Building Differently

A number of factors, such as cost and time overruns, wastage, workforce shortage, and project delays have led to the emergence of industrialized construction in the AEC industry.

By Kasirajan Mahalingam & Avneep Dhingra

The COVID-19 outbreak severely affected the Architecture, Engineering and Construction (AEC) industry. Even before the pandemic, the trillion dollar industry was struggling with a compound annual productivity growth of merely 1%. Slow technology adoption across project lifecycle coupled with the late arrival of digitalization are cited as the primary reasons for such low growth. With Covid came problems like closing of construction sites, shortage of materials due to supply chain disruption, and scarcity of labor, which led to project delays, cost and time overruns, and wastage.

The changing trend

In the aftermath of the pandemic, contractors across the globe have begun using DFMA in offsite prefabrication of all sorts of construction components ranging from concrete slabs to structural columns and beams. The under construction Marriott Hotel in New York, said to be the tallest modular hotel in the world, is a testimony to the potential of DMFA. With disruption in the global supply chain, contractors are being forced to explore alternatives for material sourcing, and ensure health and safety for site operators. “There is a change in behavior in terms of construction procurement and the sheer pace at which projects are completed with new kinds of materials like CLT (cross laminated timber),” says Nick Milestone, Director, Sigmat.

Today, countries around the world are investing in modern methods of construction. For instance, the U.K. construction market currently has $145 billion worth of offsite construction projects. This includes investments worth $38 million in offsite housing construction and $13 million dedicated to R&D.

Similarly, in Australia, an investment of $100 billion has been planned towards prefabrication technology. The Australian government is expecting that 15% of all construction and infrastructure projects in the country will use prefabrication by 2025. In southeast Asia, Singapore had set a target of using MMCs in 40% of projects by 2020, with investments worth $30 billion in DFMA. As of today, nearly 60 projects using MMCs are underway in the country.

The benefits

It’s no secret that the AEC industry is facing a skilled workforce shortage owing to the ever increasing demand for construction, primarily due to rapid population growth. With the need to construct 13,000 buildings each day between now and 2050 (Statista-Autodesk study), the gap between the demand and supply of skilled workers will only widen in the future. According to the McKinsey Global Institute, there will be up to 200 million construction jobs worldwide by 2030. Estimates suggest that 41% of the current workforce will retire by 2031, leading to the crisis getting deeper.

Courtesy: McKinsey & Company

Industrialized construction using DFMA can be the solution to this problem as it offers multiple benefits, including:

  • Health & safety: Offsite construction has been found to be 80% safer for the labor.

  •  Cost: Onsite labor is about 2.2 times more expensive than factory labor.

  • Sustainability: Just 2-3% waste has been recorded in offsite assembly, most of which can be recycled.

“The world is suffering from housing shortages and productivity is a huge issue in the construction sector — because it has been slow to take onboard new technologies. Also, we have shortage of workers and investment. Offsite construction offers some solutions as it increases productivity, yields benefits in costs, leads to waste reduction (over 50%) and also reduces time,” says Paul Williamson, an Offsite Buildings Consultant.

DFMA offers benefits right from the inception of a project through its completion. For instance, in the planning and design (P&D) phase, DFMA processes ensure ease of prefabrication. During the construction phase, these processes rely on design for ease of assembly through a plug and play approach for MEP (mechanical, electrical and plumbing) components, volumetric modules for easy installations, etc. DFMA processes address factors that add to cost and time overruns, such as lack of materials or equipment, project sequencing, and reworking.

GEOBIM in industrialized construction

Industrialized construction with DFMA at its core requires geometric and non-geometric data for successful undertaking of construction activities through the project lifecycle. For instance, key DFMA processes in construction include project brief, concept design, detailed design, pre-construction, construction, and post-completion. These processes require synergy between 2D and 3D data to represent the topological features, existing infrastructure, accessibility, etc. of the construction site in the initial stages. GEOBIM technology solutions facilitate seamless transfer of construction activity between the 2D and 3D data ecosystem, thereby preventing design errors, improving design quality, ensuring better planning and design of assembly, estimating cost, and supporting manufacturing assessment, which is crucial for smooth functioning of manufacturing and assembly line based on validation of onsite conditions.

