Prescient’s Digital Thread

7 min read

Automating the whole construction process 

It’s not true that construction is the least digitized niche of the national economy. For instance, Keith Stocker told a recent meeting of top affordable housing executives, agriculture is less digitized than construction. And so is hunting.

Other than those two, however, construction distinctly lags the rest of the digital economy, according to Stocker, director of business development at Prescient Co. Inc. And he says that needs to change.

The Mebane, NC-based Prescient is focused entirely on the automation of the whole construction process, Stocker says. Its “digital thread,” which includes both hardware and software, drives everything, from design to engineering through manufacturing, installation and integration.

“We’re engaged as early as we can in the process for a turnkey solution,” he says.

Changing Old Ways
“The conversation needs to be how do we change the way we’re putting together buildings?” Stocker says. And his answer to that is digital.

“We’re designing the building on the computer, where it always should be designed. If you’re still designing in the construction trailer on your projects, you know the outcome. It’s change orders, it’s Requests for Information (RFIs), it’s schedule delays and cost overruns and it’s a disaster.”

The executive thinks his company, which has done 40 successful projects in the past ten years, “is past the proof of concept point” and a viable template for other companies. And he hopes what Prescient is doing will be an example to the industry.

“We’re trying to take that advance manufacturing we espouse in our plants with the technology and push it toward the industry,” Stocker says.

And the race will go to those companies that can be quick off the mark, he feels. “The early adopters are the ones that are going to be able to take advantage of systems such as ours and others out there,” he says.

Stocker agrees with a recent McKinsey Institute report that maintains modular construction is poised for a great leap forward, achieving a 50 percent increase in construction speed and a 20 percent reduction in costs.

Looking At Every Step
“We think you can drive 30 percent productivity out of a project by looking at every step of the process, from collaboration to design to procurement to onsite execution,” he says.

Prescient currently focuses on senior housing, student housing and hospitality buildings, with a range of from three to 12 floors. Currently, it is completing its capacity to build in areas with seismic activity.

The Prescient process goes from CAD to CAM to CAA – Computer Aided Design to Computer Aided Manufacturing to Computer Aided Assembly. That workflow takes Prescient from design, engineering and Building Information Modeling (BIM) all the way through to installation planning and execution.

Innovation is constantly on the corporate radar screen. Agustin Rayon, vice president of engineering and product innovation, likes the, “I can do it, I can achieve the impossible” attitude he sees at Prescient.

Rayon, an original Prescient employee from 2012, also likes the constant challenge, “to create something new, something that doesn’t exist, something that’s never been done before, a blank piece of paper to create something new.”

Speed to completion has obvious implications for urgent housing problems. Prescient’s projects include Renaissance Downtown Lofts, a Denver apartment complex housing 100 formerly homeless city residents. The lofts were developed by the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, and Prescient worked with FCI Constructors and Christopher Carvell Architects on the 67,000 square foot project. The six-story building provides supportive housing, including mental health services, addiction treatment and job programs.

According to Prescient, the lofts look very similar to a Millennial apartment complex, easing “Not in My Back Yard” concerns. “The building provides a visual feeling of security, yet with open arms to the city, easing what can be a crippling sense of isolation that can afflict homelessness. It also makes visible, through its strong architectural form and layered transparency, a community with dignity.”

In the hospitality sector, Prescient points to its Hyatt House Belmar project as innovative, citing the Lakewood, CO property’s use of Prescient’s “steel framing system and proprietary BIM software providing as much as 35 percent cost savings over traditional materials and reduction of the core construction schedule by up to 50 percent.”

Student housing projects include ones done at Colorado Christian University, the University of Texas at Austin and the University of South Florida. Prescient’s first senior living residence was completed in Lone Tree, CO.

The company has production facilities in the Denver area, as well as its North Carolina location. It employs more than 200 software, engineering and design professionals. It describes its digital thread as translating, “Three-dimensional, architectural drawings to the manufacturing plants’ automated cutting and forming equipment, which then transforms U.S.-made, high-recycled-content, cold-formed steel into the posts, panels, trusses, floor decking and connections that form the Prescient Structural System precise to within 1/32”.”

Innovator of the Year
Prescient was founded in 2012 by entrepreneur Satyen Patel, real estate developer John Vanker and architect/engineer Michael Lastowski, and had its first facility in a 5,000 square foot former airplane hangar in Broomfield, CO. In 2014, it upgraded to a 40,000 square foot facility and started using its automated processes for the first time. In 2016, it expanded again, to a 120,000 square foot headquarters in the Denver area. The firm won an Innovator of the Year award in 2018 from industry publisher Construction Dive.

Prescient has a tight focus on its processes, Stocker says. “We’re thinking about assembling buildings in the field. All of our buildings are bolted together. There’s no cutting, no drilling and no welding. Once we get to the project site, we’re assembling. Thirty-five installers can install 20,000 square feet of floor plate a week.”

At two 12-story buildings Prescient is currently involved with in Atlanta, it is actually achieving a higher rate than 20,000 square feet a week.

“Solving” the building is what the construction firm wants to do with its smart plans, says Stocker. “We solve for every post, panel and truss in the project. Everything you can put in the project, let’s think about it.”

Doing this can save two to four months against wood projects and four to six versus construction or cast in place projects, he says.

“Solving” also generates projects with fewer changes, meaning there are fewer price overruns.

From Poland, with Love
Mechanical, electrical, plumbing (MEPs) are integrated in a factory in Krakow, Poland and shipped to the U.S. From there, “Let’s bring these assemblies out to the job site,” he says. “Whether it’s HVAC, plumbing, electrical, have them install them. Let’s not just bring bundles of pipe and ductwork out there and hope it gets put in the right way. It won’t.

“Speed and efficiency drive us every day.”

But, Stocker warns, success means staying committed to digital processes, without backtracking. “The one caveat, you have to be a team that’s willing to make decisions and stick to them. If you like to go out in the field and tweak things, this is not for you.”

Story Contacts:
Keith Stocker
Director of Business Development
Prescient Co., Inc., Mebane, NC

Agustin Rayon
Vice President of Engineering and Product Innovation
Prescient Co., Inc. Mebane, NC

Mark Fogarty has covered housing and mortgages for more than 30 years. A former editor at National Mortgage News, he has written extensively about tax credits.