by Adrian Malleson
In the NBS Discover events, we saw a number of innovations in how construction information can be collaboratively created, managed and shared, through the life of a building.
These were not solutions without problems. Part of each discovery event was devoted to some of the real issues the construction industry faces, and to how digitisation can help address them.
Problem: the Built Environment makes a big contribution to environmental degradation
Buildings are responsible for 32% of global energy consumption. The Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) state that to restrict global temperature increase to 1.5C, building emissions need to be to be reduced by 80–90%.
At the same time, buildings have a large energy saving potential. Several examples of low to zero energy use buildings are now available, such as the zero-bills house at the BRE Innovation Park.
Indeed, the IPCC report points out the energy efficiency potential of the digitisation of the design and construction industries, noting “Smart technology, drawing on the Internet of Things (IoT) and building information modelling, offer opportunities to accelerate energy efficiency in buildings and cities” (18.104.22.168 Urban Infrastructure, Buildings and Appliances)
Problem: the construction industry’s business practice is marked by an adversarial approach
The NBS National Construction Contracts and Law report revealed an industry frequently in dispute. A third of those who responded to our survey experienced at least one dispute in the preceding twelve months.
Nearly two in five told us that the number of disputes was increasing.
The way out of a dispute ridden, adversarial approach to work has been long identified: a collaborative approach to construction. The NBS report shows collaboration enables information sharing, reduces the number of disputes that arise, and improves the delivery of the client’s objectives.
Through digitisation, we increasingly have the tools to work together across disciplines and locations, to collaborate more effectively. This collaborative approach is embedded in the levels of BIM, with collaboration increasing as higher levels of BIM are attained.
Problem: the construction industry is slow to change and has a poor record on productivity
If we think of how we now communicate with one another, of how we receive entertainment media, how we use now use maps to navigate the world, of how we are paid, or pay for things, we can see digitisation is transforming our lives.
Yet, if we look to a construction site, we see practices that the Romans would recognise; masonry walls, cement and concrete, ladders and scaffolds, workers laying bricks on bricks by hand.
In the last 50 years, we have seen a dramatic shift in productivity in a range of sectors. Retail has moved from local shops to megastores and online shopping, using global supply chains and just-in-time delivery. Manufacturing has moved from hand working (albeit on a production line) to high degrees of automation. The finance sector has moved from literal book-keeping to a point where the future of cash is being questioned.
Meanwhile labour-productivity growth in construction has averaged only 1 percent a year over the past two decades, compared to 3.6% for manufacturing.
Among those industries that have their improved productivity, we can see an increase in the levels of digitisation. The OECD state that “digital transformation can spur innovation and productivity growth across many activities, transform public services, and improve wellbeing”
Digitisation not only improves existing practice, but can transform or replace it. It is here we see market disruption. It can also markedly expand the extent and specialisation of those collaborating in production.
Digitisation and the Future of Construction
The UK already has world leading architectural & design professions, and sustainable design practice. UK Architecture is the biggest exporter of architectural services in Europe and contributes £4.8bn GVA to the British economy every year. The further digitisation of the design professions will allow us to build on this strong position.
The adoption of BIM can be instrumental in increasing productivity and improving client outcomes. The implementation of the UK Government’s BIM mandate has spurred BIM adoption. ‘Construction 2025’ describes the path ahead.
The NBS National BIM Report survey shows BIM adoption has risen from 13% in 2011 to 74% by 2018. The UK is world leading in BIM adoption, government support and standardisation. BIM is already, according to Government figures, helping to achieve capital savings of >20%, with BIM as an enabler. The Construction Sector Deal is set to drive further use of digital.
Through BIM, buildings are increasingly being delivered with a ‘digital twin’, a database of structured information (and not only geometric information) that can be collaboratively used to interrogate a range of critical information like cost, carbon, waste, or energy use. This will improve not only a buildings lifetime performance (and safety), but also inform and improve future design. It paves the way for machine learning, robotics and offsite construction. It paves the way to resolving the issues identified.
In unveiling NBS Chorus, NBS has shown how it will continue to provide the tools the industry needs for BIM, the tools it needs to collaboratively and digitally create the Information at the heart of BIM.