The Future of Construction is Digital
According to the United Nations, by 2050, around 68 percent of the world’s population will live in cities. The pressure on municipalities and builders to make sure that houses and offices are safe, sustainable, affordable, and livable is growing daily. The trend toward smart buildings is gaining traction globally, but which digital technologies have the potential to deliver the biggest impact on the construction worksites of tomorrow?
Recent world events have exposed with painful clarity the vulnerability of supply chains to disruption, which resulted in work stopping at construction sites, either due to scarcity of materials or labor shortages. The increased costs and inevitable delays have caused significant financial losses for many contractors. On top of that, the rise in energy costs poses a real challenge for future maintenance and management of buildings.
Digitalization could be the answer to many of these issues. IT solutions can help with keeping track of supplies (materials), improving the efficiency of operations, and saving money at all stages of construction, starting with the design phase and ending with the exploitation phase.
Although only a few players are currently using advanced digital tools to improve their operations, technologies like Building Information Management (BIM) systems, digital supply networks, digital twins, artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, and others are slowly but steadily becoming established as best practices in the field. Here are some examples of how digital technologies are already foreshadowing the future of the construction industry.
Artificial Intelligence for sustainable and healthy work environments
A 17-story office tower in Boston will be fitted with floor-to-ceiling smart windows that use AI to manage light intake, optimize occupants’ comfort, and reduce energy consumption. The project aims to set an example for sustainable and healthy work environments in the future. The 10 World Trade building, developed by Boston Global Investors (BGI) and its partners, will mainly offer office space in downtown Boston.
Its smart windows, delivered by View, Inc. – a provider of intelligent building technology – use AI to adjust their opacity automatically in response to the brightness of the sun, allowing occupants to enjoy maximum comfort at any given moment of the day. AI will also help to reduce the energy consumption from lighting and air conditioning systems that are 40 percent more efficient than required by the energy-saving guidelines imposed by the Massachusetts Department of Energy.
According to a study made by researchers at the University of Illinois and SUNY Upstate Medical University, employees working next to View Smart Windows slept 37 minutes longer each night, performed 42 percent better on cognitive tests, and had significantly fewer headaches. As an additional benefit, the smart windows eliminate the need for blinds, which helps with lowering overall costs, but also keeps offices cleaner.
Although this example is focused on maintenance, many building projects in the world now showcase the fact that digital technologies in general and AI, in particular, have the potential to help builders increase value throughout all project stages. Better design and smarter financing, online procurement and smart construction, better operations and asset management, as well as remote management and maintenance – all these can be achieved with the help of state-of-the-art technology.
According to McKinsey Global, digital transformation of the construction projects and companies can result in productivity gains of 14% to 15% and cost reduction of 4% to 6%.
Digital twins and real-time visual management of buildings
Modeling the real world in a digital environment even up to the tiniest detail offers many perks to builders, especially in complex projects. Buildings that will host medical facilities, for example, need to be very sophisticated in order to accommodate specialized medical equipment, meet elevated health codes and strict security requirements, and allow the use of business systems. Although still under-adopted, systems such as BIM are already less capable of real-time building status updates and handling big data volumes.
The new clinical center for Shanghai East Hospital affiliated with Tongji University was built with the future in mind. The 2019 construction project centered on the principle of the “continuous lifecycle integration” method, allowing the building managers to see the status of the building at any time, in a visual tool, over its full lifecycle.
Using a Digital Twin (DT), the builders integrated static and dynamic data from over 20 management systems that optimized all phases in the building lifecycle, from design and construction to the operations and maintenance phase. The control center of the building runs on a DT software solution that allows for real-time visual management and is enhanced with AI-powered diagnostic modules.
The benefits of using the DT in the design and building phase were not published, but by the end of 2020, management data collected from the system showed significant improvements in energy consumption, fewer facility problems, and repairs as well as better daily maintenance work.
Although there are still aspects that need further research, the project showed that DT has much more potential than BIM technology in terms of its real-time information management capabilities at all stages of a building lifecycle.
For players affected by recent disruptions in the supply chain, labor force, and new construction standards pressure, these two examples show that digital technology solutions could help them to stay afloat or even increase their profits and decrease their costs.
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