Building the future at Autodesk University: 4 technology takeaways

What happens when you go back to school? Every year we hit the “classroom” at Autodesk University. As one of the preeminent technology conferences in our industry, AU is where we get to learn about new tools of our trade, connect with a network of like-minded innovators, and explore ideas that challenge the status quo. AU also provides us a window into the applications of similar technology in other industries such as automotive, high tech and the film industry, which can spur innovative thought in construction. Skanska has been attending AU for more than ten years and each year we continue to see proof of how technology’s exponential growth is dramatically changing the way we collaborate, design, make and build. This year we were excited about four areas of research that will greatly impact our work. They include:

1.       Using smart machines for design and construction

The increased roles of machine learning — in which algorithms are used to learn from and make predictions on data — and artificial intelligence (AI) are making waves for the construction industry. With the vast amounts of data we create and are beginning to collect throughout a project’s life cycle, we will soon be in a position to use that data to inform better decision making. But getting to those decisions is an incredibly complex process, and that’s where machines are making it easier. Whereas human brains are naturally creative and great at pattern recognition, artificial intelligence can process information faster and simulate many outcomes based on an array of inputs

The result is a likely future where designers and AI-based applications can likely collaborate on designs — that future is closer than you might think. We also envision many roles for these types of tools in construction. Imagine using a model with built-in intelligence for logistics planning. As you make choices for site layout, you’d be given options from an intelligent system to make the site both safer and more efficient.

Today, machine learning is already having big impacts. It’s helping doctors analyze patient data for diagnosis and treatment, and helping banks monitor for fraud. Consider this: IBM’s Watson, a “cognitive computing” supercomputer that combines natural language processing and machine learning to glean insights from reams of data, can process 1,000 books a minute! Watson is also being used to fuel visualizations for accident analysis on jobsites, helping teams predict where accidents are most likely to occur or analyze the site factors influencing safety performance. It can also beat humans at Jeopardy:

While there is no replacing the tribal knowledge or hands-on experience of our people, artificial intelligence will help our teams by making historical knowledge more accessible and meaningful, allowing more time to apply people’s creativity and innovation to solve tomorrow’s new problems.

2.       Finding new ways to access and use data

Other industries benefit from full-scale prototyping processes to validate their designs prior to delivering the final commercial product. For obvious reasons, using similar processes in construction is very limited. However, 3-D models coupled with new virtual reality tools that make visualization more dynamic, immersive and empathetic have the potential to vastly improve design and construction processes. When we put ourselves closer to the design and planning process through virtual reality tools, we can experience the design before it’s built. This experience can help us understand the feasibility of that design sooner, and possibly simulate multiple approaches to construction before we put a shovel in the ground. As construction managers, the ability to utilize, synthesize and act on this information enables us to better partners to our design team.

BIMCITY-revised12.22.15The Skanska team visited “BIM City” at AU 2015.

It’s important to recognize that 3-D models and building information modeling (BIM) are more than just geometric representations of buildings – they are also a repository for a wealth of information. Throughout the design and construction phases of a project, we create and capture information that is extremely valuable to an owner for use in operating their building. Finding best ways to store and extract this data is a huge issue. The sheer number of discussions, classes and casual mentions at AU about extracting data from building information models (BIM) to leverage for operations was staggering, and a clear marker that the industry has recognized the need for better tools and processes to benefit owners. For the last few years, Skanska has been collaborating with some of our customers to explore the best ways for them and other owners to quickly access the information they need, and use it in a way that is most effective for apply it in a meaningful way to support their operations.

For example, we collaborated with George Washington University in Washington, D.C., to create protocols for developing building information models, so that design and construction model data can be more easily used by GW for operations and maintenance. This pioneering work resulted in GW’s Facilities Information Management Procedures Manual, a step toward much greater efficiency that few building owners have taken. With these standards set up front, GW’s designers and builders can create and maintain models that meet the university’s requirements to use them for operations and maintenance.

3. Recruiting millennial technology masters who offer fresh ideas

The AEC industry is on a precipice of change, and in order to truly forge ahead we need the ideas and energy of the next generation. A key challenge is attracting and retaining talent in an industry that has been historically slow to change and adapt new technology.

