Building construction projects are among the most difficult undertakings to plan, coordinate and execute. That difficulty – compounded by the continued flat line of productivity in the industry, increasing complexity of projects and growing risk of schedule and cost overruns – makes the need to invest in technology solutions clearer than ever.
One of the key challenges for building construction continues to be the lack of integrated real-time data of what is happening during construction. A Global Construction Survey executed by KPMG China shows that only 25% of building owners have access to real-time project data, and the majority continues to rely on manual processes.
As shown during the COVID-19 crisis, new and innovative approaches for the building industry can be quickly implemented leading to spectacular and real-saving results.
Hexagon companies Hexagon PPM, Leica Geosystems and Bricsys will be attending BIM World Paris on Oct. 7-8 to showcase the latest technologies available to optimize building design and construction. We’ve compiled a Q&A with Marcel Veldhuizen, VP Sales Emerging Markets & Managing Director at Hexagon PPM, about the upcoming conference and how an end-to-end construction management suite can help owners gain true visibility into their projects.
Tell us a bit about what you will be showcasing at BIM World Paris 2020.
As Hexagon, we can offer an ecosystem for the building industry by combining the solutions from all of our divisions. We will be participating together with our sister companies, Bricsys and Leica Geosystems, to talk about why integration and connectivity are key topics for real-time building construction management. We will be addressing first hand the challenges the industry is facing and where we can step in to solve problems.
Under the Hexagon umbrella, we have a unique position to provide the market with end-to-end construction management solutions that can cover all the steps from portfolio planning to design, project cost control, pre-construction, construction and facility management.
What do you see as the most significant upcoming game-changers for the building construction in 2020?
Before COVID-19 made headlines, climate campaigners and government commitments to achieve Net Zero emissions by 2050 have been shaping the changes of the building industry. Owners and facility management companies, architects, consultants, construction companies and industry associations all are laying out plans for achieving mid- to long-term sustainability while investigating and investing in immediate technologies to provide short-term relief. Ways to better simulate, engineer, refine and construct with novel materials as well as the ability to measure, monitor, track and visualize energy consumption are being researched, developed and invested heavily at the moment.
Since Q1 2020, the global pandemic has put the world on hold. This is also the case in the building construction industry, which is traditionally labor intensive from design through to construction. New social distancing rules and government guidelines, including lock-downs, have increased operational difficulty and costs for construction companies. How the entire supply chain can collaborate virtually and safely plan and execute construction work is critical to the survival of many in the industry. Project feedback and remote progress that enables payments must also be taken into account. Will these companies permanently change their ways of working when social distancing becomes the “new normal” even after the pandemic? How can the industry turn this pandemic into an opportunity to adopt new technologies and shift the paradigm?
However, new approaches have also been deployed during the COVID-19 crisis, as shown in China, where emergency hospitals were build in just 10 days.
What do you see as the key challenges affecting the industry currently?
The COVID-19 pandemic is absolutely the biggest challenge to the building construction industry at the moment. It directly impacts people’s access to work due to HSE and, in turn, causes disruptions along the supply chain, affecting normal business processes. The disrupted processes include work planning, certification, payments and cash flow, which is vital to the vast majority of construction companies that operate with small profit margins.
The first key challenge is limited access to work that impacts engineers, planners, crew and back-office employees. Majority of CAD and CAE tools are client-server based architecture or standalone installations. Not all employees have powerful machines at home, and not all home broadband meet network security and connection stability required for corporate VPN. It might not be such a big challenge for companies that have good IT support within the organization, but collaboration with the upstream clients or downstream partners becomes challenging.
Another key issue is the ability to share deliverables and how to manage reviews and changes with efficiency. This requires having a common data environment easily accessible but controlled with security by all parties. The time and resources to set these environments up in fully tested ways brings tremendous pressure to the IT department that is often already under stress. Full cloud or SaaS is now a more attractive offering as it shortens set up time and manages applications and security for clients while also providing tightly integrated connections and application support. Experienced SaaS providers can bring in so much more expertise and knowledge in advising customers on how to better handle working remotely.
