Current Research Projects

To meet the overall objective of Term 4 research — to enhance the competitiveness of our partner companies and subsequently the Alberta construction industry at large — several research projects are being undertaken in the Construction Engineering and Management group, headed by our PhD and MSc students. These projects are at various stages of completion and will result in student theses. Term 4 projects include:

Theme 1—Modelling construction company performance

  • A Distributed Simulation Approach for Contractor Company Performance Management in the Construction Industry (Completed 2015). This research aimed to develop a simulation-based system that can be used to manage contractor performance. This required development of a component that mimics project creation within the market/industry, the competitive bidding process for work acquisition, execution of awarded work, and tracking of performance measures that relate to each of these business operations. Real world constructs that relate to the business operations of a typical construction company were abstracted and represented using different simulation paradigms. The competitive work acquisition process was modelled using an agent-based approach because of the interaction that exists between autonomous or semi-autonomous and concurrently self-executing constructs. The execution of awarded projects at the companies was emulated using a Discrete Event Simulation (DES) modeling approach. The agent-based model was developed using the AnyLogic simulation system while Simphony and Visual Studio were used for developing the DES model. Subsequently, these two components were configured into High Level Architecture (HLA) federates and integrated to form a distributed simulation system using a distributed simulation framework known as COSYE. Verification and validation work done on the developed application proved that the application was reliable and realistic.
  • Identification of Factors Affecting Safety Performance of a Construction Site (Completed 2015). The goal of this research was to identify the impact that certain factors have on the safety performance of a construction site. Through research into benchmarking of safety in construction, a set of factors collected from project data were identified. After reviewing the initial list of factors, a second set was created that were related to the people and behaviors found on project sites. Interviews were completed with safety professionals to determine which factors they felt were important and how they were measured. A survey was created based on the findings from the interviews and administered to project managers on building construction projects with available collected data. The survey results were compiled in conjunction with data collected from the projects and a feed forward-backward artificial neural network was developed to complete the analysis and identify the impact each of the factors had.

  • Quantitative Risk Tolerance Analysis and Simulation Template Development (Completed 2014). This research aimed to develop an approach to assist an organization to identify its risk appetite and overall acceptance of risk, represented as a percentile from a cumulative distribution function (CDF) of project cost. In order to enhance this quantitative risk tolerance analysis, a special purpose template was re-developed in Simphony.Net, based on program evaluation and review (PERT). The template provides an integrated cost/schedule model and transforms the model to simulation-based planning in which uncertainties of project cost and schedule are evaluated through Monte Carlo simulation. Utility theory was chosen as an appropriate method to solve the aforementioned problem. This research developed two utility functions: one that reflects an organization’s appetite towards potential profit and another that reflects its tolerance towards potential risk in a specific project. Both utility functions are determined from the cumulative distribution curve of project cost, which is generated from the simulation template.

  • Estimating the Safety Risk Level on Construction Projects Using Leading Indicators (Ongoing Work). Construction companies usually control safety performance using lagging indicators (e.g. Total Recordable Incident Rate (TRIR), incident rate, etc.). However, lagging indicators are limited since they cannot measure safety risk before an accident occurs. Proactive assessment of safety risk could allow risk mitigation and control in advance. However, it is difficult to identify and collect indicators that can be used to assess safety risk due to the complexity of accident occurrence processes. Therefore, it is necessary to find leading indicators that could assess safety risk in order to develop models to control it. As leading indicators can change on a daily basis due to construction sites characteristics, a simulation approach could be used to mimic the process that affects the safety risk. This research intends to develop a simulation tool to assess the safety risk on construction projects using leading indicators

  • Establishing a Key Performance Indicator Benchmarking Network (Ongoing Work). This research aims to develop and implement a management system standard that can be used to develop an industry-specific, third-party-audited, KPI-focused benchmarking network to measure ongoing competitiveness. In this project, the student is working with Canadian structural steel industry members and organizations.

