Building information modelling is revolutionising complex construction projects

The mainstream construction industry is taking longer than any other business sector to undergo digital transformation. Smart building, 3D visualisations in real time and just-in-time logistics are just three of the major trends that will define the traditional industry in the years to come. But there is also one matter that is casting a shadow over all others when it comes to digitisation.

The construction industry has a way to go compared to other business sectors according to Roland Berger business consultants: over the last ten years, productivity has only exceeded four percent once according to the consultants. Even the main association of the German construction industry shows that this industry is lagging far behind other sectors in matters of digitisation. But 93 percent of construction companies and suppliers recognise the importance of digitisation according to the Roland Berger study.

In this business sector, everything revolves around the key term ‘building information modelling’. BIM is a development that can’t be avoided at any of the respective trade fairs and for the introduction and distribution of which the German federal government launched the ‘planen-bauen 4.0’ programme in 2015. For Roland Berger business consultancy, BIM is nothing less than ‘the disruptive element of the construction industry’ within the realms of digitisation.

BIM: a platform connects everyone involved in a construction project

What BIM can achieve is the complete digital documentation of a building over its whole lifecycle. The digital plans and 3D models of a building are enriched with other data and regularly compared. So it is not only possible to estimate an object’s lifecycle, but also to estimate when work will be required (predictive maintenance). To this end, BIM should provide all those involved with the necessary plans, cost calculations and construction steps throughout all phases of planning and construction, and use the data provided by the platform to make a number of coordination steps superfluous. It’s sort of a paradigm shift from push to pull: everyone involved keeps their data up to date so that everyone can access the latest information at any time.

And especially because service providers and other players can access relevant information earlier on thanks to BIM and the improved availability of data platforms in future construction projects, potentially expensive and fatal mistakes can be avoided before the first turn of the shovel through simulations. The impact that BIM is already having today and will continue to have over the next few years is documented in Roland Berger’s figures: the market for BIM applications will supposedly quadruple by 2022 compared to 2014. It is, of course, difficult to say what savings this will bring, but any major mistake and any construction delay that can be avoided in a large project will immediately save a six or seven-figure sum - and you don’t even have to think as big as the Berlin Airport project.

Increased productivity with fewer mistakes through clever data collection and evaluation

One company that is already showing how this data collection can become a data treasure generating added value for large projects is the Austrian Doka Group, one of the world’s biggest suppliers and producers of formwork. With its digital application Concremote, the Doka Group uses big data to establish the optimal time to remove formwork. A sensor solution, already used on around 100 major construction sites, delivers real-time data on the concrete’s temperature and solidity development.

This digital solution allows the cycle time of formwork for the building’s shell to be optimised. According to the company, an impressive productivity increase of 20 percent can be realised for a ‘typical 47-storey high-rise’. A nice side effect: as the sensor data is documented, construction defects can be avoided for the most part, at least in this respect - an important factor in this kind of major project. The automatic documentation is also a benefit in liability cases.

The data, collected by a wireless ceiling sensor and a cable sensor that measures using sensor feelers in the wall, is evaluated by a data centre in the Netherlands - the B|A|S company, which has been dealing with the research and development of building materials for over 40 years and which is now part of the Doka Group. Concremote is calibrated beforehand using the relevant concrete blend so that the lab has a benchmark for orientation. At the lab, standard information about concrete hardness is calculated and transferred to the construction site. This data can be requested by the site managers or foremen on site using a web portal via a computer or mobile device.

Optimal concrete quality and more safety through digitisation

What is interesting in normal weather conditions becomes really important in extreme conditions. For example, Concremote was used in the construction of Muskrat Falls, Canada’s second largest hydropower station: a flagship project in an area where temperatures ranging from minus 40 degrees Celsius in winter to plus 30 degrees in summer are not unusual. With hundreds of measurements from 35 Concremote sensors, the responsible parties ensured the quality of the mass concrete - taking all other data into account that is digitally collected and regularly compared throughout the construction project. This means that cracks in the concrete and therefore later damage to the construction can be prevented - a real win in terms of safety and a true success for the Doka Group, who received various industry awards.

The description of this Concremote workflow - data collection at the construction site, transfer to the lab and evaluation using complex IT as well as return transfer of the evaluated information - shows one of the most important features of a digitised (construction) company: location-independence and the almost instant availability of relevant, compared data to all those involved.

With building information modelling as the all-encompassing framework, future construction projects could be handled significantly more efficiently and safely. Even external consultants commissioned when required by particular challenges could be involved without having to be on site. And they would still get a comprehensive image of the overall project’s status and development thanks to the 360 degree view of all project data.

Outlook: digitisation promotes productivity in construction

The position of the construction engineer has changed: it has become more IT-literate, faster, more dynamic. Interdisciplinary exchange is more important now than it was a few short years ago. And almost no-one in the construction industry can bypass a BIM platform, whether they’re a medium-sized enterprise or a global player. From 2020, the German government only wishes to assign construction projects to companies with BIM support. ‘BIM has come to stay,’ Roland Berger business consultants claim.

Digitisation in the construction industry - what you should know:
  • Take on digitisation, and BIM in particular, now - even if the matter doesn’t seem urgent to you yet. Or you could end up losing lucrative business very soon.

  • Build up the relevant skills in your company as a matter or urgency, or find a professional external digitisation service provider as a partner.

  • Mobile services for monitoring via tablet or smartphone increase efficiency in projects, especially in the construction industry. The percentage of people in this industry that sit at a computer in an office for the majority of the working day is, of course, low.

  • Project meetings and web conferencing are increasingly replacing a trip to the construction site, saving time and money and speeding up the exchange of information hugely.

  • When it comes to digitisation, use additional technologies such as RFID tracking in inventory and logistics, augmented reality and predictive maintenance, e.g. for construction machinery.