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Get smart: Building contractor pushes engineering envelope

Virtual reality and real-time data analysis help Suffolk please its clients.

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  • | 6:00 a.m. July 13, 2018
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A Suffolk Smart Lab facility. Courtesy photo.
A Suffolk Smart Lab facility. Courtesy photo.
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National building contractor Suffolk, headquartered in Boston, has brought an innovative Smart Lab project management facility to its office in downtown Tampa’s Channel District.

The privately held, $2.9 billion company debuted the Smart Lab concept last year at offices in San Francisco and New York City. Essentially, a Smart Lab is a meeting room equipped with enormous flat-screen monitors on all sides, plus an electronic white board and a virtual reality “cave” Suffolk staff and clients can use to fully model and explore a building project before ground is even broken.

Suffolk has an entire team in Boston dedicated to analyzing project data, such as schedules and cost estimates. That data is fed into the Smart Lab and displayed on one of the big screens in real time, so Suffolk leaders know, for example, exactly what size crew they will need on a particular day to complete a specific task.

“Modeling something versus guessing at something makes our operation more lean,” says Josh Christensen, Suffolk’s Gulf Coast COO. “We’re constantly crunching a lot of data to figure out efficiencies. It’s also extremely important in a hot [real estate] market.”

The Smart Lab is more than just a shiny, value-added gimmick, adds Christensen. Clients, he explains, like the transparency and predictability. “It fosters a team approach. They know they can trust the numbers.”

Locally, Suffolk has utilized its Smart Lab to help plan The Related Group’s Manor Riverwalk project, a 400-unit apartment complex in downtown Tampa — on the site of the former Tampa Tribune building — expected to open for occupancy in early 2019.

“Having an added level of insight into how residents will one day use our project is a huge benefit,” says Arturo Peña, vice president of development for The Related Group. “The lab allows us to ‘walk through’ the property much earlier in development, which gives us a more realistic understanding of layout, lighting, spacing and more, which in the end translates to smoother construction and fewer delays.”



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