Digitalization of the construction site – Here are this year’s trends

Paperless construction sites and smart buildings. VR, AR and artificial intelligence. This is what Graphisoft Norway believes are the most important technology trends in the construction industry in 2019.

"The introduction of the smartphone has affected the working lives of most of us to a very large extent", says Frode Saltkjelvik, technical manager of Graphisoft Norway. "The construction site is no exception."

"It is now possible for everyone at the construction site to take a picture, upload it in the cloud and report an issue or needed changes - while simultaneously making the information available to all parties involved in the project in real time."

Norway is at the top in the world when it comes to using BIM tools on construction sites. Saltkjelvik praises the government for taking an active role in promoting innovation, technology development and digitization in piloting paper free buildings sites in some projects.

"The pilot projects at Halden University College and at the Vegtrafikkstasjonen at Gol showed that paperless construction sites provide higher quality and reduced costs for contractors as well as for builders. Statsbygg has now introduced a paperless building space as standard in its contracts. At the same time, requirements are set for all design to be done in building information models, and openBIM", says Saltkjelvik.

He understands that many builders and contractors in smaller companies may find that requirements for BIM seemingly overwhelming. Saltkjelvik believes it is important to emphasize that it does not have to be expensive or difficult to get started and some of the software that can be used are even free of charge.

"BIM tools can be scaled according to the size of the project and the specific needs of the owner/developer. Smartphones can nicely replace BIM kiosks on smaller projects", he adds, pointing out that smaller builders and contractors have a lot to gain from the rapid development in digital tools for the building industry.

"Different BIM software comes with tools that can help eliminate building errors and oversights before the drawings reach the construction site. There can be an automatic correction and rule check of the plans and the virtual models in for example Solibri. Other software solutions give access to the latest updated drawing to everyone involved", he elaborates.

The customer and the end user can easily track the project and have more control of construction products and therefore reduce material waste.

Smart buildings and sensor technology

"Operations and maintenance costs are where you will see the fastest rewards of investing in BIM", says Christoffer Rygh Fladby of Graphisoft.

"The costs associated with the design and construction of buildings are small compared to the operating and maintenance costs during the lifetime of a building. It is also not a lot of work", he adds.

Fladby wants to focus on the value of developing BIM models of existing buildings, by simply uploading existing floorplans.

"By mapping/calculating the building mass, and linking that to past operations and maintenance costs, a lot of the work is done", he assures.

If you are concerned about efficiency and green technology, then smart buildings are the way to go. By using sensor technology, intelligent buildings can at any time calculate and manage options regarding for example ventilation, temperature and lighting.

"Smart buildings help the environment and the economy whilst optimizing energy consumption to suit the consumer's needs and comfort", says Fladby.

Prefabricated homes and industrial production

Industrialization and production of prefabricated homes is another area where technology has advanced in 2019. Fladby is convinced that element production will be the norm in a few years.

"Module and element-based construction as a method is not new, but now the investment costs for the machines and software have become reasonable enough that production is more profitable", he says.

The production machines retrieve detailed data regarding choice of design, dimensions and materials from BIM models and produce pre-fabricated elements according to automated digital processes.

"Fully automated production of prefabricated elements provides a high quality at a lower price and is better for the environment. Construction time outdoors on the construction site is significantly reduced and wood elements are less exposed to moisture and other environmental factors. By consolidating production in one place simplifies both logistics and transport and helps the environment by optimizing the use of materials", Fladby points out.

Interaction Forms

"One of the biggest reasons we are where we are today is that we managed to get the different programs to talk together using “open standards”", says Saltkjelvik.

He believes the global organization Building SMART, a neutral arena for innovation and digitalisation of building, construction and real estate industries, has paved the way by using open standards with all their programs. We have 1000s of projects in Norway alone, that proves those sceptical to openBIM wrong. The biggest challenge is people and their knowledge about their own software, but this can easily be remedied with training and practise.

"OpenBIM enables a free flow of information during the lifespan of a building, and effective interaction between all parties. Previously, electricians had their own program, plumbers another and architects a third, and only paper or 2D CAD drawings where shared. One of the biggest innovations with BIM models is that they increase the understanding and communication ability between disciplines", says Saltkjelvik.

VR for everyone

VR headsets have been available for quite some time - at least as curiosity or as a regular feature at trade shows etc.

The difference now is availability and how easy it is to use", says Saltkjelvik.

Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) were for a long time reserved for those who could afford to make large investments. This is now changing.

"The simplest versions on the market right now are simple cardboard glasses that a property developer can send to their clients in the mail like GRAPHISOFTs BIMx. A smartphone is placed inside them and connected to the BIM model via an app, so new buyers can sit at home on the couch and make material choices and other decisions regarding their next home", says Saltkjelvik.

At an architect's office, you can try more advanced glasses like Oculus Rift and actively move around the building site, or in the new office space. One of the up and coming new software’s are Twinmotion from Epic Games. AR is more interactive and blends reality and the model to a greater extent. You can see more information in these models, such as plumbing, wiring and what's inside the walls.

Artificial intelligence has provided new opportunities in architecture with parametric design. This is visual programming based on algorithms. An example of practical use of the tool is to calculate how to design an apartment building when the windows have different designs, but the apartments should have the same amount of daylight. Graphisoft has teamed up with McNeel, the inventor of parametric design with Grasshopper, now integrated in Rhino and seamlessly connected with BIM (ARCHICAD).

Technological advances – not as scary as they seem

"From experience, some people may feel a little overwhelmed by both the opportunities and the costs, but it is not as scary as it seems. What we want to highlight is that to implement these steps doesn't necessarily mean that a lot of work or money", says Saltkjelvik.

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About Eline Navrestad

Eline Navrestad is a journalist from Norway.
  • Norway