Connecting the virtual and physical worlds

Recapping the events of the Construction Digital Twins Webinar – How to get Time on Your Side, which was presented by Paul King, solutions director, Construction at Bentley Systems

On February 16, 2022, Bentley Systems and Big Project ME held a webinar that focused on Digital Twins and how the technology is changing the construction industry by connecting the physical and virtual worlds together.

Over the course of the hour-long discussion, Paul King, solutions director, Construction at Bentley Systems, shared insights on how digital twins not only synchronise work and improve visibility on projects for all stakeholders, but also help the teams building the projects to make sense of the right data, at the right time, across the project’s entire lifecycle.

Given the scale and variety of construction challenges facing the industry (ranging from internal issues such as data transparency, talent management, adoption of new technologies, and the utili-sation of resources correctly, through to external obstacles such as fragmented value chains, extensive subcontracting, competitive pressures and complex portfolios) King asserted that digital twin technology and its correct deployment technology was vital to the future of the sector.

He added that poor communication and project information are two of the main causes of rework on construction projects, with workers often wasting time searching for project data and resolving avoidable issues.

During the discussion, King touched upon a key point of project data being unstable or unusable, which leads to poor decisions being made. Expanding on the theme, he added that construction is one of the least digitised industries on the planet, with old processes used in the field, and old IT systems used in the office.

“Recent reports by FMI have found that workers waste, on average, two days a week searching for project data and resolving avoidable issues. Poor communication and project information are the cause for nearly half of all reworks, with a quarter of all project data unusable.”
Therefore, in order to change the industry for the better, King suggested that there needed to be a reshaping of regulations, while contractual frameworks needed to be amended to reflect the change in how the industry can use and deploy technologies. Most importantly, he asserted that there needs to be an improvement in the procurement and supply chain management.

“Rethink design and engineering processes, improve on-site execution, infuse digital technology and advanced automation, and reskill the workforce,” he said, adding that as a software provider, Bentley has found that its 4D processes have saved – on average – four weeks off the schedule for every eight months of construction time.

“Our mission at Bentley is to leverage our software and services to drive impact through the world’s infrastructure, improving the quality of life for everyone. As a software company, our environmental footprint is relatively small, but our environmental handprint, through the infrastructure software and services that we provide, is substantial. And that empowers our customers to realize infrastructure outcomes that are more sustainable, predictable and resilient,” he stated.

King also touched upon how technology is changing a company’s competitors, with frequent small jumps made in work processes and technology usage, while processes and systems are tested for shorter periods, and the risk of failure is managed as part of the development process.

“The way to get ahead is to get started,” he said, adding that the most transformative way for the industry to adopt technology is to educate and inform itself.

However, King pointed out that the transformation can be hard, with only 16% of digital transformations improving performance, and that success rates can be as low as 4%. He explained that this was either because some companies and employees are not ready for the change, do not want to accept it, or perhaps there is no experience in house for those wanting to change their ways.

This is why the best way for the industry to transform is to educate itself on the advancement of construction technology.

“Infrastructure digital twins are helping to address three big themes that affecting the construction industry right now,” he said. “The first is market disruption, which is driving firms to plan, manage and execute their projects better. Most construction firms have had very low margins for many years, but low margins leave almost no room for error, and firms are facing supply chain constraints, overseas competition, and increasing complexity.

“Also, COVID hasn’t gone away. Talent shortage is another pressing problem. We simply don’t have enough people entering the industry, and companies find it hard to retain them because of competition,” he continued.

Secondly, he pointed out that digital technology is changing how construction firms operate.

“Smart project management makes it possible to make better decisions about managing labour and materials on a project. Real-time progress monitoring provides forward-looking insights to better control activities, and smart scheduling tools provide a clear competitive advantage.

“Robots are also starting to appear on site. From simple line marking machines, to brick-laying devices, to robot dogs performing inspections. Artificial Intelligence is also starting to have an impact. During construction planning it’s enabling predictive design, optioneering, virtual reality, and construction logistics planning. On site, it’s enabling cloud-hosted connected data environments that foster collaboration and process vast quantities of real-time data,” King said.

Finally, he stressed on the immensity of the global infrastructure pipeline and how it is crucial for the industry to accelerate its adoption of technology, so as to fulfil the demands being placed on it.

“Governments are beginning to make up for years of under-investment in roads, bridges, and water systems. Around the world, government COVID recovery strategies are allocating billions of dollars to funding infrastructure projects. But the industry has a limited number of people to support them. Therefore, it’s crucial for the industry to accelerate its adoption of technology so we can start to do a lot more with a lot less,” he stated.

“This is an interesting time to be in the construction business. COVID-19 has forced us to work efficiently and differently. There are large projects in the pipeline coming up, and these advanced technologies will make work easier,” King concluded.

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