In the September 2020 issue of the National Geographic, an article on robotics starts with a description of an autonomous excavator, which is set up to dig a portion of an area and dump the material in preselected sites for human-operated bulldozers to smooth out the area. Welcome to the world of AEC.
Architecture, Engineering and Construction (AEC) are three independent industries tied together with a common goal of the aesthetic and environment-friendly design of buildings, their construction, and further operations and maintenance. Traditionally these have been considered to be independent activities with their processes and procedures. Interfacing between these activities happened, but there was a lack of common standards between them. The interactions were thus person-oriented, rather than being standards-based processes and procedures.
The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has published its report in 2004, declaring that the construction industry loses approximately $15.8 billion a year, or around 3-4% of the total industry revenue, due to inadequate interoperability and data management.
COVID-19 has made the importance of the AEC and BIM (Building Information Management) very acute. The severe restrictions imposed almost brought the industry to a standstill. In a situation where an activity cannot have hundreds of workers milling around, the importance of programmable automated machines and task-specific robots is mandatory. However, there is always the worry of job losses due to automation. The idea is to make robots do repetitive and dirty work while humans can concentrate on work that requires intelligence and, perhaps, art.
Environment-friendly buildings is also an important issue. The ‘greening’ of buildings that ensure low carbon footprint, safe and clean recycling, and/or disposal of waste are the needs of the hour. Add to this easy accessibility through public transport to reduce energy wastage of individual vehicles and optimize the impact on existing buildings, transportation, infrastructure, utilities, and the environment. Finally, the inclusion of facilities for the quick and efficient evacuation at times of disaster should also be addressed.
There are several technologies that play an essential role in providing support to these activities — CAD, BIM, GIS, Location, and AI. BIM provides the glue that ties disparate technologies together through common standards, procedures, and processes. GEO-BIM adds the element of geospatial, thus including the information on the spatial location of the building and enables the architects and engineers to analyze the impact of the construction on the existing environment.
It is heartening to note that the AEC industry has quickly realized that GEO-BIM is the way out of the downturn. In every cloud, there is a silver lining, and the enhanced adoption of GEO-BIM is a good sign that the AEC industry is on the road to a digital and interoperable future. The concept of construct and forget is being replaced by the paradigm of lifecycle management for AEC.
A word of caution. While digitalization and automation are the way forward, the industry also needs to re-skill and re-employ humans replaced. Just as draughtsmen were re-skilled to use CAD, there is a need to create opportunities for others whose jobs will be on the line.