Over the past two years, the construction industry has done whatever it takes to deliver projects despite huge challenges. Due to the uncertainties faced through the pandemic and the aftereffects currently impacting the industry, organisations must make a decision whether or not to embrace the technology revolution that is underway in construction and, by doing so, maintain a competitive advantage and succeed in the long-term.
The construction landscape
Construction productivity has advanced at a glacial pace over the past 30 years and margins remain stubbornly low. While IBIS findings show revenue growth for the largest construction companies in Australia at between 7 to 10%, Deloitte claims profit margins are as low as 0.3%.
The construction industry is a fertile ground for improvement, but it has resisted adopting new materials, methods, and technology despite considerable evidence showing significant, attainable benefits. Digital solutions and processes can help to kick-start big improvements in project performance, and other industries have shown that companies that are quick to embrace emerging technologies will gain a strong competitive advantage.
The construction technology opportunity
Digital technology presents many varied opportunities to improve how the industry designs and constructs projects, but gone are the days when digitalisation simply meant transitioning steadily from 2D to 3D to 4D. Instead, it encompasses several advanced practices. To name a few; data analytics, modular design, BIM, 3D scanning and printing, reality modelling, robotics, asset performance management and more.
Constructioneering is a term used to describe how various technologies fit together to support practical workflows. This provides organisations with the modular technology, tools, and processes to digitise their operations and a robust framework for the infrastructure digital twin. Constructioneering is driven by five technology trends:
- Next-generation BIM – Uses the latest BIM software combined with a best-practice connected data environment.
- Collaboration and mobility – Cloud-based connected data environments transform projects by enabling real-time collaboration, and it encompasses a connected data environment as a crucial component.
- Near-perfect data capture – High-resolution images and 3D models can be produced in near real-time using GPS, photogrammetry, and LiDAR.
- Internet of Things – IoT sensors can track real-time data from equipment, crews, and materials. Cloud computing enables that data to be analysed and exploited in near real-time, which improves decision-making, cost control, risk management, and site safety.
- Autonomous navigation and autonomous machines.
Digitising a business one step at a time
With all that technology to choose from, it can be difficult to know where to start. There is currently a lot of interest and activity around digital twins but they are not something to simply buy and turn on when needed. They build on existing best practices. Organisations that get the basics right will have a robust foundation for implementing the infrastructure digital twin.
It starts with creating high quality components – for both vertical and linear assets. The industry has access to the latest design and BIM technology, which can help to ensure that designs are complete, consistent, and correct. Best-practice workflows ensure data is managed securely and effectively, where a connected data environment supports a robust BIM process. The third consideration is context. Surveying technology means that it is easy to place and review components in their correct context.
Projects commonly have data in different formats from different sources, so it is important to consider the alignment, accountability, and accessibility of data. In many cases, construction companies heavily rely on emails and spreadsheets and other time consuming, error-prone processes. Projects persevere with spreadsheets even when studies have shown that nearly 90% contain errors. It’s important that construction teams understand the need to use integrated networks of mobile apps and processes to streamline data transfer. When the components, workflows, and the context are in place, this forms the basis for a construction digital twin.
The construction digital twin: create-connect-consume
One of the simplest definitions of a digital twin is “a digital representation of a physical asset, process or system.” However, a digital twin is a live, evolving set of data that must be continuously synchronised and it should exploit data-driven workflows to optimise performance. Infrastructure digital twins are being enabled by advances in areas such as reality modelling, artificial intelligence, mixed reality, and machine learning. There are three steps to working with construction digital twins.
- Gathering the design and reality models and transforming them quickly and efficiently into constructible content.
- The construction model is connected to real-time updates from the field to create the live model, which helps teams to better orchestrate site logistics, work areas, resources, and procurement.
- Leverage the live model using analytical tools, machine learning, and augmented reality.
A construction digital twin can assist projects by providing real time data visibility so that everyone is always on the same page at the same time. It provides 4D planning and 5D estimating so that resources are optimised, and risks are reduced, and it provides operational efficiencies and business intelligence so that teams make better decisions faster.
Construction Digital Technology in Action
Today, it is evident that digital technology and the use of digital twins are the future for delivering improved outcomes throughout the construction lifecycle. A prime example of this can be seen in the Western Program Alliance (WPA), Level Crossing Removal Project. To improve safety, reduce congestion, and increase rail network capacity in the city, WPA was engaged to remove 75 level crossings throughout Melbourne, Australia. Faced with integrating new and existing infrastructure while coordinating the design and construction teams, WPA needed to minimise disruption to the travelling public. The team used ContextCapture, ProjectWise, and SYNCHRO 4D to implement 4D construction modelling and improve design and engineering coordination. The integrated technology solution helped WPA to digitally plan and rehearse construction, increase predictability and overall reduce risk.
It is crucial for the construction industry to start exploiting digital technology, and in doing so, shift away from traditional practices. Construction software is enabling project teams to define and implement best practice processes – and to do that consistently across every project. Digitalisation means that everyone can be on the same page at the same time and make better decisions faster. It means that resources can be optimised, risks are mitigated, and rework is avoided. It also means that teams spend more time working on value-added tasks. Ultimately, construction technology is helping firms to win projects, deliver them more efficiently, and improve their profitability.