Theme 2—Improving the performance of on-site construction processes

  • Modeling Reclamation Earthwork Operations Using Special Purpose Simulation Tool (Competed 2012). The primary objective of this research was to develop a new practical and efficient simulation tool specifically for modelling the earthwork operations of the reclamation process. By incorporating simulation to manipulate the layout of the reclamation earthwork operations, encapsulating different activities and equipment all at once, the tool is capable of forecasting and controlling the productivity of equipment, duration of the project or activity, quantity of material processed, and project and equipment costs. The research has presented a special simulation tool to model earthwork operations for reclamation using Simphony.NET. The major outcome of this simulation tool is to incorporate the entire equipment fleet along with the flexibility to manipulate and control each piece of equipment, soil profile specifications, excavation and placement locations, and modelling different hauling routes. The research was validated using a case study using a Simphony.NET general purpose template.
  • Proactive Laydown Yard Management Using Genetic Algorithm Integrated With Simulation (Completed 2013). An integrated framework which performs dynamic layout optimization of materials arriving at construction yards is presented in this research. The framework uses genetic algorithm as a suitable heuristic method fully integrated with simulation to propose the best possible layout for incoming materials, in terms of their daily consumption. The proposed method provides a continuous interaction and information exchange between simulation and genetic algorithm for optimization. Process improvement in the field of material handling is achieved in this study by evaluating two very common policies in yard laydown management, namely, proactive and reactive layout designs. Analytical optimization methods are implemented to compare and contrast such placement policies through presenting case studies in the steel fabrication industry where tight consumption schedule, frequent change orders and revisions, late design drawings and failure to meet approval schedules provide a sensitive environment in which effective materials handling method could be of great significance.

  • Estimation and Planning Methodology for Industrial Construction Scaffolding (Completed 2013). This research analyzed the factors affecting different stages of estimation and concepts in advance planning of industrial scaffolding, and presented useful observations and recommendations. A simulation tool for predicting scaffold erection man-hour values for individual equipment on site in an industrial project was developed in Simphony, and is based on mapping the geometry of equipment and other factors to man-hours of scaffold work. The stages and methods of estimation, their uses and an efficient scaffold flow process for industrial construction lays a solid foundation of new concepts and analysis in industrial scaffolding research work.

  • Linear Scheduling Template for Construction Processes (Completed 2013). In this research, a linear scheduling (LS) program was developed as a special purpose template in Simphony.Net. The template consists of 9 modelling elements. Three of these elements were used to model activities or tasks in the project: continuous tasks, partial tasks and discrete. Two of the elements were used to model buffers between activities; time buffers and space buffers. The remaining four elements were used to initialize the project, produce the linear schedule, track productivity information and end the project. With these elements, the user is able to easily model their linear construction process, without requiring knowledge of computer programming. Simphony.Net performs Monte Carlo simulation, so not only is the Linear Schedule produced, the schedule shows the best and worst case scenario—a valuable tool for analyzing risk.

  • A Framework for Examining and Improving the Accounts Payable Process in Construction (Completed 2014). This research focused on the accounts payable function in construction firms. Specifically, the research objectives focused on mapping existing accounts payable processes in construction, building a model to represent the process and validating that model. The map is able to calculate process cost and cycle time, and demonstrate the feedback loops present in the verification process. A computer simulation model using the Simphony.NET framework was built based on the map. Once validated, the model provided a system for sensitizing key input variables to see their effect on outputs, such as processing cost and cycle time of invoice approval. Finally, a case study using the model was presented to demonstrate the model’s ability to facilitate sensitivity, scenario and financial analyses. A firm in the steel manufacturing sector provided access to project managers and accounting professionals, in addition to project data.

