In profile: Lynelle Cameron, CEO of the Autodesk Foundation



Why technology will meet the region’s sustainability and smart city goals

“I think that the power of automation and design technology is not only changing how people work, but fundamentally, it’s also changing what we can design and make. That’s the difference. With technology today, we can now design and make an entirely different future, a future that we all want to live in”

A little over two years ago, in April 2016, HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum launched Dubai’s 3D Printing Strategy, an initiative that aims to use technology to “serve humanity and promote the status of the UAE and Dubai as a leading hub of 3D printing technology, by the year 2030”.

The strategy aims to adopt an emerging technology that will help cut costs across many sectors and industries. As a result, local economies and labour markets are expected to undergo a comprehensive restructure and redefinition, with productivity increasing and efficiency improving as new ideas and methodologies are embraced.

One of the main sectors expected to feel the impact of this strategy is construction, as by 2025, as per Dubai Municipality regulations, every new building in Dubai will be 25% 3D printed. This movement will begin in 2019, starting at 2% with a gradual increase to the 25% goal. As a by-product, the 3D Printing Strategy will reduce labour by 70%, cost by 90% and time by 80% across different sectors, the Dubai Future Foundation predicts.

These statistics are what Lynelle Cameron, vice president, Sustainability at Autodesk and CEO of the Autodesk Foundation, believes will drive the adoption of the technology in the regional construction industry. In fact, given the economic conditions and the overriding desire to cut costs, she believes more and more construction related firms will turn to technology to improve efficiency, productivity, sustainability and performance.

“I think the AEC industry has traditionally been slow to adapt to new technology, and construction certainly. However, I feel that we’re at a pivotal moment in time where we’re going to see this technology adopted, because it enables construction [to be] faster and better, and with less impact,” she tells Big Project ME at Autodesk University Middle East.

“The economics are going to play out – that we need the best technology on construction sites to make these decisions. I’m optimistic that the adoption speed is going to accelerate in the construction market.

“What our customers care about is cost and time, and so when a tool enables you to make better, greener decisions – and save money and time – then you don’t need to sell the idea. Better design is sustainable design, everybody is trying to reduce energy, and everybody is aware that materials equals cost savings. So really thinking about it in terms of economics, it’s going to drive speed and change in the industry,” Cameron asserts.

With regard to the 3D Printing Strategy, she points out that having a stretched target, as set out by the Dubai government, will drive the behavioural change that will push the industry forwards, regardless of whether the target timeline is hit.

“I’ll give you a good example,” she says. “Architecture 2030 is a voluntary initiative that companies around the world have signed up for, it aims to make 100% of their portfolio net-zero energy by 2030. I don’t know if we’re going to get there by 2030, but many of our customers around the world are shifting and making their portfolio net-zero, and that’s the kind of trend that I think we need – one which is going to drive the market.

“Visionary goals are needed, frankly. That’s going to be the one component that’ll drive the transformation towards the future that we all need to live in.”

To that end, she stresses that developing an entrepreneur ecosystem in the regional construction industry is going to be crucial, as it is this segment of the market that will push boundaries and innovate with technology.

“We have the Autodesk Foundation, which I also lead. That has grown out of a history of supporting start-ups and clean tech entrepreneurs around the world, because these are the companies that are, in many ways, leading the transformation and pointing the way towards the future. I’m not as familiar with the entrepreneur ecosystem in Dubai, but I think that in many parts of the world, they’ll be the ones out in front. As these small companies get acquired by big companies, that too will start to change the whole industry.”

As vice president of Sustainability at Autodesk, Cameron’s main role is focused on understanding the trends around sustainability, ranging from net-zero energy buildings through to circular construction and zero waste, and all the way through to the development of smart cities. As a passionate advocate of marrying technology with the desire to be more sustainable, she insists that technologies like 3D printing will help reduce waste and improve cost savings for companies, no matter their size.

“I have heard a statistic that states that 30% of every project results in construction waste. That’s a really significant number. I think that one of the trends we’re going to see shift that is 3D printing. The more that we can 3D print our structures and buildings, the less waste that we’ll have,” she says, pointing out that Autodesk is currently in the R&D phase with a robot being taught to 3D print in stainless steel.

“She [the robot] is able to do it on her own and 3D print structures without the typical amount of waste. We then took her out of our research team and partnered with a company called MX3D in Amsterdam, which is robotically 3D printing a bridge, and the waste reduction is enormous. This is all new technology, but when you think about scaling up and the role that the Dubai government has set for 3D printing, then that begins to change the amount of waste that gets created.”

Also tying into the idea of greater efficiency and performance is automation, which Cameron believes is one of the most exciting things happening in the industry at the moment. She asserts that the automation technology available today will truly augment the human ability to design and make the future.

“This is the perfect marriage of sustainability and technology. We couldn’t actually design this complexity in the past, as humans. We needed help, and automation can help us there.

“Data is the foundation of all of this. We now have machine learning, which leads to artificial intelligence, which then enables us to make use of the incredible amounts of data and bring that into the design process. That wasn’t possible five years ago, it certainly wasn’t possible ten years ago.”

With the regional construction industry relying heavily on manual labour, Cameron adds that automation will actually help solve a number of challenges that the industry faces, while also being more efficient and environmentally friendly.

“I gave a talk in Berlin last week about whether automation and robotics will destroy us or save us, and there’s a lot of dialogue about fear, but I fully believe that the automation technology available today is exactly what we need to be able to solve those challenges. We need to be intentional about how we’re using this technology, so that we can use it for good.”

Finally, Cameron turns to the concept of smart cities and underlines just how important it is to use technology and data when it comes to urban planning and city management, with population figures continuing to rise.

“When you look into the future, there’ll be ten billion people in the world by the year 2050. That’s 30% more than there are today. 75% of those people will live in or near a city, which will either be crumbing, or won’t have the infrastructure to support them. In fact, many of them will be in cities that haven’t even been built yet.

“In fact, one in four people on the planet in 2050 will be living in Africa. We know that there’s an opportunity to design many new cities. What that means is that we’ll need to build 5,000 buildings today, and every day, into the future, just to keep up. It’s a huge opportunity to rethink how we’re designing buildings and cities to house this many people in the future.

“I’m optimistic about this region, and certainly being here in Dubai, the magnitude of design and construction, the vision and the mindset, if we apply that to really designing sustainable and smart cities, then we have the technology to make that possible,” she asserts, adding that the data generated and the technology used can be combined to minimise and find better sources of energy and material, making it more affordable and liveable for billions of people around the globe.

“I think that the power of automation and design technology is not only changing how people work, but fundamentally, it’s also changing what we can design and make. That’s the difference. With technology today, we can now design and make an entirely different future, a future that we all want to live in. A future for billions of people, not just for one billion people. And that’s what’s most exciting about the work that our customers are doing, in partnership with Autodesk and using our technology,” she concludes.

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