After listening to Aaron’s latest podcast on the state of the residential construction market and how it relates to SketchUp I think I have at least a few points that I would like to add to what has been said.
The residential construction industry has been notoriously slow to change I think many of us can agree on that but I also do see a paradigm shift and the industry appears to be on the the verge of upgrading to the “high tech” world of BIM and 3D modeling like its commercial and industrial cousins already have.
The reason for this shift seems to be three fold in my opinion. The first reason is that the 2008 financial crisis caused everyone to tighten their belts just a little more. Methods that worked before were just not good enough anymore. Further increasing efficiency and eliminating waste became the necessity. This need for more control of the process requires better models and a better understanding of the actual amounts of materials being used. As Brock noted, 2D plans only get you so far, they leave a lot of the structure undesigned or unaccounted for. An accurate 3D model eliminates waste and requires the designer to fully understand and contend with the structure. Clashes and potential flaws are much easier to identify and fix prior to the actual construction in the field.
I see a big push by production builders to pre-fab wall panels in a controlled (shop) environment. This allows for better quality control and also for less skilled laborers since all of the thinking has already been done for them. Each wall panel has an accurate framing plan associated with it and it is no longer up to the individual carpenter to decide how to build the structure. The skilled carpenter has and will become a thing of the past. The new construction laborers will be more like worker bees and less the skilled craftsman they once were.
This brings me to the second reason for the shift. The upcoming generation (millennials and Gen Z) are less savvy when it comes to the trades and using their hands. These are the generations raised on Angry Birds and Pokemon Go. For some reason they seem to lack some of the skill and craftmanship associated with the skilled laborers and carpenters of the past. Asking them to cut stair stringers and hip rafters/jacks makes their head spin. This lack of skilled laborers in the field further necessitates the need to further automate the design and build process and take the thinking out of the hands on the job site.
Finally the third biggest reason for the paradigm shift is the moving on of the Baby Boomer generation (the old guard). Most of the boomer generation saw a major point of inflection at the crisis in 2008 - 2012. A lot of retirement happened and continues to happen. Before the crisis even in my own family my Dad was building spec homes in Utah like their was no end in sight. The crisis completely took the wind out of his sails and even though the housing market has recovered he did not. At 72 years old he doesn’t have the energy or the drive to start over and so has consigned himself to retirement. I think this same story is not unique to just my family but to many other small and medium builders out there as well.
The industry is now run by my generation (Gen X) and maybe some day by the millennials (perhaps somewhat of a scary thought still). With the changing of the guard comes new ideas and new methods. My generation was raised on computers and tech, we are not afraid of bringing this new beast into the workplace and finding ways to leverage it to our advantage. Working from emails, screens and PDFs come naturally, paper is nice but not a necessity anymore. Resistance to change will always be there but BIM and other “technological concepts” are far more likely to take hold among this newer generation of construction professionals than the previous one.
So yes, the residential construction industry is on the verge of change in my honest opinion. In fact, I think many professionals are actively seeking the vehicle of change (eg. Revit, Chief Architect, ArchiCad, AutoCad, SketchUp), based on my many conversations (email and phone) with various players in the field. Unlike the commercial industry, no single player has taken a firm hold of this market yet, its still too early and the smoke and dust literally has not settled.
This is why there is such an urgency by myself and other developers (PlusSpec, John Brock, etc…) to try and put together a system(s) which would allow SketchUp to become a significant player in this emerging market. In the next few years the battle lines will be drawn and someone or something will emerge from the fray to dominate the residential (BIM) design and construction market. My goal is to make sure that SketchUp is able to capture that prize. I am hopeful that Trimble/SketchUp can also recognize the seriousness and magnitude of this paradigm shift and their potential role within it. As such increased development and efforts on improving the performance of Layout will go a long ways in cementing their position of strength within the marketplace.