For a long time, the construction industry was almost resistant to the major changes brought about by digitization. While entire industries are already in the midst of change, the construction industry is operating almost as before. There is a growing realisation that digital, networked construction offers above all great opportunities and undreamt-of possibilities. What are the advantages of the new digital technologies and who benefits from them?
According to estimates by the World Economic Forum WEF Davos, the complete digitization of the construction industry could put an end to decades of stagnation and achieve estimated annual global cost savings of 12-20%. This corresponds to a volume of 1 to 1.7 trillion dollars.
It is only recently that digital technologies such as networking have entered the planning, construction and operational phases. And they have changed the way infrastructure, real estate and other buildings are planned, built, operated and maintained. Technology-based new methods such as Building Information Modeling (BIM), prefabrication of components, wireless sensors, 3D printing and automated and robot-assisted devices open up new possibilities in terms of cost efficiency, cost-effectiveness and sustainability.
The construction industry in Switzerland comprises around 60,000 companies and more than 500,000 jobs. Construction expenditure corresponds to 10% of the Swiss gross domestic product. This illustrates how important and far-reaching the changes will be in one of the most important sectors.
Cross-linking brings decisive advantages
Starting with networking: This means that all partners involved in a construction project work virtually and together on the project right from the start. And that the information flows together, can be exchanged and continuously adapted right up to its creation and subsequent operation. Ideally, everyone involved in the construction process, from the building contractor to the architect, urban planner, structural engineer, electrician and interior designer. Or to put it simply: the building development process as an open system with interfaces to all other systems. In this way, errors during planning or construction can be avoided, because architects, planners and construction companies work in the same data room instead of each working separately. Each work step of each person involved in the construction is visible to all and the respective parameters or changes are adapted.
Building Information Modeling enables seamless collaboration between all parties involved. It would be advantageous if this took place in a common technology standard or a standardized open system, but there is still a long way to go.
The new digital technologies and robotics are laying the foundations for modular construction and prefabricated construction. The rapid and precise prefabrication of building elements or prototypes, for example, offers great advantages for the subsequent construction of prefabricated buildings. The information in the computer system can be used to create design drawings and product information and instructions for production can be directly incorporated. The components can then be assembled more quickly. This enables a more efficient workflow from design to finished construction. The astonishing result: an accelerated construction process (up to 40%!), less planning and construction errors and considerably lower costs. Experts expect cost savings of up to 20%.
The beneficiaries of the digitalisation of the construction industry.
What is almost forgotten in all discussions about the digital revolution and the use of new technologies is the question of who benefits most from digital design and construction. The answer is clear: it is the investors, builders and future users of the property. Digitalization enables shorter project durations, more accurate estimation of costs and ultimately higher yields. Efficient digital modelling technologies and ERP reduce project costs, risks and deadlines. Cost overruns can be prevented. And the benefits do not end with the completion of the building, but continue through the long operational phase. Thanks to digitization, even the materials used and the technical details of the finished object can be retrieved at any time, for example. A database for everyone who uses and manages the completed building. The operator can use it to calculate energy, cleaning and maintenance costs, for example. Or plan any conversions. Or the investor can calculate exactly what the property will cost during its entire lifecycle even before the project starts. Right through to subsequent deconstruction.
This also applies to sustainability and ecology, which are becoming more and more important in the construction industry.