When Alan Antoniewicz first came to construction after decades in the mining and manufacturing industries, he was surprised to see how little use was being made of 3D modeling and similar technologies.
“At the companies I had worked at before, they had been doing that since the early ’90s,” said Antoniewicz, outgoing president and chief operating officer of Waukesha-based Spancrete. “Things had evolved that so much was already being done with (Building Information Modeling) and 3D.”
Scheduled to retire in a few days as part Spancrete’s recent acquisition by Minnesota-based Wells Concrete, Antoniewicz can now look back on a company that is far more at home with innovation. He started pushing Spancrete to make better use of BIM and similar systems not long after joining the company in September 2009.
“I think in some cases, there is an old-school resistance in construction to some of these things,” Antoniewicz said. “But it’s moving fast now, and more of the millennial generation is coming into the industry. This transition in the construction industry is a good thing.”
Antoniewicz’s interest in technology was fostered in part by his training at Milwaukee Area Technical College, where he earned a degree in electrical engineering. Further nurturing for this innovative bent came at his first job, starting in 1974, at the mining company Harnischfeger Corp., since acquired by Komatsu.
That started him on a long journey that at various times had him traveling the world as an executive — first at Manitowoc Crane and then Waukesha Engine. It was on one of his business trips overseas that he learned of the opening at Spancrete. A friend working as an industry recruiter called him at 1 a.m. in Japan to let him know the company was looking to fill an executive position. After asking the friend to call him back at a more amenable time, he jumped at the opportunity to cut down on his travel commitments and spend more time near his family.
Antoniewicz recently sat down with The Daily Reporter to talk about changes he’s seen in the construction industry, lessons he’s learned in his career and his impending retirement. (This article has been edited for brevity and clarity.)
The Daily Reporter: Did you first struggle to find your bearings in construction after so many years in mining and manufacturing?
Antoniewicz: It was challenging because the construction industry in 2008 and 2009 was absolutely in the doldrums. So we had to make a lot of changes. We had to clean up our balance sheets. We closed a couple of plants and sold off some property and took that opportunity to streamline the business so it could be competitive in the market and world we live in today.
But the business itself involves a highly engineered project: pre-cast concrete. That was somewhat familiar because of how much technology and how much engineering goes into the product.
TDR: What are the main advantages of using BIM and 3D-design technology?
Antoniewicz: Everything is now shifting to virtual design in construction because, in the building industry, things tend to be much more efficient if there is a lot of collaboration on the front end. When a client says, ‘I want a new office building,’ that’s actually the best time to get everyone involved. And now, with 3D modeling, we can sit around the same table and do things virtual that formerly you wouldn’t sometimes be able to find out until you were building the project.
TDR: How does this help make the industry more efficient?
Antoniewicz: In the past, a lot of what had happened was that you would release all your drawings and have the workforce interpreting them and setting up the forms. And there is a lot of room for error because you are making those calculations on the worksite.
Now you have these new devices called plotters. Basically these plotters take feedback from a drawing and then project an image on a bed and leave a mark. So if the drawing is correct, your form is going to be correct. It takes almost all the human error out. Even though you have some very talented people, a mistake is still a lot less expensive to correct when it’s on a drawing than when it’s in concrete.
TDR: What are you plans for retirement?
Antoniewicz: I’m on three for-profit boards and two not-for-profits and I intend to continue to do that, sharing my knowledge and experience with others. I love Wisconsin and I love business in Wisconsin and we have a lot to be proud of.
I’m also blessed that my wife and I, both our children have families in the Milwaukee area. So I’ll get to spend a little more time with them. And then it’ll be a little easier to travel. And I love hunting.