BIM enables new means of collaboration and makes information more accessible than ever before, which influences our decision making as well as our project approaches. In order to leverage new tools and information like BIM to Build What Matters, we need talented people with diverse backgrounds and perspectives. The rise of new technology means that our tech-savvy employees – those with aptitude and interests in computer science, gaming and similar fields – will have a unique opportunity to shape our future. This also means that we need to think creatively about the people we’re hiring – the skills and backgrounds that made a great construction manager yesterday will be vastly different by 2020. Our talent pool and recruiting strategies are going to have to change to leverage technology and information.

Go behind the scenes at AU 2015 in 90 seconds.

With the BIM adoption rate going up across our industry, both Millennials and more experienced employees need have the skills to work with models. In response to this need, the University of Washington teamed with Skanska to establish a professional certificate in BIM. This program complements a professional degree or real-world experience by providing hands-on training with BIM tools – the technical focus of our course is a clear differentiator.

But as technology gets smarter and faster, the growing worries about what AEC jobs will look like in the future is real. As Autodesk Chief Technology Officer Jeff Kowalski mentioned in his keynote discussion about the future of our work, “A robot will not take your job – someone who uses a robot better than you will take your job.” The best thing we can do is help make sure our people are prepared to take on that challenge.

4. Enabling broader means of collaboration

Autodesk’s BIM 360 platform, which gives project teams the power to access project models and data in real time, continues to get more robust. We’ve been using it for years and our research indicates it typically saves more than 15 percent of a superintendent’s time in the field. Autodesk’s most recent addition to this platform – BIM 360 Docs – has the potential to streamline a number of our processes and drive efficiency in planning, preconstruction and in the field. We will be working closely with Autodesk to pilot this platform in early 2016.

The next evolution in making information more available is wearable devices. For instance, we’re currently testing applications of DAQRI, an augmented reality helmet that projects data and models directly onto a hands-free display to provide intuitive instructions for jobsite teams: we see this helping improve project safety.

Albert Zulps testing a DAQRI prototype

Skanska’s Albert Zulps tests a DAQRI at AU 2015.

But we see much greater potential than just streamlining the flow of information to project teams: we also see information flow becoming bi-directional. An example of this highlighted at AU is the real-time location system (RTLS) produced by Redpoint Positioning. Skanska recently teamed with Redpoint to test their RTLS technology on our 101 Seaport commercial development project in Boston’s Innovation District. Together, we combined their sensor technology with our BIM models to precisely track construction materials and team members during simulations. RTLS has the potential to leverage BIM so that teams can see actual 3-D location views as they walk a jobsite.

With safety, we used RTLS to define and demarcate zones in the model that contained a simulated risk – such as a fall hazard. When a worker wearing a safety vest connected to the location system entered that zone, the vest would flash to warn of the danger, providing instant feedback and environmental awareness. Additionally, as part of lean planning we are exploring how RTLS can help us better measure and refine manpower efficiency and constantly improve our construction schedules. We’ve built this technology into our new Skanska Boston office space at 101 Seaport, turning it into a living lab environment where we can dig deeper into the potential of RTLS, and show customers how it may benefit them.


The team at 101 Seaport tests the Redpoint System.

We’re in the midst of some sea changes in the AEC industry, as technologies are emerging to better solve important customer needs. For those companies oriented around innovation, and planning for disruption, the opportunities are immense.

If you missed AU 2015, be sure to check out all the classes, keynotes and innovation forums available online:



Tony Colonna

Tony Colonna

Senior vice president of innovative construction solutions

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Metrics demonstrate how BIM benefits building owners – and more

BIM is talked about so much in the world of architecture, engineering and construction, but what value does it bring to the AEC team and more importantly, to the building owner?

We now have solid metrics that demonstrate BIM’s benefits to stakeholders, thanks to the just-released SmartMarket Report entitled “Measuring the Impact of BIM on Complex Buildings,” as published by Dodge Data and Analytics and with support by Skanska. Based on interviews and surveys done with nearly 400 owners, general contractors, architects and engineers, the findings show that the use of BIM has a high impact on reducing the risks and increasing the success of such complex projects as hospitals, labs, airports and high-tech manufacturing facilities. (Click here to access the free 58-page report.)

