Award-winner Farzam Farzadi, Associate – Digital Engineering Advisory, Beca, says digital transformation will help solve the industry’s woeful productivity, and he has high hopes for AI.
Q. What’s your background – where you grew up, your schooling and tertiary education?
At 14, I went to a technical college in the northeast of Iran to study design and construction management. I was fascinated by how collaboration could take place in the digital environment before construction or fabrication even began. To further my education, I studied construction and fabrication management between 2003 and 2006. Then, in 2014, I came to Aotearoa to study a Master of Construction Management at Auckland University of Technology (AUT).
Q. What attracted you to a career in engineering?
I have always been good at one thing – I could close my eyes and imagine. I remember the first time I visited Persepolis, an ancient city in central Iran founded by Darius I in 518 BC. Although not much is left, I could see all of it. I closed my eyes and walked its streets and reconstructed the site in my mind. I was 12 and discovered my passion and knew then what I wanted to do with my life.
Q. Tell Build about your career, where you have worked and what brought you to New Zealand.
I officially started my career in the construction industry as a design and construction coordinator at the age of 20. I worked on site for 2 years, which shaped my ideas about the importance of collaboration after I saw the negative impacts of uncoordinated design information. I witnessed a major accident on site where a worker was burnt while working at height. This could have been avoided with better digital collaboration and communication. Understanding this was my most important takeaway from my time working there.
After spending 6 years working in the Middle East, I moved to South Asia to work as a digital designer. My main responsibilities included creating and implementing digital design and construction procedures, developing and coordinating design in digital environments, liaising with clients and supporting contractors with digital information.
When I came to New Zealand, following an internship at Beca, I joined the company as designer and BIM manager. After 3 years of working on projects that required a high level of digital collaboration, I joined Blueprint Consulting Engineers to set up its digital engineering team. During that time, I was also a guest lecturer at AUT.
In March 2020, I returned to Beca, joining the digital engineering advisory business to innovate and implement new digital design, construction and operation processes across a variety of projects
Q. Tell Build about winning the Supreme and Innovation Awards in the recent NZIOB awards.
I was stoked at being the first Innovation Award winner to also win the Supreme Award in the New Zealand Institute of Building awards. This was in recognition of work on the Waikato River to Redoubt (R2R) programme.
With Auckland expanding rapidly, essential infrastructure needs to keep pace with this growth, including the water supply network. The Watercare R2R programme delivers an additional 50 million litres of treated water per day from the Waikato River to Auckland. The fast-track nature of this programme presented several challenges to design and construction teams. It had to be designed and constructed in parallel and in a 12-month timeframe to meet Watercare’s target operational date.
Q. Could you talk about the impact of digital technologies in the construction industry?
The construction industry is one of the least-productive sectors in the world, and new digital technologies and processes will be a game changer.
The Waikato R2R programme is an example of how digital processes can improve collaboration, reduce rework, maximise quality, enhance risk management, empower automation, enable prefabrication, support sustainability and minimise environmental impacts of construction projects.
I also believe the role of artificial intelligence (AI) will be significant in the near future. It will increase efficiency, positively impact the production of materials, improve productivity in design and construction stages and fully automatise operation and asset management activities.
Q. Anything else you want to add?
I would like to emphasise the importance of cultural change in the construction industry as a crucial factor to successfully implementing new processes or systems.
Digital engineering and solutions alone will not address poor productivity. Fundamental culture change is required alongside comprehensive systems, approaches and processes to support digital transformation. This is only achievable through fundamental changes and requires willingness to support and participate at national and organisational levels.
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