Learning from Denmark: Many digitization benefits are right in front of our feet

Through out the latest decade, many initiatives have been initiated to streamline and digitize the Danish construction industry. The time perspective is often long-term, but it is also much easier to wait for what the future might bring than to act now. This article was originally published in the April 2020 issue of ArkBYG, the monthly supplement to the Licitationen – byggeriets dagblad.

The fact that the construction industry is characterized by poor productivity and a low rate of digitization compared to other industries probably does not come as big surprise to people in the industry. Fortunately, many of us are working to increase the efficiency of the construction industry through digitalization.

© Pawel Antoni Lange, GRAPHISOFT Center Danmark

One of the latest initiatives in Denmark is Build 4.0, which is rooted in 24 local partners, and focuses on technologies such as 3D printing, drones, robots, artificial intelligence, big data, block chain and augmented reality. Many of these technologies are in the pipeline but are all likely to play a role in the future of construction, so it is a noteworthy project in every way.

But if we only focus on the long-term benefits, it’s easy to overlook the existing opportunities. In 2009, COWI presented a survey ordered by the Danish Business Authority, which concluded that Denmark could generate a profit of 2,2 billion annually by digitizing the construction industry. A decade later, we still haven't realized all the benefits, so perhaps we should aim for BUILD 3.9 before spending too many resources on BUILD 4.0.

But what does it take for us to achieve the benefits of digitalization by implementing approaches we already know works and results in documented value?

Here are our five suggestions:

1 Use BIM tools in all phases
Many are already doing it, but some are still lagging behind. When AEC professionals use BIM tools – e.g. in Revit or ARCHICAD – they create a digital twin of the physical building. All stakeholders contribute to a BIM model that takes, among other things, energy consumption, light and construction details into account. Using BIM to design is a proven, interdisciplinary collaborative discipline, which is why it is important that everyone is involved in the digital process.

2 Embrace BIM in the early stages
The digital initiatives often start way too late in the process. This means that key decisions are made on an inadequate basis. If you use BIM in the early sketching and design phases, you will reap the rewards that lie in reusing data and knowledge from the very start. It is easy to access and doesn't cost much in either software or hardware.

3 Share data in open file formats
Data is gold, and data sharing is a key part of digital construction. It is imperative that the team works in a structured manner, e.g. with classification and exchange of data via open, international standards, which ensures that everyone has full access to knowledge, regardless of the software they use. It requires an operative ICT agreement that clarifies how the project is structured, how to exchange files, and what to share from the very start of the project.

4 Ensure quality assurance
It is important to continually screen for design issues. This can be done easily with rule-based quality assurance software: Are the ventilation pipes affecting the load-bearing structures? Have various rooms have incorrect classification codes, and is there enough space accommodate all the users of the building? All these issues can be identified via quality assurance, which is handled digitally, avoiding costly waiting times.

5. Involve people
Finally, it is important to consider the human aspect so that everyone, across age and professional profiles, become part of the digital transformation. All too often, you see a division between those who work BIM-based and those who do not - both internally within the organization, but also across the value chain. Interdisciplinary collaboration is one of the biggest challenges in the construction industry, so it is important that everyone understands their role in the digital set up, so we avoid creating an A and a B team.

We have to achieve the benefits of BUILD 3.9 as soon as possible. When we are done, robots will clap in their cold hands, and drones will loop with enthusiasm, because then we are finally ready for BUILD 4.0!

The article was written by Thomas Graabæk, owner of GRAPHISOFT Center Danmark, Símon Ólafsson, BIM Manager / ICT leader and partner at IKT-lederne and Tore Hvidegaard, CEO, BIM Advisor and Architect at 3dbyggeri danmark.

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About Thomas Graabæk

Thomas Graabæk has been working 10 years as an architect, with a clear interest in the digital tools used for sketching and detailing, but also with 3D modeling and visualization. Since 2006 he has been working as a BIM Manager, and his main focus has been BIM in general and particularly OpenBIM, trying to bridge collaboration between disciplines and software platforms.
  • Denmark