts and delays underpins the stark fact that no segment of mining is immune from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, including construction. Contractor reliance on supply chain integrity and high levels of manual labor can lead to difficulties for mine project owners in the current business environment; they know the financial clock begins ticking with the signing of a mine construction contract and never ticks louder than when progress is delayed due to miscommunication, missing data or misplaced documents.
The geographic scope of the pandemic’s impact and the unpredictability of its cost in terms of worker health, availability and productivity in general – and the local, regional and national response measures imposed on the industry – have expanded the list of possible project complications significantly. As law firm Holland & Knight pointed out in a recent client advisory, pandemic-related impacts on construction projects might include contract or project notices for default, scheduling and adjustments; project suspension, termination and reinstatement; occupational safety and health and workplace safety compliance; work force management; material, subcontractor and supply chain delays and impacts; risk management and insurance; claims avoidance or, alternatively, claims management; and dispute processes.
In this environment, the informed involvement of all parties in a construction agreement seems essential, supported by reliable, comprehensive recordkeeping. Construction software developer InEight, a subsidiary of Kiewit Corp., offers a modular, cloud-based project management platform that uses Integrated Project Delivery (IPD), a methodology which seeks efficiency and involvement of participants through all phases of design, fabrication, and construction. E&MJ asked Dr. Dan Patterson, chief design office at Arizona-based InEight, to explain how IPD could benefit the mining industry.
E&MJ: What are some of the more significant weaknesses or stress areas in a typical mine construction project process? How would InEight’s solution alleviate these typical problems?
Patterson: Like any major Capex project, the complexity of not only mining construction but also engineering and procurement is enormous. Historically, the toolsets used to try and manage this have been provided by multiple point solution vendors. As a result, it has been very difficult for planning information to flow through to execution. This has resulted in huge inefficiencies and even worse, a total lack of insight into status, issues and performance. Integrated platforms such as InEight overcome this. Information is seeded from the very early stages of the project and carried forward through detailed planning, execution and even closeout. Along the way, multiple contributors can add to and enrich this data set enabling the project as a whole to have the timely insight needed to manage the project. Having a simple import and export of data between tools does not enable such frictionless knowledge flow – the InEight platform does.
E&MJ: Is IPD commonly used in mine-scale construction projects?
Patterson: IPD is a relatedly new methodology that is designed to better align owners and contractors during the project lifecycle. Traditionally, owners and contractors, while engaged on the same project, have not always had the same commercial motivations. As a result, delays, disputes and litigation have all too often been the norm rather than the exception. IPD changes that. In simple terms, under an IPD umbrella, owners and contractors treat the project as a joint venture. The owner and contractor effectively become part of the same team more transparently sharing information but also are motivated to achieve more common commercial goals. While not common practice yet, IPD is for sure emerging within the mining space. As more owners recognize the benefit of this approach, that trend will continue.
E&MJ: InEight’s solution makes use of Artificial Intelligence (AI). Can you provide some examples of useful AI capabilities that might tie-in to mine construction project management?
Patterson: The InEight platform is enhanced through the use of AI. The AI engine is used to intelligently mine historical prior project information to help better forecast and benchmark the current project in hand. The engine is smart enough to infer matches and patterns pertaining to productivity rates, potential risks and even optimal sequence of work. Not only that, but the software learns from the project team as well – in other words, it naturally gets smarter over time. It is worth mentioning that we do not see the A in AI as representing “Artificial.” Instead we see it as “Augmented.” Our software doesn’t replace the expertise of your team – it enhances and supports decisions made by the team with regards to planning and forecasting.
E&MJ: Is specialized training or knowledge necessary to use the solution effectively? And, as the mining industry moves toward increased remote-from-office workforce staffing and follow-the-sun scheduling of works groups located around the world, does InEight’s solution offer features that support these trends?
Patterson: Firstly, the software does not require highly structured data sets, nor does it require thousands or even hundreds of historical projects. Secondly, the software has been specifically developed to support remote capturing of information from multiple contributors who are geographically disparate. We call this Human Intelligence or HI. The HI then in turn feeds the AI engine.
E&MJ: Has InEight been able to identify and quantify savings, in terms of dollars, resources or time, through the use of its solution in a mine construction application?
Patterson: The platform is proving very valuable both from a time savings perspective during planning as well as inherently helping in generating more realistic forecasts. Organizations can expect to save up to 40% in planning time and effort in generating a plan using the InEight knowledge-based approach. On top of this, the degree of confidence and realism that the resulting plan brings to the project is tremendous.
E&MJ: On what basis is InEight’s solution offered: license, subscription, etc.? Do clients typically need help in tailoring the solution to their specific project needs? If so, what type of support is available?
Patterson: InEight is a SaaS subscription model. The software is cloud-based and accessible through a web browser. Unlike many other PPM platforms, the solution can be largely configured without the need for specific customizations. One of the powerful capabilities is the reporting and analytics module which includes both off-the-shelf canned reports as well as the ability to easily create and configure custom reports. This pertains to use cases for both owners and contractors or EPCs. The solution includes full support, web-based training and on-line guidance.