Customized efficiency

Employing manufacturing principles to build distinctive structures

Vicki Speed
18 November 2014

3 min read

The Permasteelisa Group, based in Italy, is a leading worldwide contractor in the engineering, manufacture and installation of architectural envelopes and interior systems. Compass spoke to Permasteelisa IT project manager Federico Momesso and communication manager Massimiliano Fanzaga about how the company is adopting more standardized technologies and processes to better meet the construction industry’s growing demand for customized building systems on short timelines.

Compass: What challenges do you face in meeting client expectations?

FEDERICO MOMESSO: Every building project is unique, requiring multiple companies – owners, architects, engineers, contractors, subcontractors and suppliers with different skills to come together. It’s a fragmented industry that does not yet apply the same advanced level of 3D modeling to move from concept to completion as other markets, such as the automotive or aerospace industry. Part of this is because of the inherent differences. In the automotive industry, one design is modeled and reproduced many times; in the building industry, every design is distinctive.

MASSIMILIANO FANZAGA: As well, projects are increasingly complex, as are the shapes of the interior/exterior elements. Even though every project is different, owners, architects and contractors want projects engineered, executed and built much quicker than ever before. Permasteelisa has the added challenge of adapting its services to meet the needs of a diverse range of customers from different cultures, each with very different expectations, resources and awareness.

What is your most common workflow?

FANZAGA: It has changed considerably over the years. Increasingly, the industry is shifting to an early-stage design review similar to the front-loaded design process in the automotive industry, to improve communication and collaboration between all parties, especially the architect and contractor. Ideally, we work hand-in-hand with the owner and project team at the earliest onset of design to engineer a technical solution that best meets the needs and budget of the project. 



MOMESSO: One of the biggest challenges in developing our technology framework is to find a (3D modeling) solution that is able to work with all the different modeling systems our global customers use. We must have the ability to capture more information and functionality to shorten lead time, reduce waste and rework and maintain our expectation of high quality. It’s a continually improving process.

How has technology helped meet market demand?

MOMESSO: We’ve relied on virtual design and 3D technology for many years. One of the company’s first applications of 3D modeling was on Frank Gehry’s golden fish sculpture for the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, Spain. In those early days, the benefits of 3D modeling were primarily internal to Permasteelisa. Our project engineers and designers relied on the system capabilities for clash detection and quality production checks. Today, Permasteelisa uses the virtual model to communicate and share design concepts with customers as a way to help them visualize design intent and balance costs throughout the process.

FANZAGA: Our strength is our ability to apply the best resources for any job anytime, anywhere to meet the customized requirements of every project. Not that long ago, every one of our 50 offices would have used different CAD and other design technologies and approaches to complete a job. Today, we’re all speaking the same language thanks to 3D, regardless of geographic location. We have reached a point where all design/engineering are relying on a standardized IT environment, which allows anyone to work on any project at the same time. We’re also finding ways to pre-customize elements or use the same module on multiple projects.

How do you communicate to the installers which piece goes where?

MOMESSO: For every project, we provide detailed work instructions about how to install different modules, as well as installation maps that show the correct installation sequence for each floor/façade.

What if something goes wrong on site?

FANZAGA: Clearly, the world is not as perfect as we would it like to be and some problems can arise on site. In these rare events, our site managers decide the best way to adapt the modules to fit to the concrete structure of the building or, in the worst case, ask for new modules to be produced and shipped onsite. Luckily, those events are very rare!

How are you looking to advance your processes?

MOMESSO: For installation, we have been testing the possibility of using radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags to precisely indicate where each unit has to be installed, which would minimize the risk of an incorrect installation sequence. We’re also looking to extend the benefits of 3D to our customers and suppliers. Since those early days of 3D modeling in the building industry you can see considerable improvements, especially with the application of Building Information Modeling (BIM). As well, our clients are asking us to deliver solutions that can be connected to their 3D models. We are currently implementing product lifecycle technologies. They provide a collaboration-based project backbone that enables centralized project management, which helps us to expand our online creation and collaboration capabilities as well as to foster lean construction methods.

Vicki Speed is a Colorado (USA)-based freelance writer specialized in the engineering and construction market.

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