Digital Construction Week 2016 ran on the 26th and 27th of October and when I saw a conference showing innovations in a sector as complex and vast as construction, I had to go along! Construction has been an interest of mine for a long time as it’s an industry that always tries to break boundaries while keeping the need for functionality and safety at its heart.
I was initially struck upon entry to the innovation centre at the amount of stands promoting virtual reality (VR) as a tool to aid communication on build projects. There was stand after stand of companies showing how this tool could provide the answer for communicating ideas to other stakeholders in a project (mainly clients). The sector often displays how it needs many different experts in many different fields to all come together to create a working building/structure. The knowledge required to complete a project is far above what any one person could learn in a lifetime.
This also explains why the push towards Building Information Modelling (BIM) is occurring. Having one 3D model which multiple parties can add to and explore as a resource. It then dawned on me that VR seems to be a natural progression from this. If you build a 3D environment, why not explore it as fully as possible. This would give clients a much more realistic experience of what they would be getting and, in turn, decrease the chance of the client being left feeling like they didn’t get what they paid for.
Some applications of augmented reality (AR) were on display using Microsoft’s Hololens. Viewing and interacting (using hand gestures) with 3D models instead of viewing 3D models on a 2D screen (something VR can accomplish also) and the opportunity to wear an AR headset on site to view visual representation of acoustic noise levels throughout a site to help localise acoustic disruptions (this also required the site to be miked up at various locations to work).
There were also some very practical and easily implemented ideas garnered from research which I found refreshing to see. Simple ideas such as hand-held short throw projectors pre-loaded with 2D drawings which could be carried around large sites with ease rather than needing to find drawings to base discussions off. As there were 5 stages each with full schedules of talks throughout the day, I couldn’t get to everything, but here are some of the other talks and products I came across:
Tom Dempsey from Synchro Software explained Synchro, which allowed the building of a project through time, rather than having a BIM model snapshot of a finished project. This allowed projections into the future to be made along with showing the stages of a build. Alternate versions of the plan could be shown to simulate the outcomes of different approaches. This modelling also empowered installers by showing them what the building would be like when they had to work there. They could run through any difficulties of moving large pieces, for example, before ever stepping foot on the site. The model exploration was best done in a BIM CAVE.
Drones as live data gatherers
Using drones to create up-to-date picture models of a site were the focus of the next presentation. This was a concept centred on live modelling of a site. Pictures could be compared to the plans and any problems or discrepancies could be highlighted. The drones could be sent out at any time to an area of the site in case of high noise level or fire. The situation could then be assessed from a safe distance and dealt with without having to put anyone in danger.
James Chambers from Bluebeam Inc. gave a demo of their software which was developed to help organise the hundreds/thousands of drawings for a job. Bluebeam did this by understanding common structuring from each drawing. Each page could be named by locating the document number and then this was expanded to search the same area of the page across all drawings. After this, hyperlinks could be automatically created from the table of contents to link to the appropriate drawing. Hyperlinks could also be added to areas of drawings, linking to other relevant drawings. As well as ease of search, Bluebeam created a space for collaboration with tracked changes and comments, all stored on the cloud for immediate access. The need for this type of software again shows the huge number of experts involved in any one project, due to the large amount of niche expertise needed to complete a build project.
Dynamic 3D models
The need for physical models and samples still exists. It doesn’t all need to be digital to explain a concept clearly. A talk by Michelle Greeff from Hobs Studio on dynamic 3D models explained this nicely. A dynamic 3D model is created with removable/additional parts. This can communicate alternative finishes and also show the look of the build and different stages of construction. This strikes me as a particularly useful tool for planning or community meetings.
Skills gap, the role and impact of innovation and technology
I caught some of an interesting panel discussion towards the end of the day. Pauline Traetto from BRE, Matthew Scammel from Robin Partington & Partners, Alison Watson from Class of Your Own and Timothy Hegarty from Ardvisory were discussing skills gap and innovation and technology in construction. They discussed how early communication was key for any innovative strategies being used. New products or ways of working need early training and planning to work properly. The importance of talking to those in the industry to figure out what to research and develop was highlighted also. E-learning was a key discussion point for both upskilling workers and gathering data to understand where pain points are for workers.
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