Specific benefits from BIM cited by respondents included:

– Lower final construction costs, according to 85 percent of those surveyed,

– Accelerated completion, said 88 percent of survey participants,

– Reportable incident declines, according to 76 percent of the group, and

– Increased labor productivity, 87 percent said.

“This report underscores what many of us working in BIM and VDC have known: these technologies drive value for project owners and their stakeholders,” said Tony Colonna, Skanska USA senior vice president. “The report should be a call to action for everyone involved with delivering buildings – and we are ready to answer.”


BIM–enabled multi-trade prefabrication – including 144 bathroom pods – saved about two months on the overall schedule for our Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children project.

We are proud to share some of our own BIM successes in the report. Most notably, how using BIM helped us successfully deliver a 450,000-square-foot expansion for Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington, Del. The entire building was designed on a six-degree radius, so such BIM uses as digital layout, prefabrication and 4-D scheduling helped us ensure accurate, safe and high-quality work on a tight schedule. BIM enabled our ability to prefabricate bathroom pods, patient room headwalls and overhead utility racks, which saved about two months on the overall project schedule.

We’re also excited about a new way we’re using BIM: virtual reality. For example, on healthcare projects virtual reality models – built with technology used for video games – enables nurses to help us identify possible patient flow and safety issues.  And on projects of any type, virtual reality helps us see behind walls to identify potential hazards.

Furthermore, we are developing a virtual reality simulation that systematically guides superintendents through a series of scenarios to see if they can identify different hazards. It uses industry safety data to present scenarios that pull from real-life circumstances. This simulation is a collaboration between our Environment, Health and Safety group and Innovation team, and we hope this tool can soon be used to enhance safety training for our field personnel.

To learn more about how using BIM as part of virtual design and construction can benefit your project, please click here.


Skanska USA

Skanska USA

Skanska USA is one of the largest, most financially sound construction and development companies in the U.S., serving a broad range of clients in the public and private sectors, including those in transportation, power, industrial, water/wastewater, healthcare, life science, education, sports & entertainment, data centers, government, aviation and commercial industries.

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Our top blog posts of 2014

Between the MetLife Stadium we constructed hosting the Super Bowl, completing a Santiago Calatrava masterpiece and making major progress on one of the largest U.S. public-private partnerships, it’s been an exciting year for us! As we close out the final days of 2014, we’re taking a look back at our ten most popular posts here on Constructive Thinking. We can’t wait for what 2015 will bring.


Here are those posts, in order of popularity:

1.  Ever wonder how an underwater tunnel is built? Check out this step-by-step guide to the process currently underway at our joint venture’s Elizabeth River Tunnels P3 in Hampton Roads, Virginia: How we’re submersing 16,000-ton segments to create Virginia’s newest tunnel.

2.  This year’s Super Bowl saw the Seahawks and Broncos face off in MetLife Stadium, which we completed in 2010. The Seahawks took home the Vince Lombardi trophy inside one of the nation’s most technologically-advanced and energy-efficient stadiums. Here’s How to build a stadium that can tackle the Big Game.

3.  Before we could immerse the tunnel tubes for Elizabeth River Tunnels, first we had to float the 16,000-ton hollow concrete segments 220 miles down the Chesapeake Bay. We recapped the incredible journey in photos: Virginia’s latest highway tunnel begins with a trip down the Chesapeake Bay.

4.  Our high-stakes concrete pour at Miami’s Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science required 25 hours of non-stop placement to complete the suspended, martini glass-shaped 500,000-gallon seawater aquarium tank without any cracks. Gizmodo was impressed by our team’s precision. Watch teamwork in action in a stunning time-lapse: Our team was neither shaken nor stirred on this epic concrete pour.

5.  The Calatrava-designed Innovation, Science and Technology Building at Florida Polytechnic University is one of the most striking and challenging buildings we have built. This fall the university, the first STEM-focused college in the Sunshine State, welcomed its inaugural class of students. You don’t want to miss these pictures: This Calatrava masterpiece comes to life exactly as envisioned.

