Digital Engineering in Construction

Terry Stocks
Digital engineering is changing the way we plan, build, maintain and use our social and economic infrastructure.

We are moving swiftly towards a global digital economy, with profound implications for our built environment. Many countries have implemented national digital strategies to drive performance and policy goals of value for money, productivity and sector growth.

In Europe, the UK Building Information Modelling (BIM) Task Group is joining with 14 EU member states to form an EU BIM Task Group. The EU group will work towards sharing and aligning procurement practices, technical standards and skills for construction/asset delivery within a digital environment. Asia, Singapore, Hong Kong and China are also sharing common experiences of BIM and digital working, to improve delivery across buildings and infrastructure frameworks.

In the Middle East, BIM is increasingly a requirement at the procurement stage, referencing both UK and U.S. standards and capabilities. North America has long-established experience of BIM and digital engineering implementation, and parts of Latin America are now showing keen interest in the UK BIM strategy to inform their national plans to digitalise asset delivery.

The UK arguably has the most developed approach to BIM/digital engineering, supported by the UK government's 2011 BIM mandate...

The UK arguably has the most developed approach to BIM/digital engineering, supported by the UK government's 2011 BIM mandate and its more recent industrial strategy for construction – Construction 2025 (PDF,2.16MB). Construction 2025 sets out plans for industry and government to work together to put Britain at the forefront of global construction. Part of the strategy is to lead research and innovation, transformed by digital design, advanced materials and new technologies, embracing the transition to a digital economy and the rise of smart construction.

Construction 2025 outlines some ambitious targets: 50 percent quicker, 33 percent cheaper and 50 percent less carbon. These are challenging in a low margin industry that moves through cycles of bust and boom, and has difficulty in retaining resource and maintaining skills training. New approaches are needed and digital technology is an important catalyst for change. Factory-based construction has a part to play, with Design for Manufacture and Assembly (DFMA), build off-site and component manufacture, among others, challenging the industry’s reliance on the traditional skill base. The digital age provides the platform to release the potential of these technologies.

A digital engineering approach to design supports quick decision making through enhanced visual presentations, compliance checking and scenario comparison. When coupled with a collaborative delivery team, this approach helps build a greater awareness of the asset and its operation very early in the process.

A digital engineering approach to design supports quick decision making through enhanced visual presentations, compliance checking and scenario comparison.

We are already seeing technology used in support of collaborative delivery. Industry and government have made a good start through their joint commitment to the digital engineering agenda. The digital engineering approach enables delivery of more sustainable buildings, more quickly and more efficiently.

The UK PAS/BS 1192 BIM standards depict a process that promotes thinking about the asset operation and impacts from the start. How will the asset be operated, what information is needed to deliver its outcomes, what is needed during the capital delivery stage to safeguard the asset’s long-term efficient operation and delivery of the business benefits?

The UK's Digital Built Britain strategy builds on the achievements of the UK Level 2 BIM programme. Public and private sector organisations, infrastructure operators and built environment professionals need to become proficient in operating in a BIM level 2 world, to create the foundation for Level 3 BIM. Level 3 BIM will realise even greater potential benefits on a much wider scale.

The UK is taking a lead and has published a cohesive set of documentation supporting the implementation of a digital engineering approach.

Existing assets are also poised to benefit from the data revolution, with asset information being digitally gathered in a standardised format, supporting enhanced asset planning, maintenance scheduling and compliance monitoring. Sensor technology will increasingly be used to transmit plant and services information to asset data hubs, further supporting enhanced maintenance programming, and minimising business operational impacts.

In a Level 3 world and beyond, the way we do business will change. Data capture and analytics will become more sophisticated, helping to forecast outcomes on many levels; commercially, socially and environmentally. The extent, frequency and real-time nature of available data will enhance the level of decision making and quality of impact assessment. The UK is taking a lead and has published a cohesive set of documentation supporting the implementation of a digital engineering approach. Those standards are now being reviewed for issue as International Standards and will aid/inform the international uptake and implementation of a cohesive approach to asset briefing, delivery and operation.

In collaboration with our parent company Atkins, Faithful+Gould has an established and growing global expertise in operating in a collaborative, digital engineering environment. We are developing industry-leading practice in digital model development, within both new-build and existing asset environments. We are driving efficiencies in design, delivery and operational management, and asset maintenance programming. Faithful+Gould and Atkins are also supporting research and national policymaking, with key representation and leadership on the UK BIM Task Group, Building Smart International and on key BSI and ISO committees.

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