Digitization Enables Construction: How houses will be built in future?

2020-05-18 11:37:50

With the development and implementation of digitization in recent years, its notion is widely recognized in the construction industry as a new impetus for the digital transformation. As the development strategy for the industry, digitization also shapes the future scenarios of construction. In Digital Building: White Paper for Digitization of Construction published in June, the future scenario of building houses is depicted thoroughly. This essay sorts and elaborates on the core concepts and scenarios in the report to help you to get a concrete and vivid idea about the exciting prospect of construction in the digital age.

A new vision of the industry

During the transition from high-speed growth to high-quality development of economy in China, the construction industry which plays a pivotal role also faces new opportunities as well as challenges. As the basic unit of production and business activities by construction enterprises, the success of a construction project decides the healthy operation and development and affects the transform and upgrades of the whole industry. Therefore, the key to the successful transformation and upgrades of the industry lies in the success of every construction project. The success of a construction project should apply to the whole life cycle of buildings. I.e. both the construction products and process should succeed.

1. Deliver high-quality construction products

According to statics, approximately 4/5 of human social activities take place inside buildings. In other words, space inside buildings provides a setting where humans live and work. Consequently, high-quality construction products are vital for improving life and work quality. The platform of digital building promises healthy and human-centred construction products with industrial-grade quality through mass customization participated by clients.

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CustomizationUnlike the traditional delivery method of construction products, a standard feature of the new development method is mass customization participated by users.  Based on the digital building platform, users will also take part in the design selection for buildings. Personalized customization makes it possible to offer different types of construction products to users which is user-centred and flexible production and delivery.  

Industrial-grade quality
Digitization accelerates processing and manufacturing of construction products. Digital design, factory manufacture, mechanized installation and integrated decoration make construction products as good as industrial products including cellphones, cars, etc. For instance, Apple Park, the headquarters of Apple Inc. is an example of industrial-grade products. The tolerance of curved glass walls is less than 1/32 inch, i.e. 0.88 mm. It sets an example to be followed by the whole industry.

Healthy built space
Future buildings will be centred on human health. At the design stage, digital technology keeps the space inside buildings healthier by conducting a simulation. At the O&M stage, it makes humans live and work healthily by controlling the performance of equipment inside buildings by sensing the outdoor environment in real-time.

2. Lean construction process

By enabling construction projects to succeed and the industry to achieve its goal, digital technology brings construction enterprises considerable economic benefit and therefore helps them to transform and upgrade. Furthermore, digital technology promotes social advance by driving society to transform into a green and intensive growth model.

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Reduce cost by 1/3 High cost is one major reason why the construction enterprises have a relatively low-profit ratio. If the cost of each construction project is decreased by 1/3, then construction enterprises will have more profit and the whole society will consequently consume fewer materials and labour and save resources.

Cut CO2 emissions by 50%

It will insert a huge influence on the natural environment in China and around the world. According to related data, 40% of carbon emissions are from construction in China. China ranks top worldwide in terms of its CO2 emissions. We will have a bluer sky, cleaner air and better city environment if the construction industry emits less CO2.

Accelerate progress by 50%

For owners, faster project progress means less cost. As the scale of construction projects increases nowadays, enterprises need adequate financing, therefore, their cost of financing soars. To increase project progress will speed up capital recovery for more benefit from the investment. And for the public, faster progress of construction projects shortens construction periods, reduces their social disruption and makes human life more convenient.

Zero defects for owners

Industrial-grade products are key to meet the high requirements of modern people and satisfy clients. From the perspective of the society, green, healthy and smart construction products with high quality satisfy people’s demand for a pleasant environment of life and work and contribute to the vision of “Beautiful China”.

Zero accidents

As a high-risk industry, construction has a death toll much higher than others. With zero accidents, construction will offer a favourable work environment and boost the productivity of the whole industry.

New impetus for industry upgrades

To achieve the vision of successful construction products delivery via lean construction, the new growth model is driven by digital technology and innovation will be a dominant trend of the industry. As a new driving force of the industry transform and upgrades, the digital building platform refers to an integrated Internet-based platform for personnel, processes, data, technologies and business by taking advantage of Information Technology, such as BIM, big data, IoT, mobile Internet and AI and the leading concept of lean construction. The digitized, online and intelligent platform manages all factors for all parties involved in the whole life cycle of buildings.

Physical buildings are first virtually designed and built in the digital world via the digital building platform and then constructed in the physical world with the industrialized construction method. Digital building changes the traditional construction mode to improve the extent of digital construction of the whole industry chain and build the country into a manufacturing power from a manufacturer of quantity.

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The digital building platform provides new comprehensive digital infrastructure that connects personnel, equipment and plants, materials, methods and environment ubiquitously and achieves their flexible complement and efficient allocation through the hybrid and integrated application of digital building in construction. The basic features of the platform include digital twins, data drives, openness and intelligence.