6.  At Skanska, we’re engaging with our clients to find ways to use building information modeling to improve the whole life cycle of buildings, not just during design and construction. For a facility owner, utilizing BIM for operations and maintenance uses can have substantial benefits. Here are Five ways virtual modeling can improve facilities management.

7.  Airports play an essential part in our economy and our lives. And yet, in the U.S. many of our airports have gone decades without major upgrades. MacAdam Glinn, national director of our Aviation Center of Excellence, examined the economic and consumer forces shaping our airports in the infographic The evolution of airports: trends in aviation construction and on NPR.

8.  Public-private partnerships are becoming increasingly important financing solutions for the nation’s crumbling infrastructure. While much attention has been focused on how P3s can help cities and states move forward on transportation projects, there’s growing interest in using P3s to improve such social infrastructure as courthouses and hospitals. Learn more in P3s aren’t just for transportation – here’s how they can help with public buildings too.

9.  As we work toward an Injury-Free Environment®, it’s essential to understand the potential hazards and the kinds of behaviors that can lead to harm. For Safety Week 2014, we crafted a visual reminder of what is at stake and what can be done to prevent accidents: It’s work, not war: How to prevent deadly harm in construction.

Skanska USA

Skanska USA

Skanska USA is one of the largest, most financially sound construction and development companies in the U.S., serving a broad range of clients in the public and private sectors, including those in transportation, power, industrial, water/wastewater, healthcare, life science, education, sports & entertainment, data centers, government, aviation and commercial industries.

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How facility owners can make the most of BIM

More and more facility owners are seeing the benefits that building information modeling can bring to their projects, according to a new McGraw Hill Construction SmartMarket Report, “The Business Value of BIM for Owners.” Those benefits include enhanced team collaboration, streamlined facility maintenance, easier understanding of concepts, improved accuracy and potential cost savings.

Skanska’s Hal Jones, virtual design and construction director, was quoted several times in the report, which also features Skanska’s Connect Plus M25 consortium that is managing and improving one of Europe’s busiest highways. Here, Jones expands upon some of the thoughts he provided to McGraw Hill on how to extract the most value out of a BIM-enabled design and construction team:

Engage the team early and write a plan. First, develop clear guidelines for the use of BIM that reflect the requirements and capabilities of the entire project team. By focusing on what the team can expect to produce and how they should collaborate, the owner is establishing a steady set of ground rules for success. An owner can also minimize duplicate work by engaging a construction manager early in constructability review/coordination and by using trade contractors in design-assist roles.

…and stay involved, yourself. In order to maximize the collaboration amongst the AEC team, the owner should be an active participant in the project. It’s in the owner’s best interest to be accessible and engaged. It promotes both team unity and accountability when the owner is involved in the day to day decision making.

Begin with the end in mind. As early as possible, clearly define how you want to use project data and BIM post-construction so that the AEC team can more readily support your facilities management needs. By establishing this in the beginning, the owner is more empowered to get the information they need in a format that is effective for their life cycle management goals.

Focus on total cost of ownership. It’s important for owners to remember that the value (savings) of BIM on a project is often in the form of money or time not wasted, rather than a quantifiable reduction in total cost or schedule. Likewise, do not focus on the perceived up-front cost of BIM, but rather the total value brought to the project.

Use BIM as the basis for contract documents. Consider generating contract documents from the model and require that the design team maintain and update models through the construction phase. This assures that the model and documents accurately reflect each other throughout the project life cycle, while also allowing the owner to use the model as part of their facilities management program, if desired.

Promote a collaborative environment. Collaboration among the team is paramount. Good BIM-enabled projects cannot be successful without a means to collaborate quickly and easily. By using the model as the vehicle for communication of updates, changes, and so forth, the team can more readily recognize problems and identify solutions together. It is also important to clearly define the platform that will be used for collaboration and file sharing. Tools like Microsoft Sharepoint, Bluebeam, and BIM 360 Glue empower teams to share and cooperate. These tools should be identified and agreed upon early so they can align with the intended use of BIM by the team in addition to the final deliverables.



Skanska USA

Skanska USA

Skanska USA is one of the largest, most financially sound construction and development companies in the U.S., serving a broad range of clients in the public and private sectors, including those in transportation, power, industrial, water/wastewater, healthcare, life science, education, sports & entertainment, data centers, government, aviation and commercial industries.

