Chartered Institute of Building Magazine of the Chartered Institute of Building

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Digital Construction Summit 2020: Nine things we learned

2 November 2020 | By Neil Gerrard

This year’s Digital Construction Summit took place virtually last month. As the presenters and panellists demonstrated, the industry’s digital adoption is only accelerating as a result of the pandemic. By Neil Gerrard

1. Covid ‘aftershocks’ will drive digital construction adoption

The ‘aftershocks’ of Covid-19 will be with construction for years to come, making digitally enabled ways of working the norm. That was Construction Innovation Hub impact director David Philp’s prediction while speaking in the Buildots-sponsored webinar that opened the Digital Construction Summit 2020.

Philp stressed: “We’ve seen a seismic shift towards digital, how we collaborate, share information and use this thing called the common data environment. If these are fully embraced, it is going to help us be more sustainable, more productive and more effective across the whole [building] life cycle.”

2. Progress is accelerating towards interoperability 

Fiona Moore, information management consultant at the Centre for Digital Built Britain (CDBB), explained the vital work being done on interoperability, to enable the easy exchange of data between proprietary technologies – essential for BIM to thrive and to deliver benefits.

“There are lots of clever proprietary solutions out there that help supply chains to collaborate and exchange information and all of those are valid, but quite often this falls over when information is passed across the contract line and the procurer has no way of housing that information and making proper use of it,” she explained.

Moore said the BIM Interoperability Expert Group has identified a series of workstreams to enable BIM interoperability. The four primary workstreams are: classification, COBie and industry foundation class (IFC), education and skills, and standards.

3. BIM is an essential foundation for the National Digital Twin

CDBB digital director Mark Enzer provided an update on the National Digital Twin Programme and highlighted the important role that BIM has played in establishing it.

“The foundation that has been laid in the work that we have already done in BIM is an essential foundation for the National Digital Twin. We couldn’t even imagine it without that foundation being laid. It shows us just how important information is and how we need to manage that information through the asset life cycle,” he noted.

4. 360-degree hard hat cameras help TfL fire safety work

A complex fire protection project for Transport for London at London’s Victoria coach station was aided by innovative digital technology from Oculo, Ringway Jacobs contract director Chris Goodacre explained.

Oculo’s tracking tool involves workers clipping a 360-degree camera to their hard hats while they take a designated daily route through the site, to build up a full digital record of site progress. 

“While covid has been a driver to change, we were already moving to virtual ways of working and different technology prior to lockdown,” he said.

5. Cache is king for remote construction sites

Internet connectivity on site is not always a prerequisite for effective collaboration, said Carole Filion, Egnyte’s product marketing manager, during the session on common data environments.

“Yes, some connectivity is required, but it doesn’t have to be high speed or always available for that matter,” she explained. “By syncing files to laptops or mobile devices for offline access, productivity can continue uninterrupted in the field. Files sync back to the cloud once within wifi or cellular range.

“Another option is to cache frequently accessed content to a storage device in the cabin. In this setup, users get very fast access to their content without tying up bandwidth,” she added.

6. Simple is beautiful with Willmott Dixon’s supply chain strategy 

Willmott Dixon digital manager Andrew Gamblen explained how use of visualisation and smartphone apps had been key in engaging the supply chain.

Speaking in the PlanRadar-sponsored webinar on communicating digital solutions to site teams, he said: “Visualisation is a great way to engage with them, whether with high quality renders, VR and AR. And keep the user experience simple: it must be intuitive with minimal training necessary.”

7. An HSE digital pilot aims to design out safety risks

A team involving the Health & Safety Executive (HSE), Atkins, software house 3D Repo and the University of Manchester is calling on the industry to trial its Discovering Safety designer risk suggestion tool. HSE inspector Gordon Crick highlighted the need to design out risk with a ‘digital rehearsal’: “Identify the risk and make the change in a predicted state so that you’re doing it before the costs and challenges of correcting it on site arise. We can enforce cooperation and coordination, but collaboration comes from the heart.”

Atkins digital engineering manager Zane Ulhaq, who has been seconded to the Discovering Safety team, explained that the audit trail generated encourages designers to deal with risks as they arise. “A designer could be challenged when it becomes apparent they didn’t document risks until the end,” he said.

8. Awareness still lacking of Building Safety Bill’s digital implications

As part of the debate on the Building Safety Bill, in partnership with i3PT Certification, panellists agreed that cultural change was required to get to grips with the digital and data requirements of the looming legislation. 

Paul Nash, chair of the CIOB Quality Commission, said: “It still surprises me how few people are aware of what’s coming down the tracks and the need for change. Awareness and education is key. We need to be actively promoting the good work that’s being done by organisations like Clarion who are adopting the ‘golden thread’ principles. Don’t wait for legislation to make changes that are required now.”

9. Project teams ignore data sharing tools too often

Project information sharing is still too chaotic, observed Chapman Taylor Architects’ Stephen Higgon in the Atvero-sponsored session on the potential of data to transform the industry.

The senior information manager said that 92% of project design teams are using email to collaborate rather than the system they are meant to use, according to internal research. Some 80% struggle with version control. “Nearly two hours of every day are lost to time spent searching for and gathering information; and this work overload decreases productivity by 68%,” he said.

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