The same challenges apply for projects under construction, such as production planning and work order issuing to progress and site issues tracking, as well as certification of completion. All of these need to be directed and communicated to the right recipients. Many of the remote control and monitoring technology that is used for mining and agriculture can also be applied to construction to reduce site labor density and meeting the social distance requirements. Drones with laser scanning capability and time-lapse cameras help to manage the entire site and report overall progress for the early phase of construction.
Considering that site workers have less access to either desktops or laptops, mobile apps on smart phones and tablets could be the solution. This can empower site workers to:
- Report progress
- View relevant 3D and 2D drawings and specific production steps
- Take photos or video to report construction issues in real-time
All this functionality will be available for the field workers when using a mobile app that has features such as concise layout, intuitive UI and large icons that can be used with gloves. Mobile working apps can also utilize device features such as GPS and cameras to capture and upload location and multimedia files.
Having real-time information about the project progress also allows users to manage the schedule (4D) pro-actively, and hence avoid costly mistakes and overruns, to begin with.
The third challenge is information sharing between the office and sites. A construction project is not just about CAD/CAE and construction management. There is a huge amount of back-office work that keeps the entire supply chain busy. This can range from document control and procurement to project finances (5D).
Every employee who initiates design change impacts design deliverables, BOM, material delivery and cost. Similarly, any site initiated variation order would have a chain of reactions as well. Integration across these systems owned by different departments and teams can dramatically enhance decision making. The more informed the decision-maker – PM or project finance controller – the quicker critical information can be compiled and passed on, reducing the likelihood of costly rework or loss when operating in a highly competitive market.
To summarize the above, access to work, adoption of new technologies and project backbone system integration are the three most significant technology challenges today for building construction industry. In addition, utilizing CAE tools in order to engineer sustainable and zero-emission buildings continues to also play a critical role.
Are there any new technologies that can address these challenges?
Hexagon sees excellent opportunities to apply technologies from agricultural, manufacturing and geospatial markets to further enhance PPM’s significant R&D effort in building construction industry.
Hexagon has been developing the HxGN SMART Build Ecosystem, leveraging state-of-the-art available solutions within the Hexagon divisions. HxGN SMART Build is a SaaS solution that allows for real-time insight that drives predictable outcomes to keep projects on schedule and budget by intelligently linking model (2D/3D), schedule (4D) and cost (5D) information in a simple-to-use, zero-footprint web and mobile application. Clients, consultants, contractors and surveyors can access critical project information anywhere anytime. This way, it also forms the basis for facilities management (6D) and further sustainability (7D, life cycle) applications.
The HxGN SMART Build Ecosystem Solution is further integrated with established Bricsys 24/7 document control system, EcoSys project control system, BricsCAD design system or any other IFC-based CAD solution.
Unmanned surveying, remote-controlled equipment, time-lapse camera and the virtual/reality capture and comparison capability from Hexagon’s Geospatial solutions will connect the construction site to the project and design offices. So deviation, issues, site conditions and progress can all be verified and validated remotely, enabling certification and progress payments to contractors to ensure a healthy construction ecosystem.
Advanced CFD (computational fluid dynamics) analysis and simulation solutions can provide complex simulation and analysis of pressure, temperature, light and airflow of building functions to establish energy saving metrics for sustainability goals. Such advanced calculations and simulations have also been used in a bioaerosol spread study within close space and in a pressure impact to vaccine filling rate within a pharma production facility. Simulation results can help refine the design to better tackle current pandemic challenges.
What are the benefits from digital building construction solutions?
An integrated project environment brings multiple benefits from simplified workflows and accelerated schedules to early projections and improved coordination. By intelligently linking model, schedule and cost information in a digital solution, users can have real-time insight into project performance to enable predictability and keep building construction projects on schedule and within budget.
Come visit the Hexagon team at booth F10 / G11 at BIM World Paris to learn more about the latest technologies facilitating optimized building construction management, or visit our website for more information.
Marcel is Hexagon’s PPM division vice president of sales. He resides in The Netherlands.