Concurrent Engineering in Construction: From Theory to Practice
Corresponding Author: Koeskela, Lauri
Author(s): Koskela, L., and Huovila, P.
Organisation(s): VTT Building Technology (Finland)
In the first part of the paper, the foundations of concurrent engineering are clarified by an analysis of the underlying concepts and principles of design and engineering practice before and after the emergence of concurrent engineering. 

The conventional conceptualization of engineering is based on viewing engineering as a transformation. This conceptualization was originated by early economists, and refined by the movements of scientific management and systems engineering. The transformation view is instrumental in discovering which tasks are needed in an engineering undertaking. However, the transformation view is not especially helpful in figuring out how not to use resources unnecessarily or how to ensure that the customer requirements are met in the best manner. Therefore, engineering, managed in the conventional method, tends to become inefficient and ineffective.

In contrary, concurrent engineering is based on viewing engineering primarily as a flow; a conceptualization that can be traced back to the Gilbreths and Shingo. This conceptual change was similar to the shift to JIT and lean production in manufacturing. In the flow view, the basic thrust is to eliminate waste from the design processes. Thus, such practices as team approach, releasing of information in smaller batches to following tasks, and reduction of rework are promoted. 

The emergence of the term collaborative engineering implies still another underlying conceptualization in the framework of concurrent engineering: the value generation view that can be traced back to Shewhart. In the value generation view, the basic thrust is to reach the best possible value in design solution from the point of the customer. Such practices as rigorous
requirement analysis, systematized management of requirements during engineering and rapid collaborative iterations for improvement are forwarded.

The origins, concepts and associated principles of these conceptualizations are shortly reviewed, and the need for their integration in concurrent engineering is discussed.

The second part of the paper deals with the current practice of engineering in the construction industry in view of the foundations of concurrent engineering. A case study and prior, but contemporary research with empirical backing unanimously indicate that the management of design and engineering is poorly carried out in construction projects: not even the basic project management prescriptions, derived from the transformation view, are always followed. Consequently, a great share of engineering tasks are carried out in suboptimal conditions (part of input data missing), with resultant performance loss along the whole chain of the project. A series of experimentations aiming at creating clarity and introducing systematic management
principles from all three views, as discussed above, is described. In conclusion, it is argued that only on the basis of suitable conceptualizations and informed by empirical data can effective methods for the amelioration of construction engineering be devised.

The third part of the paper shortly comments the research and development tasks ahead, in view of the observations made. Some critical notes are presented on the present, dominating style of initiating and executing research on construction engineering, where the focus often is on a generic method's application or adaptation to construction, rather than accumulation
of theoretical understanding or the solution of an empirically observed problem.