Industrialized Construction Bridges the Gap Between Traditional and Future Building - Q&A with Salla Eckhardt

Salla Eckardt

Salla Eckardt has built a career by challenging the status quo to forge a path of growth and innovation. With over 20 years of experience–most recently working for Microsoft as its Director of Digital Building Lifecycle and Innovation–Salla has built a reputation in the construction industry for fostering programs that utilize emerging technology and innovative applications to inform digital strategy. The program she led at Microsoft was a first of its kind and led to the birth of a new business area at Microsoft, focusing on digital building lifecycles. 

To advise on further improving the building process through digital technology, Salla joined OAC, a professional services firm that partners with clients to find the right tools and techniques to achieve successful project outcomes. As SVP of Commercial Markets, Salla uses her expertise to advance the use of technology in the commercial sector to transform the built environment.  

Originally from Finland, Salla holds a master’s in architecture and structural engineering. She’s always been passionate about the promise of industrialized construction and how it helps optimize labor, materials, and cost.  

Salla recently answered a few questions on the benefits of industrialized construction and how it’s fundamentally changing the approach to planning, designing, and building. 

Let’s dive in! 

How is industrialized construction shifting how the industry plans, designs, and builds? 

The construction industry faces material and labor shortages and lingering safety, security, and increasing material costs. And as no one has a blank check when navigating the complexity of construction projects, industrialized construction is how we can help solve these challenges and implement sustainable building strategies across the construction industry.  

Industrialized construction is the glue between how things have traditionally been done and the future. And with so many issues impacting construction, industrialized construction provides a higher level of control for schedule, cost, safety, and quality. 

Have you always been interested in industrialized construction? 

I’ve been interested in industrialized construction since my second year at architecture school in Finland. That's when I was exposed to industrialized construction as a methodology.  

In the early 2000s, building information modeling entered academia and became part of the teaching curriculum. And that was the entry point for early adopters to start digitally building and creating a physical artifact. And when architecture and construction combined with emerging technology, my interest in industrialized construction sparked. And that became part of my career as an academic researcher and a technologist interested in using industrialized construction to improve productivity and impact business profitability.  

How do you advise clients on integrating industrialized construction into their business? 

Industrialized construction is a powerful strategy to set project teams up for success.  

Having a strategy from the get-go is critical to creating discussion opportunities with the entire project team, the GCs or the developer, the manufacturers, and the fabricators. That's where industrialized construction starts to reveal itself as a powerful tool or strategy for setting everyone up for success.  

Industrialized construction brings teams together to collaborate better than ever before. It's more about being proactive, predictive, and prescriptive and governing a digital delivery that leads to more optimized fabrication, manufacturing, and assembly onsite. 

What types of projects are best suited for industrialized construction? 

When dealing with pre-existing infrastructure –  renovations, retrofitting, etc. – industrialized construction is a good strategy because you have very tight tolerances to fit things into the physical environment. If you go the traditional route with field coordination, you are effectively burning a lot of labor hours, accumulating a lot of idle time, and putting people at risk. By combining industrialized construction with reality capture and building information model technologies, you are setting your project teams up for success and improving quality control on the project. 

How has industrialized construction contributed to the workers' work-life balance? 

Industrialized construction enables faster project delivery by predetermining the supply chain and labor to fabricate, manufacture, and assemble assets. You can have tighter lead times and throughput times. There is more control because you're dealing with factory conditions rather than something out in the wild. With industrialized construction, there are fewer surprises, and you can test and verify assets digitally before going into the field, saving time and allowing teams to be more prepared.  

What's one of your favorite projects that you've worked on incorporating industrialized construction? 

Back in Finland, almost every project was an industrialized construction project. But to mention something more recent, the Microsoft Thermal Energy Center is a beautiful example of how industrialized construction set the project team up for success, and it looks good. 

These massive pipes allowed excess heat to get ventilated and had to be installed in an exact way and in a very confined space. Everything was designed and engineered using BIM, then fabricated and lifted into place. It had a tremendous impact on the throughput time, the project lead time, and the cost.  

What advice would you share with someone looking to bring more of an industrialized construction approach into their business? 

Having a digital building lifecycle strategy is the first and most crucial part because you're focusing on delivering output and an outcome. Nowadays, people are trying to digitize and digitally transform analog processes and deliverables to create digital twins of legacy projects. Industrialized construction and its processes empower people to think digitally to build and deliver projects. Everything that is a physical output is intentional. And that is what helps us to build more sustainably and have a better impact on the future of our environment

Ryan McMahon

General Manager, Manufacturing Informed Design at Autodesk