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Five ways virtual modeling can improve facilities management

Building information modeling (BIM) has become standard practice for design and construction, but often little attention is paid to what happens to model data post-construction. At Skanska, we’re engaging with our clients to think about ways we can use BIM data to help improve the entire lifecycle of a building, not just its construction. For a facility owner, that’s where BIM can have the most long-lasting benefits. Below are five ways virtual modeling can improve facilities management:

GSH_Arta_showing views

For Good Samaritan Hospital, Skanska and the project team created a single enhanced interface for facilities management, streamlining the day-to-day building management process.

1.      Improved space management: By understanding the details of how space is used, facility professionals can reduce vacancy and ultimately achieve major reductions in real estate expenses. Including room and area information in BIM models is the foundation for good space management, aiding in the collection of data as well as any renovation work. At George Washington University in Washington, D.C., Skanska is creating protocols for the management and storage of such data so that it is consistent for historical and future work.  GW will use these new processes to be more efficient at operating and maintaining its campuses.

2.       Streamlined maintenance: A key challenge in developing a maintenance program is entering into databases the product and asset information required for preventive maintenance. Storing this data in BIM models – and potentially downloading it into the facility management system –  can eliminate months of effort to accurately populate maintenance systems while providing better performance. With BIM, a maintenance engineer is able to access maintenance information by clicking on the object in the model. Or even better, the system would know when maintenance is required, and would send an alert. For the Good Samaritan Hospital in Payallup, Wash., Skanska helped to integrate a BIM model with ArtrA software, which allowed the facilities management  team to navigate through the 3-D as-built drawings. This saved time planning preventive maintenance, as the integrated model has pre-mapped viewpoints, easy access to operations and maintenance documents, drawings and training videos, all accessible through a single interface.

3.       Efficient use of energy: By streamlining the maintenance process through BIM, this allows equipment to be more properly maintained to the optimal environmental conditions, avoiding the waste associated with increased operating costs for facilities not operating as intended. On the Tier III, LEED Gold data center for eBay in South Jordan, Utah, Skanska supplied the client with a detailed as-built BIM model and integrated it with the facility’s building maintenance and automation systems. The model is now used as a comprehensive portal to obtain information and statistics for every piece of equipment in the data center, including temperatures, flux and pressures for mechanical systems, as well as power consumption and utilization for electrical and IT equipment. Such granular data is crucial to continuous improvement of the data center’s performance and energy efficiency

4.       Economical retrofits and renovations: Better information about existing conditions helps reduce the cost and complexity of renovation and retrofit projects, as well as aids in avoiding costly mistakes associated with changes that don’t comply with code requirements

5.       Enhanced lifecycle management: Some building design professionals are embedding data on life expectancy and replacement costs in BIM models, thereby helping an owner understand benefits of investing in materials and systems that may cost more initially but have a better payback over the life of the building. There is also the ability to track depreciation of assets to fully recognize financial and tax benefits, all of which can be managed through data obtained from BIM.

As BIM grows in popularity, it’s the responsibility of the design and construction industry to recognize this  technology’s full potential for the lifecycle of a building. An example of that is the BIM protocol plan we’re developing for George Washington University, a plan that’s creating new standards and approaches in facilities management. With this, the protocols our team is developing – which are to be included in future university design and construction contracts – will address such elements as how the model is set up and how that model is shared between architects and construction managers, and later how an integrated model is delivered. We’re creating a living document for the campus. This is the next step for virtual model integration and an important development in thinking holistically about our industry’s role in the lifecycle of a building.

Skanska USA

Skanska USA

Skanska USA is one of the largest, most financially sound construction and development companies in the U.S., serving a broad range of clients in the public and private sectors, including those in transportation, power, industrial, water/wastewater, healthcare, life science, education, sports & entertainment, data centers, government, aviation and commercial industries.

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Awash in BIM data? Here’s one way to get the information you need

Over the past year, data has become more and more of an issue: from concerns over consumer privacy to the buzz surrounding big data’s potential for digesting large quantities of information quickly. When it comes to buildings, we’re in the midst of our own data frenzy, as technology like building information modeling (BIM) takes design and construction virtual, and generates important information for building teams and owners alike. BIM allows for the creation and use of coordinated, consistent, computable information about a building project in design and construction.

