The construction and infrastructure sectors are facing major challenges. Consider, for example, the nitrogen problem, major staff shortages and high material prices. But also the call for more energy neutrality, which is necessary to tackle climate change.
More and more parties and stakeholders in the construction industry are firmly convinced that the adoption and use of advanced digital solutions is the way to successfully tackle the issues and challenges of the future. Digital techniques create opportunities to increase the sector’s productivity and innovate at a faster pace.
Digitising construction with digital tools
Many construction companies have already started the digital transformation process that is radically changing many sectors and our daily lives. And that is a good thing. More and more construction companies are working with laptops, tablets and a battery of other digital tools. Most professional builders also have a document management system and software for quality control, for example. Here are some of the main trends and developments in digitalisation in construction:
- BIM: building your building digitally first
The use of BIM (Building Information Modelling) is playing an increasing role in construction. BIM is a digital model in which all information about a construction project is stored, including designs, construction drawings and other relevant data. Using BIM ensures better cooperation between all construction partners involved and contributes to a more efficient construction process. To learn more about BIM, read the blog What is BIM?
Drones are increasingly being used to inspect construction projects and track construction progress.
- AR and VR
Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) are ideal tools for designs and visualisations. AR and VR can contribute to a better understanding of the construction process and help solve complex construction problems.
- Internet of Things
For monitoring the performance of buildings and infrastructure, Internet of Things (IoT) has long been no stranger to the building industry. Sensors are used to collect data on energy consumption, air quality and other key factors affecting building performance.
Artificial intelligence (AI) is a useful tool for optimising construction processes. For example, AI can be used to improve the planning and management of construction projects and to detect errors in designs and construction drawings.
To use smart software in the realisation phase, you need a lot of data from the design phase, that you can then put into your model.
Room for improvement
So although many builders have already taken steps towards a substantial digital transformation of the sector, it is not yet as fast and efficient as in many other sectors. The reason? To use smart construction software in the realisation phase, you need a lot of data from the design phase that you can then put into your model.
The problem is that there is often no or insufficient data. Sometimes this is because structures were realised years ago and there is no data available from the design and realisation phase of these structures.
We also regularly see in practice that construction companies do not know how to use their data. They do not know what information to keep or do not keep any information at all. So while there is a focus on digitisation in construction, too little is being done with it in practice.
More and more big data
This is unfortunate because the potential for valuable information from which the construction industry can draw is greater than ever. The information landscape used to consist mainly of static data (data that does not change over time such as materials used or the construction method of a structure). Nowadays, construction companies have a wealth of dynamic data at their disposal. Think, for instance, of information on deformation, energy efficiency or the crack loading of a structure due to gradual degradation of the material and construction.
The big challenge – one that many parties within the construction industry still struggle with – is extracting the right insights from the mountain of static and dynamic data. And this is easier than you think, if you use the right tools. Tools that are smart enough to recognise where your valuable information is and help you improve your processes. Targeting the right information shows whether you are currently working efficiently, tells you where you can still make gains and allows you to run predictive analyses on the behaviour and sustainability of structures.
Good data analysis also allows you to identify failure costs and thus increase your margins.
Integrating systems, applications and databases is therefore the first step towards optimal digital information utilisation.
The possibilities with digitisation in construction
But what steps should parties then take to boost digitisation in construction and take full advantage of the huge data reservoirs at their disposal?
Combining information flows
Information often flows into an organisation through multiple channels. As a result, data is often scattered across different systems, a phenomenon known as silo formation. Moreover, the software and various apps used in construction are often not well aligned. Construction software packages are often stand-alone systems.
Integrating systems, applications and databases is therefore the first step towards optimal digital information utilisation. What we actually see is that besides digitisation, there is also a lot of automation in construction.
By automation, we mean that integrating systems and applications is no longer a manual task, but happens automatically. For example, by working with smart APIs and integration layers. This creates one universal version of the truth and you always have access to the most up-to-date data via all channels.
A powerful integration gives you the possibilities to combine information flows to take different facets of business and project management to the next level. A few examples:
- Share and view real-time status updates on workers and progress on construction projects across sites;
- Create insight into active working hours and compare them with schedules;
- Identify, track and locate materials and equipment throughout the construction chain;
- Inspect remote construction sites. This can be done, for example, by sharing photos via apps;
- Making predictions about the future condition and use of a building or infrastructural structure.
Digitisation in construction: the predictive twin
Perhaps the pinnacle of digitisation in construction are the so-called ‘predictive twins’, predictive digital replicas of physical structures such as: homes, tunnels, bridges, factories and offices. You can use predictive twins to predict the technical lifespan of structures, but also as a foresight tool to better match the supply and demand of circular building components when building circular homes.
A predictive twin consists of three components:
- Static and dynamic measuring data are the eyes and ears of the predictive twin.
- A predictive twin contains predictive models that learn from the information you feed it.
- A digital twin has the ability to simulate and decide.
With predictive twins, it becomes much easier to make predictions about future maintenance, future construction trends and future material needs. An opportunity, therefore, for construction companies to work more cost-efficiently and less wastefully, thereby taking their profit margins to a higher level.
Towards a data-driven construction industry
Although digitisation is now firmly rooted in the construction sector too, there is still plenty of room for improvement. Especially in the field of data-driven working and the integration of data and digital systems, there is still a lot to be gained. The construction companies that manage to take these digital steps quickly and efficiently have a competitive advantage over the rest.
Implementing these new technologies in the construction industry can contribute to a more efficient and sustainable construction process. Moreover, these technologies can help reduce costs and improve the quality of buildings and infrastructure.