Decidedly radical decision-making

Attention to detail and precision are the gold standards of any engineering pursuit. From planning and designing a project—whether it’s a car, house or a spaceship—calculations are checked and rechecked, plans drafted and revised, until a team is confident everything has been accounted for.

Engineering professor Aminah Robinson Fayek is conducting important research that can bring a new level of precision to construction projects by accounting for intangible aspects of a project, such as the motivation and skill of a work crew, the quality of project teams, and even a company’s organizational structure.

Robinson Fayek, who holds the NSERC Industrial Research Chair in Strategic Construction Modeling and Delivery, is a leading researcher in “fuzzy logic,” which incorporates aspects of planning and construction often overlooked because they lack hard-and-fast values.

“Traditionally, we deal in binary values. But not all values are binary,” says Robinson Fayek. “Temperature can be measured in degrees, but it can also be expressed linguistically. It can be hot to an extent and simultaneously cold to an extent, and what is hot for one person may feel cold to another.

“Fuzzy logic is a great modelling technique to handle uncertainty that is not random or statistical in nature but is due to subjectivity, approximate reasoning and natural language. We can now look at all the factors that affect productivity: tools, materials, attendance, training and skill level of the workers, and other intangibles like how motivated people are, because with different levels of motivation you can get vastly different results.”

Robinson Fayek is uniquely positioned to have an impact on the construction industry. She is a professor in the Hole School of Construction Engineering in the U of A Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. Earlier this year, she was awarded the Canadian Society of Civil Engineering’s Walter Shanly Award for her contributions to the development and practice of construction engineering in Canada. She also holds the Ledcor Professorship in Construction Engineering.

Robinson Fayek’s industry partners represent construction owners, contractors, labour groups and their respective associations, who are coming together in a unique research relationship.

“For the first time, we have all three parties coming together in a formal collaboration to address issues that are significant to the construction industry. We have owners, contractors and labour groups contributing their perspectives. This provides us with a tremendous opportunity to learn from them, and it means that the solutions we come up with will likely be better solutions because of the fact that we have input from all parties and we have looked at a problem in a more inclusive and holistic fashion.”