Off-site Construction Research Centre

UNB OCRC Innovator: Shahrnaz Ardalani is innovating in building information modelling and digital tech in off-site construction

Author: OCRC

Posted on Mar 28, 2023

Category: Student spotlight

Meet Shahrnaz Ardalani, who joined the OCRC in pursuit of her MScE in Construction Engineering and Management in 2020. Her research under the supervision of Dr. Zhen Lei and Dr. Jeff Rankin revolved around building information modelling and the application of digital technologies in off-site construction.

We asked Shahrnaz to talk about her passion for off-site construction and her experience working with the OCRC.

What brought you to UNB?

Shahrnaz: There are two reasons that brought me to UNB. First, of course, was my passion for Building Information Modelling (BIM) technology and digital twinning. UNB offered excellent programs and scholarship opportunities that were in line with my interests in these areas, making it one of my top choices. The second reason was the location. New Brunswick offers beautiful nature, coastal scenery and fabulous hiking trails.

What was your research topic?

Shahrnaz: My research topic revolved around using a combination of a discrete event simulation-based approach, BIM and lean construction. I developed a generic framework to optimize production planning and designed a plant layout for flexible modular building manufacturing. Through a case study, I used the simulation model of the entire production process to evaluate the efficiency of the production system and to identify and solve any potential bottlenecks in the facility.

What interested you in doing research in off-site construction?

Shahrnaz: I loved every aspect of my research. I wanted to pursue my interests, learn something new, challenge myself in new ways and gain hands-on experience and I think the OCRC offered me all these opportunities. Additionally, working with my wonderful and incredibly encouraging supervisors was the best part of my research.

In your opinion, what are the biggest opportunities and barriers coming up in off-site construction?

Shahrnaz: I think the off-site construction industry is starting to focus on the transformation of the next revolution in the construction industry, Construction 4.0, which is a huge opportunity. There is a lot of potential in applying digital technologies and integration of design, manufacturing, and assembly. Internet of Things (IoT)-enabled BIM platforms, for example, will provide great potential to facilitate production management by providing real-time data and a more collaborative working environment, enhancing workplace efficiency and responding to fluctuating resource demand. The biggest barrier I believe is the lack of contractor familiarity, skilled workforce, inflexibility and uniform design.

Tell us a bit about your graduate student experience. What was it like starting out? What were some of the highlights?

Shahrnaz: My graduate student experience was very special, full of challenges and joyful moments. I started my program at the beginning of the pandemic and as an international student, I didn’t have much social support, so it had its own challenges. However, in the second year, things started to look different, especially when I started my internship with Ironwood Manufactured Homes. I was exposed to the off-site construction environment, met great people and gained a lot of valuable experience.

How did your study experience with the OCRC help you prepare for a future career in construction?

Shahrnaz: My study experience with the OCRC helped to develop both my design and communication skills. Through the case study projects that I was working on, I had the opportunity to experience situations firsthand and collaborate with an industry partner. I worked closely with the technology partners and internal design team to investigate the impacts of technology adoption on their manufacturing capacity. This has enhanced my communication and teamwork skills as well as strengthened my organizational skills. I think my research has prepared me for the workforce, as they were tied directly to the work I've been doing since re-entering the industry and continuing my career. The experience I gained was extremely valuable as it has prepared me for a successful BIM/VDC career thus far.

What advice would you give new graduate students?

It’s time to give yourself a reward by finding your dream job, but don’t get discouraged if it’s not what you were looking for. It will open doors for other opportunities. Networking is very important so take every opportunity to make connections. And don’t forget we all make mistakes and it's a part of growing up. Enjoy this journey and discover yourself.

What are your career aspirations?

I'm very passionate about growing in this field, gaining proficiency in the amazing new design software packages and learning about the latest technology in construction. I like the new challenges that my career provides and that’s what makes it exciting and satisfying for me. I also love leading the construction team and developing my leadership skills. Overall, I think my career is meeting all the career goals that I have set for myself and that makes it very fulfilling!

What would you tell a high school student who is interested in a career in construction?

If you are looking to build a lifelong career with a stable income, have adventures and meet wonderful people, don’t hesitate to pursue a career in construction. It’s a wonderful world with new and exciting experiences where you will earn something new every day which is very satisfying.

At the OCRC, we’re passionate about providing students with hands-on experience throughout the course of their studies. In an effort to keep our research work industry-relevant, we partner with organizations in the off-site sector and connect them with valuable student resources to execute meaningful and impactful work within their business.

If this is the type of graduate student experience you’re interested in, reach out to to discuss opportunities with us.