Industrialized construction with DFMA at its core requires geometric and non-geometric data for successful undertaking of construction activities through the project lifecycle

GEOBIM integration in DFMA: Manufacture

The P&D phase of DFMA involves project brief development based on build massing studies (site orientation, area, volume, etc.), and rules of DFMA adoption (modular floor height, grid dimension, etc.). This is followed by design conceptualization and detailed design development. GEOBIM technologies provide the following solutions in this stage:

  • Site studies of the project site are processed through importing BIM models into the GIS environment, which enables the designers to evaluate site suitability for optimal design through:
    – 3D reality capture/ laser scanning
    – Very high-resolution satellite imagery
    – Spatial analytics (hydrological modeling)

  • Structural design evaluation includes importing spatial location data to a (Cloud-based) BIM platform, which is distributed to different tools of structural analysis. This allows designers and engineers to reiterate the design model based on project challenges, and conduct post-construction analysis.

Digital configurators will ensure a seamless flow of data and speed-up the entire process

GEOBIM integration in DFMA: Assembly

Advanced geospatial technologies (Earth Observation and 3D laser scanning) have supported the application of GEOBIM solutions in building assembly and sequencing. This can be seen in various applications, such as supply chain management and schedule management. GEOBIM solutions play a key role through the construction lifecycle as early as the procurement phase. In this stage geospatial analytics help in mapping delivery routes, and tracking supply chain status of raw materials.

GEOBIM solutions are crucial in tracking construction activities and resources based on planned programs and planned assembly sequence which are some of the key components of DFMA construction.

Platform approach for design and construction

Towards the end of 2020, the U.K. government released The Construction Playbook, which was indicative of the significant shift in the government’s approach towards contracting public works projects, with a clear focus on platforms. The playbook showcases the many ways in which the government and industry can collaborate to deliver public infrastructure projects through modern methods of construction. Government-funded programs like the Construction Innovation Hub (CIH) have stated that the playbook has created a path for platform-based future for the construction industry.

The construction playbook lays emphasis on the role of a platform-based approach to develop standards for products and components in the construction value-chain. The government and CIH have identified £35 billion ($39.28 billion) worth of projects that are suitable for delivery using the platform-based approach. “The U.K. government has proposed a platform for DFMA. They will use digitally designed components across multiple types of assets and apply those components wherever possible, minimizing the need to bespoke components,” says Jaimie Johnston, Director, Global Systems, Bryden Wood.

Trudi Sully, Impact Director for Manufacturing in the Construction Innovation Hub, told a news website earlier this year that with a clear policy direction set out in the playbook and a strong evidence base provided by the Hub, the time has never been better for a fundamental shift towards platform solutions.

Bryden Wood has been one of the leading organizations advocating the transformation of the construction industry by using a platform-based approach. It has showcased the technologies and initiatives which can help standardize and create repeatable components that are key to the success of DFMA. The firm strongly believes that convergence of components and processes unlocks the true power of digital, data, and manufacturing. “Over the next 30-40 years, the demand for buildings and infrastructure is going to rise. We don’t have any choice now except to adopt something that is more productive, and DFMA is the best solution we have got,” adds Johnston.

Data configuration for platform approach

The large-scale adoption of GPS also means it is the common target for those who want to cause intentional disruptions. A small, 10-watt jammer can disrupt unprotected GNSS/GPS receivers. The high vulnerability is not only because of the lower power at the GPS receiver end (approximately -160dbW), but also because the Standard Positioning Service (SPS) code document for civilian GPS signals, which lays down the standards and specifications, is available in the public domain. Hence intentional disruptions can be carried out easily.

Courtesy: McKinsey & Company

GEOBIM technology facilitates seamless transfer of construction activity between the 2D and 3D data ecosystem, thereby preventing design errors, and improving design quality

However, to optimally utilize data, it has to be properly visualized. While certain visualization techniques allow a whole-project analysis, others allow the optimization of individual components or assembly processes. Data visualization can be used for:

  • Color filtering of models to create heat maps depicting the intensity of trade overlap, cost of installation, etc.

  • Multiple stakeholder views that can be combined, addressed and prioritized

  • Developing interdependency between a range of factors that impact productivity

  • Providing a single point of entry to a wide range of digital content

Industrialized construction increases labor productivity, reduces time and cost, and minimizes wastage in building projects

The future

Industrialized construction promotes the advancement of construction processes by focusing on systems and processes. This method of construction increases labor productivity, reduces time and cost, and minimizes wastage. For the AEC industry, industrialized construction is a long-term solution for current and future problems. “We need to shift from the thinking about individual construction projects to thinking about systems, processes, and products, and invest in our building system design (and then create these individual one-off buildings using this system). This change can impact all areas of construction value chain. We can have systems and processes in place to efficiently and safely manufacture all the components required. And the system will be independently tested and approved for being used,” concludes Williamson.