Team Spotlight: Pelin Gultekin-Bicer

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From Penn State and Bradley University to VIATechnik and NASA, Pelin Gultekin-Bicer has turned her passion for innovation into an impressive career.

It’s not unusual for AEC professionals to gravitate toward academia over the course of their careers, but taking the opposite tack is much less common. This is precisely what VIATechnik’s newest team member, Pelin Gultekin-Bicer, has done.

After earning her B.Arch. in her native Turkey, Pelin enrolled at Penn State University, where she went on to earn an M.S. and Ph.D. in Architectural Engineering, the latter involving a concentration in Construction and Engineering Management. As Pelin puts it, “I was interested in measuring the process, not the product.” In addition to her extensive research on building performance and data-driven construction processes, Pelin was involved with the development of Penn State’s BIM Project Execution Planning Guide. The guide was one of the first efforts to fully articulate the use of BIM for owners and today, it’s widely recognized as a standard bearer for BIM best practices by AEC professionals throughout the industry.

After completing her doctorate, Pelin became an assistant professor at Bradley University, where she taught a variety of courses concerning the integration of virtual construction tools into project management processes. As a result, Pelin has played a significant and influential role in shaping the careers of countless BIM Managers in and around the Chicago area.

Reaching for Mars…

At Bradley, Pelin became involved with NASA’s 3D-Printed Habitat Challenge, an initiative with the potential to transform construction efficiency, sustainability, and versatility as we know it. In partnership with Bradley and construction giant Caterpillar, NASA is challenging teams to build 3D printers capable of erecting large-scale, habitable structures using exclusively materials that are either indigenous to Mars, or could be recycled from a spacecraft.

Phase 2 of the Challenge, which just wrapped up at the end of August, required competitors to deliver structural components using indigenous and recycled materials that surpass certain integrity benchmarks related to things like material composition and strength. During Level 3 of Phase 2, teams were tasked with creating a complex structure — a dome, as opposed to the columns they created during previous Levels — in real-time on Caterpillar’s Peoria campus, an endeavor to improve the time and site constraints of an automated construction on Mars.

As she has done throughout the entire Challenge, Pelin is collaborating with a handful of other experts to design the rules and objectives of Phase 3, which will revolve around the fabrication of complete, livable 3D-printed habitats.

…without Forgetting Earth

As exhilarating as the prospect of Martian architecture may be, Pelin is quick to point out that the work being done as part of NASA’s Challenge will have a direct — and possibly substantial — impact on the AEC industry here at home. “The competition focuses on Mars,” she explains, “but the contributions will also help guide automated building processes here on Earth. This is really the first step in establishing concrete standards for 3D printing in construction.”

Ultimately, Pelin asserts, “the goal is to try to improve autonomous construction processes and technologies while using sustainable materials.” Sustainability is, for obvious reasons, becoming an increasingly critical concern for the construction industry, but given the industry’s lagging productivity, advances in automated technologies will be equally important going forward.

“Once you are able to leverage more data through machine learning and/or autonomous technologies, then you will be able to make more accurate predictions regarding productivity and project costs. Moving forward, automation will give us more predictable processes on the worksite,” she says.

Making a Real and Lasting Impact

As a professor and a 3D-Printed Habitat Challenge official, Pelin has spent the majority of her career leveraging her deep knowledge and extensive education to improve the way that buildings are constructed. The opportunity to continue this work while transitioning into the private sector is a large part of why she decided to join VIATechnik.

“I was drawn to VIATechnik for several reasons,” Pelin explains. “Gaining access to the extensive resources and capabilities of the firm, as well as the expertise of my new teammates, will undoubtedly enhance my ability to come up with innovative solutions to complex problems.” While she enjoyed her career in academia, Pelin is excited to transfer her insights and expertise from the pages of her research papers into practical VDC solutions for the worksite.

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