Intelligent Construction – Transforming the Industry in the Digital Age

The fourth industrial revolution – the digital age – is creating the drivers to transform Industry, as it seeks to exploit the significant advantages to be derived from the effective and efficient use and management of data.  Industry-leading technology, developed for other industry sectors, is exponentially improving value and efficiency, and can be employed to propel the Construction Industry into the digital age – the Industry of the Future. This impacts not only the Construction Industry but also the logistic supply chains which support it, improving capability and skills, and contributing to the economies and construction potential of the countries involved.

The considerable amount of data which is created during the design, development, construction and utilisation of the built asset, if properly configured and integrated, can be harnessed to drive value, cut costs and waste – and used to create a digital asset – the Virtual Twin – which, when used by the end customer, can provide a dynamic platform on which to manage legacy, sustain the present and plan the future.  Effective configuration management will drive operations and ongoing maintenance, leading to an increase in the return on equity.

With Singapore as the reference, cities across the globe are starting to get smarter with data sources and multiple sensors connecting people, services and things so they can engage with each other. Bringing together infrastructure, social capital and technology fuels sustainable economic and social development, with the aim of providing better lives and urban environments for all. However, while cities themselves are on an upward technology path the construction industry is not taking the same dynamic trajectory – but it must if it is to drive value and keep pace with the development of future cities – where cities are not just trying to be smarter but are using technology to engineer their futures.

But construction itself is often an outdated, dangerous and low productivity industry. Steering cities and those that build them in the right direction has challenged planners for decades. This is especially true in the UK which lags behind many countries and much of Asia for modern building practice.

Process models for construction have remained largely the same for hundreds of years – as a stark example, though materials were very different, the construction techniques employed to build the 72 storey Shard tower in London were not that different from those employed to construct St Paul’s Cathedral nearly 400 years ago. However, St Pauls took 35 years to build, the Shard three, so some things have changed!

But essential transformation is emerging. Automated manufacture of building components is leading to lower construction costs, improved quality and significantly reduced waste. On-site work consists of assembly of quality-assured parts, each guaranteed to be fit for purpose. 3D technology has made significant inroads into architectural design and fabrication to excellent effect, but process modelling at the construction phase is virtually non-existent. But get it right and we will see Building Information Modelling literally taking on new dimensions, both at the design stage and during construction, and ultimately in building management, enabling built assets to be managed economically and effectively using real-time sensor data fed onto the platform to breath life into the Virtual Twin.

Using shared 3D experiences to simulate cities and developments reveals potential problems that may not be seen by any other means. Overlaying data reveals new views and it is possible, with this technology, to predict events in transport systems and hubs, in public services, utility provision and security. Seamlessly linking the system to financial software allows cost planning and budgetary predictability. By this means potential problems and their outcomes can be observed, costed and fixed before they occur.

This points to a significant business opportunity when this scientific approach is extended into supply chain. When the collaborative practices which have powered other industries into innovation are applied to building, they produce stunning results. A construction supply chain, sharing closed data, can have a major, positive impact on the delivery of a project to time and cost, adding value to the overall process.

Many building projects overrun, outspend their budgets by more than 20% and end in expensive and wasteful litigation. Between concept and delivery of a finished building lie the stages of design and engineering, contracts, bids and awards, fabrication and construction. Each stage is fraught with risk. Stakeholders risk in a building project of any kind can be more than financial. Buildings define their locations and neighbourhoods; people have emotional attachments to them.

Much of this risk can be reduced when clients, architects, contractors, communities and stakeholders work interdependently on the same current unified knowledge platform where guesswork and misinterpretation are removed, and open yet secure collaborative integration is a given.

Commonly litigation at, during, or after a construction project is the result of poor communications between systems and people. Errors with building components and services are expected, and usually occur, but are absolutely avoidable. Simply unifying the change order system on a building project allows people to work collaboratively. They have access to the current status of the building and its information. This enables better informed strategic and tactical decision making at all stages and virtually eliminates errors caused by wrong or superseded instructions being acted upon.

In summary, it will change forever the popular perception of the Construction Industry as one which is labour intensive, wasteful, costly and highly risky, both financially and physically, creating a dynamic, effective, high value Industry which will attract investment and become an economic driver. Effective configuration management will drive operations and ongoing services and maintenance, leading to an increase in the return on equity. It will increase the ability to compete more effectively in a demanding industrial and economic climate, leading in turn to national economic growth able to withstand global economic shocks, as well as expanding job opportunity and stimulating increased economic activity and GDP growth.

Integrated and configured data on a dynamic business experience platform gives the politician, the business leader, the developer, the people who are forging global and national economies, a window into their world – a window into what might be as they struggle to manage the legacy of the past, develop the reality of the present and shape the future.

John Stokoe

Head of Strategic Development at Dassault Systèmes
John is Head of Strategic Development for Northern Europe at Dassault Systèmes. He is a former Major General in the British Army and, since leaving the Army in 1999, he has gained considerable commercial experience in the construction, infrastructure services and IT sectors, operating at both business unit and Board level.