Digitalisation of Building Construction - Q&A with Bernd Moeller
At Leica Geosystems we drive ourselves and the industry to never settle and always move forward digitising processes of as-build, layout and verification into one solution.
Bernd Moeller, Business Director for Field Software Solutions at Leica Geosystems, explains how we have digitalised building construction by connecting all elements in the construction chain and harmonising workflows.
How is the building construction industry moving towards digitalisation?
Digitalisation means the use of digital information and sharing it with the relevant persons at the right time. So next to capturing, creating and managing the digital information, it is very important to connect the different involved parties in order to transport the information.
The transport itself today is a matter of how digitally connected all parties are and how digital collaboration is implemented. Including the aspect of time, digitalisation also means working with up-to-date data between all stakeholders.
The trend towards digitalisation in the building construction industry is enormous. This can’t be neglected and will accelerate even more. Initiatives increase in various countries, often driven by governments, in order to boost productivity and avoid sunk costs.
Keywords such as Industry 4.0, Building Information Modelling (BIM), Internet of Things, and Cloud Computing accelerate digitalisation also in construction.
Digitalisation in the building construction industry has many facets. Not only are many different personas involved with varying objectives and expectations, but the drivers to implement digitalisation are also manifold.
For instance, data management departments in building construction companies consider efficiency increase and cost savings in double-digit growth rates. This happens simply by better coordination of data from all involved stakeholders in the construction process at an early point in the design phase to identify critical issues and be able to mitigate the risks – catchword BIM process.
Against that, foremen and site managers often still work from 2D paper plans and are confronted with bringing this 2D design into a 3D reality on site. Tools being used vary from tapes and plumb bobs to full robotic total stations and laser scanners.
Mechanical, electrical and plumbing (MEP) firms in the USA sit in the middle of architectural design teams and trades-people. They ensure detailed drawings, such as ventilation systems and ductwork, are not clashing with structural design and still are constructible on site.
And even though all elements of the construction chain - from design to validation, construction and as-builting - could collaborate digitally connected, interestingly often this isn’t yet considered as a pain point. There is huge potential for improvements.
How is Leica Geosystems adapting and being part of this change?
Leica Geosystems listens closely to the problems of our customers and finds solutions that fit the various user groups. By understanding the work flow and data flow in building construction, Leica Geosystems helps connecting all elements of the construction chain. These include those which are already perceived as pain points and the ones that are not yet discovered, but contain tremendous amount of gain for our customers. Leica Geosystems helps visualising the barriers of full digitalisation and how to tear down these hurdles.
What are the challenges that building construction companies will face as digitalisation keeps moving to construction sites?
Once building construction companies have decided to move ahead with digitalisation, questions come up such as:
- What data is relevant
- How do we collaborate with this data?
- How do we ensure we all have the same understanding?
Tools and processes need to be in place, hence we see a massive change in building construction induced by virtual design and construction (VDC) and BIM designed processes. This change offers excellent possibilities for increased efficiency to those construction companies that manage to adapt their processes to the new standards in time.
First, we recognised widespread coordination issues between design teams in the office and construction teams on site. Still working from different data sets, in most cases they couldn’t decide on common standards.
Secondly, the intelligence in the model object information could not be used in the field. That slowed down construction teams as design data often does not contain critical constructible information.
Finally, until now, data enriched design models were a complete overkill for layout crews. These models were far too complex to construct from. We discovered a big demand for tools, which facilitate working with 3D design models out on construction sites.
Which Leica Geosystems iCON solutions are taking the lead in digitalising building construction and how are they doing it? What are the benefits and values of adopting these solutions?
Since its market introduction five years ago, the iCON build solution has rapidly established as a perfectly tailored tool to leverage digitalisation across the various user groups in building construction.
Starting from patented sketching routines, where foremen can intuitively sketch 2D paper plans in a site tablet and then digitally stake out footings and formwork or create offsets for excavation pits possible.
