People believe that the Engineering and Construction Industry (E&C) is one that lacks innovation due to the design-build process that has been in place since the early days of the industry. It is a very manual process (think of the designers and construction workers who are people) even with the aid of computer software. That may have been true in the past, but, it is now on the cusp of revolutionary changes because of additive manufacturing, or more specifically 3D printing (3DP), that is beginning to take hold in the industry. AECOM is trying to become an industry leader in adding the additive manufacturing skills highlighted above to their toolbox and offering clients a much richer experience.
In multiple studies of the top 400 contractors in the U.S. indicate that cost control, design practices and quality control (among others, such as: scheduling and labor training) are functions that have meaningful room for productivity improvement . Therefore, technological advances in 3DP which has brought the cost curve down substantially and has given promise to the industry, or AECOM in this case. In the words that follow, I will analyze what AECOM is doing in order to capture some of the short and medium-term potential benefits and risks that 3DP has enabled the entire E&C industry.
3DP has been around for over 35 years and the first semblance of it was published by Hideo Kodama of Nagoya Municipal Industrial Research Institute. Since then the cost of 3DP has come down and accuracy of has improved  which has allowed companies in the E&C space to potentially to reduce the need for human resources and high capital investments.  AECOM has been able to realize benefits through reduction in steps throughout the design process (in cost-plus contracts). AECOM has begun to use 3DP which has allowed a project model to be easily created therefore each team member would be able to print a portion of the project and communicate between teams more effectively and ultimately reduce costs. Another shorter-term benefit that AECOM is taking advantage of is the ability to create a finished model that was typically outsourced and required long lead times which would draw out the design phase of a given project. Longer term, benefits that AECOM hopes to realize are utilizing large-scale 3D printers to build portions (if not all) of a project. This would result in a large decrease direct construction labor costs and an increase in rapidity of project completion which would increase AECOM project turnover.
A potential downside however is the cost associated with the widespread re-training that will be needed in-order-to retrain all of the designers, engineers and architects at AECOM. AECOM will need to view the retraining costs as an investment – an investment to assure itself of having the best of the best employees. Industry observers also believe that a meaningful obstacle for large scale 3DP is regulatory risk.  There are many building codes that must be adhered to and given the bureaucratic nature of government the change in AECOM’s industry verticals may take a while. But, given all of the positives associated with 3DP in E&C space, particularly the decrease in accidents, it will only be a matter of time before the building codes are changed to include 3DP construction.
I would recommend that AECOM take additional steps to capture the benefits sooner and dispel some of the risks. AECOM could develop a specific 3DP training program that ties into the AECOM-specific design/construction phases. This will not only provide every party that is involved in a design/construction project invaluable information on what the future in the E&C space looks like, but the fact that it ties in directly to current AECOM systems/processes will make it more likely that employees will stay. AECOM also has a size advantage. AECOM is the third largest company in the E&C industry and can afford to scale use of 3DP around the world. AECOM has operations in in over 150 countries  and can utilize its balance sheet to place 3DP in any opportune location. Furthermore, AECOM’s size-advantage means that it can deploy capital to research the effects that 3DP is having on its business to equip itself for when 3DP starts to become an industry norm and regulators start to ask questions.
There also exist some questions relating to the use of 3D printers. What will AECOM do if the market castigates it for starting to get the ball rolling in terms creating an oversupply of construction workers? What ethical considerations will AECOM have to take into account? AECOM builds large infrastructure, commercial and industrial projects, what will the ramifications be for AECOM if a 3D printed project fails i.e. a building collapses and there is a loss of life?
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 AECOM, 2017 Annual Report (Los Angeles: AECOM, 2017), p. 15.