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Building Information Modelling or BIM is the latest buzzword in the construction industry, but only now are there viable technology solutions available to enable cross-industry collaboration on a truly meaningful and productive scale.

Despite being the largest industry in the world and the fastest growing, construction is inefficient. By 2030 it is believed that construction demand will outweigh global financial capabilities by an estimated 60 trillion US dollars. I think it’s worth spelling that out in numbers for the full effect: USD $60,000,000,000,000. That’s a lot of zeros!

In a local context, the construction industry contributes some 100 billion Australian dollars to the country’s GDP and employs around one million people. In such a large sector that is guilty of serial underperformance, even a small increase in productivity can amount to huge savings. A rise of only 1% in productivity would increase contribution to Australia’s GDP by 1.25 billion dollars1.

Despite a decrease in Australia’s private resource-based infrastructure in coming years, population growth will provide the next boost to the local construction industry. With the fastest population growth in the OECD, the country is set to grow from 23.7 million in 2015 to 39.7 million in 2055. However, as the population ages, we will see a reduction in the available workforce ratio by almost two people over the next 40 years2.

Technology innovation in the construction industry is pivotal to achieving our construction demands for the future and building better and more efficiently with fewer resources. Rework and mistakes simply mean more billable hours and more manpower required on the job.

To become more productive, rapid change is required to adopt new technology that will enable better, faster, more efficient workflows throughout the construction lifecycle. Without the ability to adapt quickly and embrace new technologies, companies will miss opportunities and risk oblivion.

Kodak is a good example, a company that innovated the first digital camera in 1975 and shelved it citing risk to its paper and chemical business. Kodak grew to 140,000 employees and an annual turnover of 28 billion dollars by 19963. In 2012 the firm filed for bankruptcy because they had built an expensive empire but had stopped innovating. Instagram, in contrast, innovated the world’s fastest growing social media network in 2010 and was purchased by social media megastar Facebook in 2012 for one billion dollars with only 13 employees.

Smaller, faster, cheaper

Technology innovation is increasing dramatically, with bigger televisions and faster computers released each year and the introduction of game-changing releases such as 3D printing. In the geospatial industry, we are witnessing the rise of mass data acquisition tools and the software to handle it, all made possible by faster, smaller and more affordable components.

As quickly as technology is being innovated, so too is it being adopted in vast numbers. To reach 50 million users it took the world of television 13 years, it took the internet four years and it took the game app Angry Birds a mere 35 days4.  

The Internet and more recently mobile and Cloud computing have had an enormous impact on our everyday lives. Most will remember the days of keeping a printed map in the car, but now we have a world of information that we carry with us at all times, enabling us to find answers and communicate with each other in seconds. Aside from the distractions of selfies and LOLCATs (added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2013 and 2014 respectively), these innovations enable us to be more productive both in our personal lives and at work. 

The construction industry is no stranger to new technology, with the advent of innovations such as GNSS, machine control and more recently mass data capture solutions including 3D laser scanning, Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS) and vehicle-mounted mapping. Software and the ability to connect remotely to assets out on site has provided the key to enabling real time project management using real time measurements.

“However technology alone is not enough to meet construction demand: cross-collaboration across multiple professions including architects, surveyors, engineers, project managers and contractors is essential.”

Building means any built environment

These days, a typical construction project includes a tender team that costs the project based on a set of conditions. From there the project is sent to the engineering and design team to make changes, then on to the project management team to build it with their own ‘flavour.’ Often the surveyor is caught up in between these stages and is tasked with finding and addressing clashes and mismatches.

And this is where the buzzword, ‘BIM’ comes in. BIM represents a change in workflow from a linear style as outlined above, to a multi-dimensional approach driven by real-time models. It is a process of representing the building or infrastructure over its whole life cycle from concept and design through to maintenance. The term ‘building’ should not be taken too literally, instead thought of in terms of any built environment, be it rail, bridge, road, or building.

BIM workflow uses a single model so that any clashes and model changes are realised by everyone on the project simultaneously. Increased visibility and collaboration leads to changes made earlier in the construction cycle, reduced manpower and less waste, all amounting to cost savings.

Australia has been slower to adopt this level of 3D collaboration compared with the rest of the developed world, however a National Building Information Modelling Initiative has made recommendations to state and federal bodies to move to an open BIM standard for all government construction projects.

Technology integration

Although the BIM approach isn’t new, it is only now that we have the technology and Cloud computing required to enable collaboration and data management on a truly meaningful and productive scale.

Through direct collaboration between technology suppliers and software innovators, ‘Cloud surfing’ (not yet in the Oxford Dictionary), or the ability to connect Cloud services using a single login, is enabling data to be shared seamlessly for cross-team collaboration.

Global positioning technology company Topcon Positioning Group recently announced a partnership with Autodesk, the leading powerhouse of design and 3D visualisation software, to enable data sharing for BIM workflows. The result is the ability to connect a number of Topcon’s site-based technology and project management solutions with Autodesk’s 3D modelling, analysis and visualisation tools. By connecting the platforms, so too can the various project teams of designers, engineers, surveyors, project management and contractors connect and collaborate in real time.

Feeding up-to-date information from the construction site through to the live BIM model is where true productivity enhancements can be gained for this industry. It is only by matching what is designed with what is being constructed, as it is being constructed and not after the fact, that true collaboration is achieved. 

By Cameron Waters 
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References:

1. PricewaterhouseCoopers. (October 2013). Reconstructing Productivity: Productivity in the Construction Industry, Productivity Scorecard. 

2. Based on Commonwealth of Australia data. (2015). Intergenerational Report: Australia in 2055.

3. Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kodak

4. Aeppel. (2015). It Took the Telephone 75 Years To Do What Angry Birds Did in 35 Days. But What Does That Mean? Wall Street Journal. 

 

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