In this episode of the Smarter Building podcast, we caught up with Dr. Stephen Hamil, Innovation Director at NBS, to gain insights into the future landscape of the construction industry and the upcoming trends in 2024.
A Guide to Digital Construction
Why contractors are going paperless, one site and one project at a time
The composite elements of the contractor’s role are changing fast. So are expectations from all other stakeholders in any project, on how contractors manage projects and participate in the rapidly evolving digital value chain.
If construction professionals assume that the wave of technology flowing through modern society, business, industry and every aspect of public and personal life is of no immediate concern to the construction sector, they will soon find themselves missing out.
They will see new project opportunities, long-term growth, and participation in a more vibrant, varied, and collaborative ecosystem slip away. There is no cause for alarm. Construction is in transition. Businesses that keep pace with change will not only retain their relevance; they will enhance it.
The move to a digital world cannot be resisted and, indeed, why should it?
Purpose of this paper
While a construction project was once seen to be complete when it was built, this is no longer so. A built asset has a life going forward which unfolds as much in the digital as in the physical world. Understanding how to collaborate with, and share, data is now an essential pillar of operations. This paper investigates the essential first stages of putting that pillar in place.
In conjunction with a raft of technologies sweeping through the industry, mobile communications, and digital technologies such as laser scanning for setting out, are making construction more efficient, more collaborative, more transparent and capable. This paper looks at the concept of ‘paperless construction’ for contractors, which is precisely how digital construction manifests itself; simply replacing the old with the new.
Introduction and overview: The construction value chain and the ability to work with data
Data is pivotal to collaboration. Using data is not just about responding to the information it carries, but also about analysing it to slice and dice the information and see it in different ways depending on the job requirement of the user.
The volume and variety of data pertinent to any construction project dictates a digital capability. Contractors need to know not just how to work with it but also how to contribute to it, passing information along the chain. Once you acknowledge and accept this essential connection between how you will increasingly receive information and how you will need to change progressively to leverage it, you’re on the paperless trail.
The Common Data Environment (CDE)
Contractors are now frequently facing the challenge of participating in Common Data Environments; centralised repositories of all data pertinent to all aspects of a project. The CDE is one of the fundamental pillars of BIM Level 2, supporting the sharing and transfer not just of drawings and graphical models, but also of all important non-graphical documentation and information. This can include cost information, Quality Assurance (QA) and Health and Safety (H&S) information, Request for Information (RFI) submittals, in short, anything that informs decisions and actions associated with the built asset.
Contractors are today in a chain within which there are chain reactions, increasingly played out and identified to the benefit of all stakeholders and greater efficiency in driving project outcomes. Without interaction with the CDE, incipient errors can be passed along this chain; hidden away to manifest themselves in operational problems or clashes at a point that nobody expects. The creation, flow and exchange of data through the CDE is helping to squeeze such eventualities out of existence.
Reducing risk and improving outcomes
The key reason for taking paper out of the business is that it helps ensure that everybody involved in a project has access to the information they need at every project stage, and for every task; that changes are transparent, that robust and reliable records are kept (audit trails), and misunderstandings are prevented or at least identified earlier on. In sum, risks are reduced. The common data environment is common sense. Like the lottery, you have to be in it because you can never win if you’re not.
Greater expectations placed on contractors
The information flow in construction, from design through to build, through to operation, cannot run to maximum efficiency if it depends on modes and formats of information presentation (drawings, documents, spreadsheets) that can now be regarded, at best, traditional, and at worst, out-of-time. Such practices, despite best intentions, create their own problems:
- Difficult to share easily
- Cannot be dynamically changed or used in real-time
- Do not adhere to industry frameworks such as Building Information Modelling (BIM) and Construction Operations Building Information Exchange (COBie).
Embracing data: The benefits to contractors
As new, data-assisted roles consolidate, contractors stand to benefit in many different, but connected, ways.
The benefits likely to accrue include:
- Project efficiency: in areas such as streamlined task management
- Complete understanding: clearer interpretation of architects’ and clients’ intents and vision
- Faster outputs: less wasted time on site, leading to greater productivity
- Greater accuracy: more mechanisms in place to monitor project progress and spot problems, leading to faster and more timely remedial actions.
Contractors going paperless can also benefit from more robust audit trails when mistakes are made.
The paperless construction site: how does it work? Read the full whitepaper here.