Integrating Construction Technologies to Enhance the Value of Design DeliverablesAECbytes Viewpoint #89 (July 18, 2019)
Information is a critical part of every construction project, and in the last few years, the industry has enjoyed access to technology that can provide more and more extensive data than ever before. Building Information Modelling (BIM), which transformed the construction industry decades ago, has transformed once again thanks to these advancing data capture technologies.
BIM creates models embedded with important data provided by construction design professionals. However, once construction commences, the distance between the as-modeled and as-built conditions expands rapidly without an effective and efficient feedback loop. Design teams should not miss the opportunity to integrate visual as-built data directly into their BIM models for real-time validation and a more accurate representation of the building through each phase of construction.
We have all seen the staggering statistics reflecting the percentage of projects that come in late and over budget, both of which are becoming more frequent in the face of a global construction labor shortage. It only makes sense for savvy construction stakeholders to leverage all of the tools at their disposal to ensure a smoother, more efficient build. While BIM is an important way to present building design information, the design process can be enhanced by integrating other construction technologies for a comprehensive visual documentation package.
Gathering Real-Time Data from the Start
Architects put a lot of effort into planning and designing buildings. It’s a combination of art, business, and science—facilities have to strike a balance of looking good, providing solid investments, and being safe and secure. It is in the best interest of everyone involved in a construction project to provide information about the site to the design team quickly and often, so they can take relevant information into early design considerations.
One of the newer construction technologies, UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) have become especially useful in the early, pre-design stages of a project. From drone surveys, orthomosaic maps (detailed, accurate representations of an area created by stitching photos) can be created in order to give a cohesive picture of the site long before construction begins. Rather than working off of a drawing, drone-captured aerial data allows AEC (Architecture, Engineering and Construction) professionals to visualize the site and its surroundings to determine critical information, such as whether the site is balanced, if the terrain could possibly present financial or logistical challenges, or whether characteristics of the site may be better suited to certain design elements.
These orthomosaic aerial maps should be updated regularly throughout construction so that all stakeholders have both the current digital data as well as visual documentation of the project at every milestone.
Collecting As-Built Visuals throughout Construction
Construction professionals know that a picture is worth a thousand words—especially when it comes to documenting the job site. Over the past decade, digital photography has proliferated on construction sites and today there are often dozens of stakeholders capturing photographs on any given site. General contractors and tradespeople, for instance, often take photographs with their smartphones once their work is completed and circulate these photographs to a batch of individuals. More often than not, however, the remote project stakeholders who would benefit most from the updated visual data, do not receive those images. Or in other cases, they gain access but not in an organized format they can sort through and make sense of.
Construction technologies exist today that transform this typically fragmented and unorganized process into a highly informative one. Location-indexed photography of the project site gives project stakeholders the ability to visualize conditions with context. These real-time images can even be integrated into the building model so design professions can “walk” through their model, immediately comparing it to the as-built conditions within the photos, even when they are hundreds of miles from the project site.
While the importance of visualization for design professionals cannot be overstated, measurable image technology can supercharge its effectiveness even further. Leica Geosystems, for example, has recently unveiled the BLK3D handheld imager, which captures images that allow for in-picture 3D measurements (Figure 3). These measurable photos are an incredibly valuable design resource for space planning, troubleshooting, and remote verification, but the benefits extend to many more project stakeholders as well. The construction team, for instance, does not always know what might need to be measured until after the fact, and critical pieces of infrastructure like post tension cables or MEP systems may be covered up by walls when they need that information. Until now, the only way to verify that information was through costly destructive verification. AEC professionals can now visualize, and then measure, anything captured within these new 3D images, so answers can be determined in seconds.
In addition to 2D and measurable 3D images, design professionals can access laser scanning progressions through various construction milestones. While the laser scan may be the most advanced technology, its capabilities support three distinct buckets of stakeholders: those who only need to visualize progress can view (what appears to be) a normal image. Those on the team who need to measure can take measurements in seconds, while those who need to model can export the data to compare modeled and as-built conditions, verify potential schedule impacts based on work completed, and identify clashes.
A Single Source of Truth for All Stakeholders
The development of technology that allows multiple stakeholders—especially those who often work remotely offsite such as construction design professionals—to have near real-time updates throughout a project has also made a significant long-term impact on construction and facility management. Cloud technology has enabled real-time sharing of information across teams regardless of time or location.
OAC (Owner-Architect-Contractor) meetings, while critical, can require significant time and effort to coordinate, and may be spaced so far apart that issues encountered throughout the build might have compounded between meetings, or destructive verification might be required because construction has progressed. Site supervisors send revisions to design teams across a variety of communication apps, and design changes are happening all the time. Having a singular platform to share all of this information and the ability to access this information remotely and frequently makes OAC meetings more efficient, because all stakeholders come to the table sufficiently informed of progress.
While the stakeholders on any construction project can phase in and out over the course of the build, AEC professionals need to communicate closely from beginning to end to ensure that the facility design is as fully realized as possible. But because some real-life scenarios may not be able to be accounted for until a build starts, there are always issues that could come up, so designs need to be updated all the time.
Architects and engineers use project platforms often because they are usually remote and not close to the site. Dedicated construction documentation platforms allow these user groups to keep on track of the build as they are kept apprised by documentation specialists on the ground. With today’s technology advancements, documentation specialists are generally able to turn as-built information around and share them on the platform within 24 hours, and relevant stakeholders can be notified when this information is available.
Using Technology to Create a True Digital Twin
Visual construction documentation provides supplemental information—adding to the “I” in BIM, so to speak. Many AEC professionals are increasingly offering BIM models to their clients at the beginning of construction projects, and these models provide a good starting point for creating a digital twin to enhance deliverables upon completion of a project.
Building Information Models represent the building as designed, which, as AEC professionals know, unfortunately does not fully capture the many adjustments built in throughout the course of construction. When a building is turned over to owners or facility managers, there is also a significant amount of information about the building turned over as well.
Current software allows for the integration of data from different construction solutions with BIM models in order to create a true digital twin of the completed building. These highly accurate models can prove to be a valuable resource throughout the building’s lifecycle. Because facilities are built to last many decades and potential changes of ownership, this digital twin can prevent costly destructive verification and facilitate the future repurposing of space.
As construction technology becomes more advanced and the industry becomes more competitive, it only makes sense that today’s leaders will continue to leverage tools that enhance their own services and deliverables while facilitating transparency and close collaboration.
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