Connectivity in the Construction Industry: from Planning to Building Operation

The megatrend of connectivity will continue to transform the construction industry in the coming years. Practical networking of robots and AI in construction, VR applications and digital technologies simplifies processes and saves costs.

Connectivity is one of the most important future trends in the construction industry, and for good reason. The sector is in a state of upheaval: analog processes are becoming digital, artificial intelligence (AI) is making its way into planning, and robots are conquering the construction industry. Building Information Modeling (BIM) is designed to facilitate collaboration on construction projects. However, AI and BIM on the construction site alone are no guarantee for a successful digital transformation. It is more important to link the tools, technologies and data used every day in an intelligent manner. digitalBAU 2024 will focus on the opportunities and solutions associated with this change in perspective, as well as the challenges.

There is a lack of connectivity in the construction industry

Digitization is a megatrend that we encounter everywhere in our day-to-day lives. Nevertheless, the construction industry is still strongly characterized by analog processes. In the construction industry, there is a lack of connectivity, in other words, meaningful links between digital and formerly analog processes. The life cycle of a building – including (digital) planning, construction phase, maintenance, modernization and demolition – consists of a large number of individual processes. Connecting these in a meaningful way and creating connectivity in the construction sector is one of the most important factors for successful digitization.

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BIM on the construction site – more than just planning

Building Information Modeling (BIM) is the foundation of all modern building designs and beyond. In simplified terms, BIM in construction is a 3D building that consists of many individual elements and is enriched with numerous additional pieces of information. BIM thus not only simplifies processes on the construction site and saves costs. Throughout the life cycle, it enables important information to be shared.

BIM also enables the handover of a detailed “as built” model for subsequent building operation: the “digital twin” – as this virtual image of a built reality is also called – creates a high benefit for building operation. This is because only 20% of the total costs are incurred in the construction phase, while all other costs are incurred during the subsequent operational phase. Consequently, detailed, high-quality building documentation and a model of the building optimized for facility management after project handover save cash from the first day of operation.

Connectivity beyond the construction site: transparent building life cycles

Connectivity in the construction industry benefits not only contractors, but also the general public. Whether civil or building engineering, bridge, tunnel or road: the life cycle of a structure or infrastructure typically passes through the phases of planning, construction, operation, (conversion or) demolition. This is also followed by recycling the materials as homogeneously as possible and reusing materials and resources.

Urban mining, in other words, “prospecting” for used raw materials and materials for reuse in our cities and communities, is only the first step in this process. A holistic cycle can be planned, implemented, monitored, maintained, repaired and optimized over time with digital tools. The prerequisite, however, is that the data generated in each of the aforementioned life cycle phases can be used by the general public and is not available only to individual corporations so that they can maximize their profits.

© Messe München GmbH

Promote digital data exchange

Open, cross-system data exchange is an important basis for connectivity in construction: only in this way can everyone access data content and use BIM on the construction site for their own purposes.

International organizations such as the independent buildingSmart organization have been carrying out pioneering work in this area in the construction industry for many years. Using the open IFC file format and the BCF communication format, they provide the construction industry with a translation tool for planning data that is understandable and comprehensible to all. Furthermore, the range of planning software today is such that common use of IFC and the associated OPEN BIM process will significantly determine planning in the future.

The advantages are obvious:

  • Every architect or specialist planner can continue to use the familiar, tried-and-tested software that is best suited to their needs.
  • Data is exchanged between the various project participants via an IFC interface integrated in the planning program.
  • The BCF format, which is also vendor-independent, is used to set annotations in the specialist or coordination model and to discuss the problem areas that need to be resolved together.

Artificial intelligence (AI) in construction

The use of AI in construction is becoming increasingly important. Research and trials at renowned universities around the world, but also widespread use on test construction sites, only hint at the potential that artificial intelligence holds for the construction industry.

For example, at Technical University of Munich, Professor Borrmann and his team are training AI to generate comprehensive 3D models from 2D planning data. With the help of point cloud data from laser scans of the actual structures and the models generated from the plans, it is possible to compare the partially incomplete or faulty plans with the actual situation and implement them in a digital twin. (Link to the project)

© Messe München GmbH

Robotics on the construction site

The use of disruptive technologies such as robots on the construction site is still proving difficult. In most cases, the limiting factor here has been data networks that are too slow, where information is almost always transmitted “on air” – i.e., via the mobile network and through the air. With developments in 5G technology, which has already accelerated processes immensely, robotics will continue to advance in the construction sector. The technology offers many advantages, especially for repetitive, monotonous and physically demanding work processes.

Some examples of robotics in practice:

Modern robots are already capable of erecting and plastering masonry walling or laying long brick walls in high quality. Automated 3D concrete printers are able to create buildings, using model-based planning, and finishing robots erect plasterboard walls and drill holes accurately for cables in buildings.

Virtual reality in the construction industry

Experiencing buildings with all your senses before breaking ground: virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) can create connectivity between virtual planning and the real world in construction. Numerous AR and VR applications on smartphones, tablets or with the help of VR or AR glasses already enable realistic, virtual experiences. This still relatively new technology is already making increasing inroads in the private sector, for example in video games.

But virtual reality is just as important for the construction industry. Already today, for example, an actual construction site and a virtual architectural model of the structure to be built there can be linked on the display of a smartphone or tablet (augmented reality). Space and size relationships, the position of the building on the site or in relation to neighboring buildings can thus be simulated – long before construction begins. The same applies to the use of virtual reality, which allows clients or investors to virtually walk through the building and, with today's excellent rendering quality, check the design, experience fixtures, surfaces, light and shade, and spatial qualities.

Virtual collaboration in construction: the metaverse

AR and VR can be used not only for project marketing or design discussions in a virtual context. Their strength can equally lie in integral collaboration in a digital environment – especially in the so-called metaverse. Here, planners from all over the world can come together virtually in one room to work together on a construction task. Virtual reality and VR goggles allow their avatars to meet on-site at or in the model and work together on a design problem or detail. In the automotive sector, this type of virtual collaboration has long been common practice for the development of body or built-in parts.

The construction industry can also skillfully use the metaverse to its advantage, cooperating together in real time on different continents and in different time zones. A room that can be experienced virtually and in three dimensions replaces work on a flat screen and in 2D. The metaverse is particularly exciting for the construction industry because it makes buildings and infrastructures tangible and three-dimensional. Integral planning can thus be realized in one place despite the participants being thousands of kilometers apart. In the near future, this should enable all those involved to plan structures better, build them with fewer errors and operate them more efficiently.

Experience connectivity in the construction industry hands on

Robotics, AI, metaverse and BIM: the construction industry is undergoing rapid change. To get the most out of the wide range of tools and technologies available, companies need to link them together in a meaningful way. At digitalBAU 2024, we have made connectivity in the construction industry one of our key topics. Learn from experts and highly specialized exhibitors what connectivity means in practice and find individual solutions for your challenges. Reserve your ticket today!