Awash in data

How can you avoid a data tsunami?

photo credit: opensourceway via photopin cc

Consider these stats:  71 percent of AEC companies (architects, engineers and contractors) used BIM in 2012. What’s more, McGraw-Hill Construction found almost 40 percent of BIM users are heavily committed to using BIM, and do over 60 percent of their work in BIM.  The desire to use BIM is coming not just from the construction side, but from owners as well. While there’s no denying that BIM can help save time, money and improve a project’s safety and efficiency,   BIM is not a one-size fits all technology.  As we move forward with BIM we need to be more thoughtful about how we’re applying the technology and when.

BIM adds value only when properly planned.  When we collect data, we need to think about what we need, how it might be useful, and put it into formats and systems to make sharing the content that much easier. All too often we generate information and lose site of the bigger picture.

I’ve found that a great way to drive efficiency and organization into the modeling process is to develop a BIM execution plan for the start of each project.  It needs to start with a detailed conversation with the client on their current capabilities and future desires for use of any electronic information.  Then, having a collaborative conversation between the designer and contractor can be much more productive. This kind of forward-thinking plan and active discussion allows for a collective understanding between design and construction teams and client. Doing so is intended to saves time and money and keeps you from generating information you do not need!

What’s really important:  just because you can generate the data doesn’t mean you should. You need to make sure it actually meets the client’s goals. Identify the problem you’re trying to solve, and then find the solution; rather than starting with the solution to try and find the problems.


Skanska USA

Skanska USA

Skanska USA is one of the largest, most financially sound construction and development companies in the U.S., serving a broad range of clients in the public and private sectors, including those in transportation, power, industrial, water/wastewater, healthcare, life science, education, sports & entertainment, data centers, government, aviation and commercial industries.

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At JFK airport, using 3-D modeling to develop solutions

New York City’s John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York is one of the busiest airports in the world, with more than 45 million passengers streaming through its terminals. It’s very challenging to work amidst all of those people and the planes that carry them about without disturbing any aspects of this mini-city – not impacting ongoing operations is an essential part of airport construction.

Building information modeling (BIM) helped us successfully navigate this complex environment while doing the foundation work as part of the team for the JFK’s Checked Baggage Inspection System project. With BIM, we provided the owner with a 21 percent savings from the original design cost, shortened the schedule by three weeks and provided a safe job site in which there were no lost-time accidents.


Skanska’s work included driving 152 foundation piles. Our use of BIM stemmed from a vexing challenge: 42 of the 152 piles required for this project needed to be driven underneath and just six inches from the tapered cantilever glass wall of the existing, operating terminal. Additionally, airplane wings would be just feet from Skanska’s pile driving rigs as the jets taxied about. We needed a smart solution to help us successfully and safely deliver our portion of the project.

bim 2

Here are four ways BIM benefited this project:

1. Visualizing solutions: We were able to digitally visualize different alternatives for driving different types of piles. Model visualization – whether it be simple views or the ability to walk through or fly around the virtual project – offers new opportunities to communicate and collaborate, which leads to better decisions. At JFK, we were able to visualize what length and what kinds of piles could be used without having to drill a single hole.

2. Evaluating alternatives: Alternatives can be more easily understood and evaluated in terms of cost and other project parameters. BIM helped us evaluate an approach based on non-standard Tapertubes versus pipe piles. (Tapertubes differ from standard piles in that they have a tapered tip.)

3. Sustainability analysis: An additional benefit of using Tapertubes is that they offer a greener solution, requiring less steel, less concrete and less welding – significant energy and emissions savings resulted from this approach.

4. Improved safety performance: Using BIM means an increased focus on planning before physical construction takes place. By investing the time and effort to determine in a detailed way how the job will be carried out, this ensures everybody knows what to do and expect, reducing the potential for accidents. Additionally, the  team can examine the virtual project and determine hazards before they occur and plan how to handle them, or engineer them out altogether.

Alex Filotti

Alex Filotti

Project manager, Underpinning and Foundation Skanska

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