The need to share information and digital twin technology will help create a better built environment, says Paul Simpson of Recticel
The construction industry is notorious for its reticence to embrace change. But the tide of indifference appears to be turning with the advance of virtual platforms such as Building Information Modelling (BIM) and digital twin.
These initiatives are revolutionising the way we design buildings, which in the case of digital twin technology allows designers to create a virtual representation of a building complete with live data links showing how a building is operating at any given time. This can then be adjusted in the real building via systems of control.
Digital design and BIM technology lends itself wonderfully well to taking a fabric first approach to construction, whereby the material composition of walls, floors and roofs is prioritised as a means of optimising the building’s sustainability. And this is certainly the way to go if we are to make good the prime minister’s plea to “build back better” post-lockdown. Indeed, the type of foresight provided by use of digital modelling is essential to tackling another serious industry issue, namely properties falling short of as-designed performance.
In harness with BIM and digital modelling platforms, Dame Judith Hackitt’s “golden thread” of information, as outlined in her post-Grenfell report into the fire safety performance of buildings, will also play a part in improving building standards.
It will bring a much-needed layer of transparency to the construction process; an outcome that will hopefully reduce instances of “swapping out” specified products for less suitable – but invariably, much cheaper – ones.
It’s become a trend that too often takes advantage of the “equal or approved” tagline that architects attach the products they specify. This form of malpractice does nothing to improve our underperforming housing stock, a potential thwarter to the government’s 2050 net zero carbon ambitions.
Designing-out issues with digital modelling
“Get it right first time” should be the driving motto of all those involved in the building delivery process. Again, digital twins, by allowing architects to run scenarios in order to design-out future performance issues, helps facilitate a project’s smooth progress, as does offsite manufacturing.
Designing and building within a controlled factory setting promotes quality and accuracy, both of which lend themselves to a better-engineered performance in terms of the completed construction.
Digital modelling doesn’t negate need for traditional building “sense”
I’d estimate that about 70% of our work involves correcting work that isn’t up to standard. This, for example, might include maintenance as a result of a flat roof insulation installer’s lack of adherence to Building Regulations, which encourage a minimum fall of 1:40 in order to achieve the minimum finished fall (1:80) required in line with BS6229: 2018.
Such guidance is crucial to preventing roof ponding and debris build-up, which highlights how digital modelling still requires conscientious, competent builders and designers for it to have positive effect.
Digital toolkit frees-up building process
We must look upon technologies such as BIM and digital twins as part of the toolkit if we are to truly futureproof our built environment. The blueprint of many of our large, high-profile building projects has been created using a mouse and keyboard, rather than a pencil and drawing board. Yet many industry practices, whether due to a lack of investment or will, remain committed to the 2D way of doing things in relation to planning and design.
That, of course, is their prerogative. But with the government’s insistence that a healthy construction industry is key to the UK avoiding a post-Covid recession, perhaps they might be minded to offer financial support in order for small-to-medium businesses to transition to digitally-driven, smarter working practices.
In many ways, BIM and digital twin technology have brought us freedom when it comes to the building process. It gives us the scope to test and challenge every design element before it is physically installed and once constructed, it allows us to check it is performing as originally conceived. This is a sure-fire way for us to ensure we build back better, just as the prime minister ordered.
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