Building stronger with digitalisation

Bringing Digital to Life 7 July 2017 Troels Hoff

To create better quality and avoid cost overruns, the entire engineering and construction sector needs to digitalise.

12 min

By Kristine Barenholdt Bruun, October 2016

“Embrace new technologies and create better results.”

This is the key message from Dr Michael Max Buehler, Head of Infrastructure & Urban Development at the World Economic Forum.

According to him, the engineering and construction sector has been slow to adopt new technologies and has yet to undergo a broad transformation. Consequently, productivity has stagnated over the last 40 years.

Fortunately, the solution is within reach and can be boiled down to one word: Digitalisation.

Dr Michael Max Buehler is the chief editor of a new report, ‘Shaping the Future of Construction – A Breakthrough in Mindset and Technology’, published by the World Economic Forum and the Boston Consulting Group. The report makes it clear: Full-scale digitalisation will lead to huge annual global cost savings:

“For non-residential construction, those savings will be USD 0.7 trillion to USD 1.2 trillion (13% to 21%) in the Design & Engineering and Construction phases; and USD 0.3 trillion to USD 0.5 trillion (10% to 17%) in the Operations phase,” the report states.

The construction industry is already digitalising, but not on a sufficiently wide scale. Science fiction writer William Gibson’s famous phrase fits the industry perfectly: The future is here today – it is just not evenly distributed.

Saving 20% with digitalisation

Troels Hoff, digitalisation and building information modelling (BIM) specialist at Ramboll, also wants to see the construction industry using technology more widely:

“3D BIM helps us prevent installations from colliding, and by incorporating clash detection from the outset, we can save 5-10% of the building sum,” he explains, continuing:

“But to create even better results, we need to make sure that smart technology solutions are used in all phases of a building project – from the early planning and design phase to actual onsite construction.”

3D laser scanning, mobile devices and new software applications are becoming increasingly integrated with a central BIM platform. The challenge is to achieve widespread adaptation of these technologies in all layers and phases.

Building projects that use the latest technologies throughout the project life cycle can look forward to savings of close to 20% on total costs plus substantial improvements in completion time, quality and safety, the report concludes.

“Collaboration and integration are crucial if new technologies are to be used across the industry. It is not enough that Ramboll generates 5D models and uses smart applications. We have to carry the technology all the way from the consultants in the design phase to the contractors and the construction workers on the actual building site,” Troels Hoff explains.

With good collaboration and smart technology, consultants can build models that are easy for contractors to expand. Construction workers can carry the models with them on tablets and ensure that the reality matches the model.

“Imagining construction’s digital future”, an article recently published by the management consulting company McKinsey, also explains that so-called crew-mobility solutions will have a catalytic effect on productivity. Central-planning teams have long had difficulty connecting with Forumonsite construction teams and sharing information about progress in real time, the article concludes.

Creating more safety with 3D

Digitalisation involves more than better budgets and fewer mistakes. It also creates better safety. Ramboll’s interactive 3D computer game helps construction workers anticipate and avoid accidents onsite. When construction of a super hospital in Gødstrup, Denmark, was in its initial phase, employees performed a range of safety tasks and procedures in a 3D simulation before gaining access to the site. This reduced the accident rate to only half the industry average.

The use of 3D laser scanning can eliminate risks throughout a project – from its design to installation – thus increasing human safety, e.g. on an offshore platform. The technology enables ‘as built’ assets to be generated digitally, which safeguards against geometrical errors and ensures new designs are precisely tailored to fit existing layouts.

Facts: virtual Singapore

As the first country in the world, Singapore is creating a full 3D digital replica of the entire country, with data on everything from the rocks underground to traffic on the streets.

This digital twin city, an advanced version of Google Maps, enables users to look into buildings and beneath them and visualise how wind flows between skyscrapers.

The overall idea is to compile the maximum data possible in one model for the benefit of all – companies, scientists, citizens and authorities.

For example, authorities will be able to do simulations that help determine how to move big crowds to and from an event. Or companies will be able to visualise how water runs through the streets after a heavy rainstorm

Facts: leave out digitalisation - and lose 13% of the revenue

A new Danish report, ’IT in Practice’, by Ramboll and the Danish IT Society shows that if no further digital initiatives are taken, one in 10 businesses will lose 25% of their revenue. On average, 13% of revenue is at risk across all industries.

Digitalisation is changing the market extremely rapidly, which makes it necessary, now more than ever, to continuously assess the market and the strengths and weaknesses of one’s company, the report concludes.