Combined with the Leica iCON robotic total stations, which make construction layout a one-person operation, the digital plan is transported to reality and physically marked on site. Supporting dominant file formats such as ASCII, XML and DXF, not only reduces errors of manual data entry, it also enables sharing data through digital collaboration. Design world and constructions teams move closer together. Leica Geosystems bridges the gap here and enables site crews to execute construction straight from digital 2D or 3D design.
Customers have experienced performance increases of around 50% compared to conventional construction layout methods and usually only need a few projects to see a return on investment.
Up to date plans can be coordinated much easier, and, through Cloud Services such as Leica ConX, even be exchanged in real time, minimising downtime in site a lot. In return, critical as-built data can be sent back immediately for verification to the design teams, that might be located hundreds of kilometres away from the construction site. Remote support functions enable site managers to help or advise layout crews online on the best solution of a request from site.
What is iCON build software v3.5? What special features does it have?
Leica iCON build is a straightforward and intuitive field software for construction professionals with a very low learning curve. No professional surveying skills are required to get started as it’s not changing the world the site crews know; it’s simply supporting their workflow but with clever functions and routines that boost productivity. It is perfect for construction layout of any kind.
Through digitalisation, also more complex design data are now available to construction teams on site. Before mentioned pain points of too complex design models question the practicability of these data for direct use on site. Still though, users want to keep the intelligence of the model also in the field.
Now iCON build v3.5, available in April 2017, is the next version with a clear focus on curing some pain points of MEP layout engineers and foremen with the new Leica iCON Layout Objects app. This app now supports the IFC file format, which is the standard exchange format between the building construction design software packages. It is able to carry full 3D or BIM models and contains intelligent object model information.
Where design models had to be adapted, converted or points for layout manually had to be added, now a complete data enriched design model can be straight consumed from the iCON build software right in the field. Because of its structure into Object Classes such as Columns, Slabs, or Beams, each IFC file can be simplified by ignoring classes that are not relevant for the construction layout process, such as Furniture. Reducing the digital information to just what is required to carry out the actual construction step is key to keep efficiency high.
For IFC data, a Tree View is very typical to quickly structure the visual representation of the design model. No matter if complete floor levels, of just individual objects need to be visualised, iCON build’s IFC Tree View makes it very easy to select and then display in its 3D Viewer.
Coupled with its unique Zlider bar (Z for vertical), 3D models can be easily tailored to the current work step in no time. Finally, the goal is to bring the planned design to the field reality so teams can construct from the design as planned. Once the 3D design is broken down in useful work packages, the construction layout process can begin immediately. Laying out straight from design objects is unique to iCON build; simply pick the relevant objects from the 3D Viewer and right navigate to its corners or edges.
Object-driven construction layout straight from the original design model is the ultimate digitalisation that can be achieved today as it is building a complete digital chain from design to construction.
As Leica Geosystems takes the lead offering solutions that digitalise sites, will human machine interfaces (HMI) and software become too complex for site operators?
No, clearly not. Leica Geosystems is investing a lot to fully understand the customer’s problems and spends much time with customers on site. Typical applications and standard workflows are observed, and data flow is analysed. This then is critically challenged with the customer to explore the possibilities for improvements.
From there, of utmost importance for our development teams is to ensure that construction professionals not only can use the solutions easily, but also like to work with it. Users will not be bothered with complicated routines or frightening technology. All this is implemented in the background, so the user experience is positive and straightforward even if high-tech is serving to solve their issues.
What innovations and releases can customers expect in the future?
The announcement of the BLK 360 has signalised a new era of simplification. One-button experiences are no longer a vision - it’s reality.
The demand for digitalisation across all user levels will further foster technological advanced hardware and software solutions as well as smart services. Removing hurdles in the data flow and connecting key stakeholders with integrated solutions will be decisive.
Bernd Moeller, Business Director Field Software Solutions at Leica Geosystems