  • Application of Front End Planning and Special Purpose Simulation Templates to Drainage Tunnel Construction (Completed 2015). In this research, the student investigated optimization of drainage tunnel construction. Front end planning ensures that projects are as complete, optimized, and certain as they can be throughout the project life cycle. In order to demonstrate this, the Project Definition Rating Index (PDRI) was optimized to suit underground drainage tunnel construction. A special purpose simulation template was created to be used in Simphony, specifically for underground drainage tunnel construction. The selected model was then updated throughout the construction phase of the project to confirm the necessary crews and schedule to complete the project within the deadline and budget.

  • Construction Site Layout Planning Using Simulation (Ongoing Work). This research focuses on two main tasks of construction site layout planning: identifying the size and determining the location of temporary facilities. It aims to develop a comprehensive model for optimizing the size and location of the temporary facilities, as well as construction planning decisions, in order to improve project productivity and achieve the lowest cost. To this end, simulation is employed to sophisticatedly model the construction process and interactions between various parameters considering inherent uncertainties and managerial actions. Using an optimization engine integrated with simulation facilitates finding optimum size and location of facilities. The proposed approach can be applied to diverse types of construction projects such as steel structure, tunnelling, earthmoving, and industrial construction, to demonstrate its adaptability and suitability. Currently, a generic simulation-based tool is under development to optimize site layout and construction planning decisions in tunnelling. The next steps in this research will be completing this tool for tunnelling and applying similar methodology to other kinds of construction projects. 

Theme 3—Simulation modelling strategies and constructs suitable for construction

Work on this theme has brought new insights to extension of simulation systems Simphony and COSYE that will assist in development of the proposed framework. This theme encompasses student work as well as ongoing extension and maintenance of Simphony and COSYE by the research group.

  • Improvement to COSYE - TCP/IP Socket Communications. Communications between the COSYE RTI Server and COSYE federates have been established by implementing federates using the .NET Framework, in order to participate in a COSYE federation. In addition, standard TCP/IP sockets have been implemented to make the COSYE RTI Server more versatile, and federates implemented under other APIs can now communicate with it.

  • The Simphony Continuous Template. Simulation models are often classified as discrete event, continuous, or a combination of the two. In discrete event models, the state of the model changes discretely at specific points in time. Continuous models, on the other hand, are characterized by variables defined in terms of equations that describe their behaviour over time. Traditionally, Simphony has been an exclusively discrete event environment. However, during the first half of 2013, a new Simphony template was developed that allowed continuous models and combined discrete-continuous models to be created.

  • A Simulation-Based Framework for As-built Documentation in Construction Projects (Completed 2013). A generic framework for information representation that incorporates process model, product model, and external factors of a project into one system was developed to create a complete project chronology, including all changes to the original plan. The system integrates the information and presents it to the user in a dynamic format, providing an overview of the project at every stage for comparison with the project as planned. The proposed framework utilizes computer simulation’s functionality in modelling the dynamic nature of a project. This application employs a distributed simulation concept based on the High Level Architecture (HLA) rules in Construction Synthetic Environment (COSYE) to facilitate integration of simulation components, to promote interoperability between the components, and to aid reusability of models in the future. The ability to access detailed information of a project along with the actual construction process will be highly beneficial for the management process for different purposes such as quality control, claims, process improvement and future project planning.

  • A Framework for the Rapid Creation of Construction Simulation Models (Completed 2015). When building new construction simulation models, practitioners go through the full four phases of simulation model development. This is a time consuming and rigorous cycle repeated for every new model, and requires extensive know-how in both simulation and in the subject construction discipline. As a possible solution to this problem, and to make simulation more accessible to construction stakeholders, a framework for the rapid creation of construction simulation models was developed. The framework will enable users to, quickly, and with basic understanding of simulation, develop simulation models of their construction problems. This project aimed to detail and document the commonalities in building simulation models in different construction disciplines, specifically the product, process, and environment components, and provide simulationists in the construction industry with a standard framework for rapid simulation model development.
For more information, please contact us to discuss current and potential projects.