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Connecting digital systems to drive more efficient construction

construction

Efficiency in construction has always been important. Fail to deliver projects on time and within budget, and you risk seriously impacting the bottom line or jeopardising your organisation’s reputation. In today’s climate, where sustainability and building costs must also be considered, it is now become even more crucial.

There have been major changes across the construction industry in the last few years as innovations in digital technology continue to benefit everyone. From architects to site personnel, teams are operating with improved workflows and greater collaboration, enabling streamlined data flow. Ultimately, these changes allow workers to build safer and faster. Yet as technology has evolved, it is clear there is a need for a more connected approach.

Marked improvement

According to David Mitchell, CEO & Founder of construction AR specialists XYZ Reality, one of the benefits of a better-connected approach is its positive impact on construction rework (redoing work due to errors). “Essentially, data and information no longer working in a siloed fashion, separate from other digital devices and technology, can be more easily collated for greater accuracy and better decision-making,” he adds. “In turn, this reduces the margin for error and improves visibility for everyone involved.”

To explain in the context of construction, interoperable visualisation devices used on-site can now map an identical 3D digital twin of the proposed structure using the latest ‘engineering-grade’ augmented reality (AR).

“By combining information from two separate streams, site workers can translate virtual architectural designs to real structures with greater accuracy, physically being inside a model and visualising it while building,” Mitchell continues. “Fewer errors on site mean less rework, which can be expensive to fix and drive up the price of a project, not to mention delay project timelines. This is especially important in today’s climate, given the rising energy building material costs.” If this issue was fixed, the impact could be huge. Research by the American Society of Civil Engineers suggests that rework directly costs five per cent of total construction costs meaning eliminating these errors could provide significant savings.

A worthwhile investment

For those investing in digital technology, interoperability is also delivering more bang for its buck. Finding the right software can be time consuming and requires financial input, not to mention creating space for training and deployment. As a result, having systems in place that communicate with one another offers contractors and asset owners better value for money.

“If the industry is to level up its digital technology capabilities, it must start by using systems that can go beyond their initial function,” Mitchell explains. “It’s no longer enough to have software that works independently, the industry culture is changing, and collaboration is key. Increased levels of investment and further R&D will help uncover new ways to integrate different digital assets, fuelling the overall progress of the sector and further enhancing the capabilities of widely available technologies.”

The power of data

The widespread use of digital tools that can work in tandem with other systems is integral to achieving a golden information thread. This readily available breadcrumb trail ensures transparency throughout the entire project lifecycle, whereby more information sharing means it is easier to record and monitor design amendments or changes to specified materials throughout projects.

Moreover, should a mistake occur, it can provide insights into what went wrong, shedding light on potentially obscured reasons for errors – making it easier to prevent them in the future.

In short, Interoperability means everyone involved in this process speaks the same language and that the available data can be clearly understood by all involved.

“With greater accessibility to information, teams can make better-informed decisions,” Mitchell says. “This means tapping into vast wells of data produced by digital assets, which sometimes get overlooked.” A 2018 FMI paper on data use in Engineering and Construction revealed that 95 per cent of data in the engineering and construction industries goes unused. Capitalising on this could bring even further efficiencies should professionals across the sector develop the know-how to harness it.

A road to greener construction

A more cohesive workflow can also make construction more sustainable. Sharing data provides valuable information about emission levels that can influence a build and encourage energy reduction strategies. Construction teams can also access data on energy expenditure and waste levels that is more readily available thanks to interoperable systems.

“In an industry looking to move away from hard copies and patchy paperwork, having the ability to analyse comprehensive data is a game changer in achieving lower carbon outcomes,” Mitchell adds. “As the focus on sustainability grows, interoperability can better equip developers and contractors to drive much-needed changes across the sector, aligning business activities with increasingly stringent ESG goals. If interoperability remains a focus, there could be a real improvement in the industry’s green credentials.”

Building a brighter future

The emerging use of systems that can interact with one another represents a turning point in improving the quality and sustainability of builds. Companies are seeing vital time-saving benefits across the board, whether at a reporting stage or live on-site.

“It is helping to reduce project costs, minimise waste and keep project timelines on track,” Mitchell concludes. “Together, these work towards the overarching goal of increasing profit margins and improving the industry’s sustainability credentials. 

“Without further development, construction companies are at risk of not achieving their full potential, and today, as costs soar on all sides, greater efficiency could bring a much-needed boost to business performance. It is not an exaggeration to say that the quality of construction across the globe is under the microscope and that by finding ways to reduce rework, it will also drive up quality.

“What is now needed is to see construction companies demanding more of their technology and systems.”

The top construction leaders and those more business-savvy are already ahead of the curve and understand the importance of having technology that can sync with systems already in place – yet this awareness still needs to grow across the industry. The Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors’ 2022 report on digitalisation in construction found that 40 per cent of respondents were not using digital technologies across the functional areas surveyed. This number needs to reduce if the industry is going to grow, and interoperability is a catalyst for this progress, drawing out the true potential of digital solutions. To drive this change, construction professionals should be demanding more from tech, and Con-Tech companies must rise to the challenge.

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