The reasons for a digital transformation in urban development are vast. But how do we navigate through the various types of advanced technologies? How do multiple actors of a construction project work together when they’re using different BIM software? Read this article to better understand how a holistic approach to smart cities and digital construction can assist in proper transformation.
On 20 May 2020, the Big 5 event hosted the online webinar Journey Towards Smart Cities & Digital Construction with representatives from IBM and non-profit organization buildingSMART. The construction industry is currently the slowest industry to integrate advanced technologies, but that might soon change.
If done correctly, digital construction can help lower carbon emissions of buildings and make ecosystems less complex in regards to the supply chain, management, labor skills and data platforms. It’s about being harmonious with the environment in a sustainable and eco-friendly way while reducing global project costs and wastse and improving the time frame for project completion.
Digital construction is an important tool for the development of a smart city and it is more relevant today than ever before.
“The corona crisis opened up new ways of working, such as at a distance, so there’s now a push for super digital,” said Paul Surin, Global Lead Built Environment IBM GBS UKI.
Data, Data, Data—Without It, Technology Is a No-go
One of the main selling points for digital construction is how it supports delivering projects on time and on budget.
“[That’s] more prevalent now, but we need to have a clear roadmap to show how it can help the industry,” said Paul Surin.
Surin pointed out that a holistic approach was necessary in order to see the industry transform properly into the digital world. The holistic point of view means considering circular economy, understanding the lifecycle of a project. It starts with a central problem that needs solving and is never about integrating technology for the sake of doing it. In order to solve the problem, according to Surin, data is key.
“In a data-driven world, we need to treat data as an asset and consider changing our business model. Without data and understanding the data, we cannot apply technology properly.”
Although data is key, it seems industry players are not often on the same page as several platforms for data management exist, including platforms created by construction companies themselves. The data is either not updated properly and or not easily accessible between professionals.
“We can provide better collaborations by making data available,” said Aidan Mercer, Global Marketing Director at buildingSMART International. “Open and neutral data exchanges will benefit the industry in the long run.”
The non-profit organization buildingSMART works with members—such as Bentley Systems and Dassault Systems—, chapters, partners and sponsors to facilitate the development and adoption of open digital standards.
In order to do so, buildingSMART developed IFC (Industry Foundation Classes), an object-oriented format that facilitates the exchange of data between BIM software.
Using its IFC, the organization completed one of its 20 active projects in April 2020, a road infrastructure project.
Lost in the Zoo of Technology?
With technologies like blockchain, AI, IoT, advanced robotics, the Cloud, BIM and more, professionals can get confused about which technologies to use for their projects.
“Technology is an enabler but can’t be used solely to solve a problem. We need to know what problem to address in order to understand which technology is best to use,” said Paul Surin.
He went on to say that 8 or 9 times out of 10 the use of blockchain isn’t the right technology for the situation, so understanding which technology fits the situation at hand is necessary.
An example of how blockchain technology can be used in the construction industry is in the raw materials sector. RCS Global Group’s team of software engineers and responsible sourcing experts developed an open, industry-wide blockchain platform called RSBN (Responsible Sourcing Blockchain Network), powered by IBM.
The platform traces responsibly produced minerals from mine to market, with RCS Global assessing each participating entity against responsible sourcing requirements set by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and industry bodies.
Construction companies have also been using other technologies. Two years ago, for example, global engineering and construction company Fluor announced it would use IBM’s artificial intelligence system Watson on large projects from inception to completion in order to increase efficiencies in spaces.
Digital Construction for Smart Cities
Digital construction is a tool to build smart cities and needs to serve customers by making businesses more profitable and more environmentally sound.
In June 2019, Peter Löffler, Siemens Building Technologies, spoke during the buildingSMART conference about how the construction industry needed to go digital by discussing digital twins.
Digital twins are digital replicas of a city and are meant to make the construction of urban projects more time and cost-efficient.
They have a purpose and they can be made for anything. It’s not a new concept. A digital twin for a building is made differently, though, and its “look” will also depend on what aspect of constructing a building the digital twin is aiming to improve for the physical copy.
The digital twin of a building whose purpose is to improve logistics of the construction site in the city compared to one whose purpose is to improve the engineering process of an atex system will give two completely different digital twins.
So with that, we repeat Paul Surin’s comment: We need to know what problem to address in order to understand which technology is best to use.