Digital twins

By taking the strength of CPS (cyber-physical system), a building itself, the whole life cycle of the project, all factors and parties are made digital and online. A digital virtual model of the building is built in digital space. I.e. the physical world in the physical dimension and the digital world in the info dimension blend and coexist to form a system. Physical entities are added to or expanded with new features through the simulation of their behaviours in the real environment via data, feedback from the system of the physical and virtual worlds, analysis and decision making by making use of data fusion and sprint optimization. Enhance production and management efficiency and decision-making.

Driven by data

Data drives the optimal allocation of elements and resources. As IoE (Internet of everything) advances, almost every production equipment, sensing device, network terminal and even producer are generating data. Data has become a new type of asset, resource and production factor. The automatic value-driven circulation of data, which carries info and knowledge promotes the optimal allocation of resources.

Openness The digital building platform ensures that related parties of the industry chain gather ecologically on a massive scale on it to jointly complete design, procurement, production, construction and operation and maintenance of buildings so that the parties will form a competitive and powerful ecological cluster for the industry. The cluster will integrate related ends, the industry and value chains. The direct and indirect industry chain will be connected to develop an open, sharing, and symbiotic biosphere for construction.

Intelligence The accelerating application of new technologies such as big data and AI in more project stages including design, procurement, production, construction, O&M, etc. will develop an intelligent and closed-looped system that senses conditions, analyzes in real-time, makes decisions scientifically, and executes precisely based on and driven by data automatically. Eventually, an intelligent operating system will start from some parts and develop into a complete system and cover the whole industry. The system will first support one single step, then multiple ones and lastly the whole workflow for one enterprise, later the industry chain and finally form an industry biosphere.

New scenarios of house construction in future

Enabled by digital building, new changes take place concerning future scenarios of house construction. From the side of requirements, consumers will not just buy standard types of houses designed by developers in future. Instead, they will customize their own homes with unique characteristics. From the side of suppliers, each building will be built twice in future, i.e. it will be built virtually and then in the real world with the delivery of virtual and physical products. The future buildings will be produced in factories and on-site with the construction site made automatic. 

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Mass customization

It is made possible that consumers customize their home in future. Consumers can get health plans for building products by combining living space virtually and adjusting layouts of buildings on the digital platform, selecting furniture in different styles and with various materials from digital component libraries to specify interior finish as well as furnishing in a visible way and analyzing and evaluating whether the built environment is healthy via the platform. Customization is finally enabled by immersive experience created by virtualization technology such as VR and AR. The scenario has come true in projects where we collaborate with Jingrui Real Estate Co., Ltd. At present, over 226 types of components and products and 75% of building finish and decoration are available for customization on our digital platform.

Houses built twice in future

On the supply side, houses will be built twice in future, first digitally and virtually and then physically through lean construction. During virtual construction, the related parties of a project can develop digital prototypes during the whole life cycle of buildings through collaborative design and virtual production, construction and O&M on the digital building platform. Then the parties will start physical construction based on digital twins in a lean way, during which project plans consider the latest work, schedules are planned down to hours or even minutes, tasks are executed at the level of procedure and drawing models include details of components. In this way, construction projects will deliver construction products with industrial-grade quality while minimizing waste and maximizing value.

Houses manufactured in factories and built on-site Due to the integration of construction projects and sites, two production lines, one being digital and virtual and the other physical and real are developed. Two kinds of automation, the visible one of the production facilities and the invisible one of data circulation are enabled to build houses. By integrating production at factories with construction on site, the digital production line can link factories with construction sites closely and drive industrialized production at factories with industrialized construction on-site so that data will circulate automatically to achieve the intelligent arrangement of production, logistics and construction works. The physical production line makes Smart Site possible because it achieves the real-time sensing, analysis, decision-making and intelligent execution for elements, such as labour, equipment and materials through the digital twins of the digital and real construction sites. By introducing advanced production equipment including numerical control machines, robotic arms, and so on, factories can produce automatically and flexibly.

Construction site automated in future Via the project “brain”, i.e. the digital building platform, the management can drive on-site works through data and algorithms, such as cloud and edge computing. And they can monitor and decide remotely while scanning, modelling and working on-site by using robots and drones. The whole construction process is driven by the digital model of buildings to automate construction sites therefore the production efficiency increases and defects and accidents decrease on-site.

Two buildings delivered at project completion

Two buildings will be delivered to consumers when a project completes, i.e. the real physical and digital virtual ones. The latter can trace all info and data concerning the construction process and provide information models and data support for the intelligent O&M of the project so that the building will be operated healthily and used efficiently during its whole life cycle.

Conclusion

The blueprint is drawn up for construction in the digital age. Focusing on how houses will be built in future, the essay elaborates on the new potential scenario enabled by digital building. It is convinced that in more intelligent scenarios will appear to boost the industry development with higher quality in the near future. Let us look forward to the future and make it possible together!


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