The digitalisation of construction companies' processes and tools and the introduction of sensors and connectivity on project sites are driving deep changes in the construction and engineering industries.
This will improve efficiencies across the supply chain, including the design, development and operation of built assets, construction and engineering software solutions firm RIB CCS CEO Andrew Skudder tells Engineering News.
At the heart of advances, and the driving force of digitalisation, is leveraging the amount of data that is generated and adding capabilities and services to improve infrastructure and construction projects.
"Our clients have best practices embedded within their processes, whether it is from experience or industry standards. But they are not as efficient as they can be, and are often still paper-based. Some data is also lost or it is difficult to share data with all stakeholders."
Further, the manufacturing and mining industries also provide valuable insights into the benefits that the construction industry can seize by adopting technology to improve workflow and productivity, Skudder adds.
"Part of the transformation is the development of workflows and the standardisation of data and digital tools to make them effective and user-friendly. Essentially, it involves the industrialisation of construction projects and of the construction industry to allow for just-in-time, quality controlled and efficient project delivery and operation of the built asset."
However, overcoming the challenges posed by different variables on construction sites, compared to the controlled environment in a factory, requires different approaches, specifically the digitalisation of the construction site.
Construction sites are already being digitalised with various asset and equipment tracking, monitoring and management systems and sensor networks in use. The objective is to effectively capture as much data from site and provide as much useful information and tools to personnel on site as is possible.
This data is then used to improve internal processes and develop new uses to replace or augment existing processes. This is where the second component of construction digitalisation becomes important, which is cloud resources, Skudder says.
Cloud platforms provide computing resources at a lower cost than on-premise equipment, and the data can be made available anywhere it is needed.
Further, a platform enables companies to easily integrate all their data and allow any users across their operations to use all available data relevant to their functions. Applications (apps) and modular tool sets can also be deployed through such a platform.
Construction and engineering companies − similar to other sectors − are exploring the new capabilities presented by digital solutions and are developing new services and new business models based on the integral use of various digital systems.
"Those companies that successfully deploy various digital solutions to support and improve their operations will secure a competitive advantage in terms of quality, cost, time or new services, and the rest of the industry will have to follow suit," says Skudder.
Further, sharing data along the supply chain and integrating some systems with supplier and client systems will become a basic aspect of construction projects. This is the second stage of the digital transformation of the industry, and the data will be used by suppliers and partners to improve their processes and provide better services to their clients.
Better synchronisation within and integration of the supply chain will help companies to control costs and mitigate delays more effectively, as well as predict and plan daily workflows and resources using the information provided by suppliers and partners.
"This visibility of supply, planning and scheduling will become a key part of effective delivery for all parts of the construction industry and will add value to each part."
The increased complexity of integrated systems can be overcome by automating processes, which will free up human resources and add efficiencies. Automation will also enable data integration and sharing, as well as providing information gained from analytics to all relevant apps or processes.
"Technology allows each process in the construction value chain to be further streamlined and standardised. This will present opportunities for companies across the value chain to provide additional services and value to clients, and clients will demand the heightened visibility and predictability of projects and investments afforded by a digitalised construction industry," says Skudder.