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The digital (r)evolution is at the top of the agenda for construction companies. Our webinar with the Construction Confederation highlights the importance of digitalisation in construction.
“Construction is an important industry, but also an innovative one,” says Niko Demeester, the next CEO of the Construction Confederation. He will be taking the reins from current CEO Robert de Mûelenaere at the end of this year. Construction jobs and techniques are evolving so quickly that constant innovation is a necessity. “We have long since passed the stage of simply raising awareness in our industry,” Demeester adds. “This is certainly not the first time we have contributed to a webinar on digitalisation.”
First the back office
The impact and potential benefits of digitalisation cannot be underestimated. Every digital transformation obviously starts in the back office. That is where the entire planning process happens, before actual construction starts. “The times when we drew all those plans on paper are now definitely behind us. We now only use digital construction plans.”
“The most important tool in that crucial initial phase of any construction project is without a doubt BIM: Building Information Modelling,” Demeester explains. “BIM allows you to take a virtual tour of a building or structure even before the actual on-site work has started. This enables you to detect any errors and problems in good time. It prevents unnecessary costs and construction errors, and a lot of unpleasant discussions afterwards as well.”
Besides interactive 3D technology, BIM also includes a lot of built-in intelligence that enables you to run all sorts of visual simulations to literally see the consequences. “For example, if you move a staircase in your construction plan, the application will let you know that a water pipe is in the way. Another example: the application will notify you if you have not fully planned all the rooms and the associated construction elements and techniques.”
Finally, BIM also allows you to optimise your material management. “You can calculate in advance exactly how much material you will need and how much it will cost. The same applies to the time frame and sequence of the various installations in the successive construction phases. This means you can plan your building materials and costs and the entire construction process far more accurately. Ultimately, that benefits everyone involved,” Demeester says.
Then the construction site
The data and applications from the back office are increasingly used on site, too. This means the site manager can always consult the construction plans on site in near real time. They can then adjust the planned work where necessary, and immediately anticipate the impact of any interventions on the expected costs, time frame and other spaces in the building, for example.
In addition to the site manager, workers are using more and more digital applications. They are currently using user-friendly digital equipment: from smartphones and tablets to drones and cameras. “When workers need to perform a visual inspection, for example, they use a drone to inspect the site from above.”
This digital equipment allows the optimisation of on-site monitoring, safety, prevention and material management. For instance, materials and machines equipped with RFID technology report their exact location at all times to prevent loss and theft. The equipment can also send an automatic and proactive message to the back office when maintenance or repair is required. “This completes the digital circle,” Demeester says. “The flow of information used to go from the back office to the site. Now it also goes in the opposite direction, back to the back office, where it drives logistics operations, human resources, inventory management and so much more.”