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Digitalization of the construction industry: BIM and tech leading the way

Digitalization of the construction industry: Germany is lagging
Image: © Gorodenkoff / Adobe Stock

2D over 3D? Still a long way to go in the building sector

The construction industry is one of the most important economic sectors in Germany, employing around two million people. However, it is still driven by analog technologies, which have been crucial to its decades-long success. As a result, digitalization is only slowly finding its way into the tried-and-tested processes of companies, many of which would rather clutch onto 2D technology than switch to 3D models for visualization purposes or plan projects using familiar analog tools rather than brave digital solutions. According to McKinsey, the construction industry ranks second to last when it comes to digitalization – followed only by hunting and fishing.

Why is the construction industry lagging so far behind with regard to digitalization?

In a study published in early 2020 by the Leibniz Center for European Economic Research (ZEW), based in Mannheim, the reasons for the building sector’s slower uptake in implementing digitalization projects were examined, along with other topics. It revealed that:

62.4%
of the surveyed companies said that the financial outlay was too high.
61.5%
were put off by the excessive amount of time involved.
57.5%
thought that data protection regulations were too strict and therefore a hindrance.
55.6%
blamed insufficient broadband expansion for the lag.

However, the ZEW survey also found that the industry believes that digitalization definitely presents huge opportunities for the future productivity and competitiveness of the construction sector. Initial successes are already evident, with building information modeling (BIM) significantly boosting digitalization in the building sector.

What is building information modeling?

BIM is a process that can be used to view all relevant data across the entire lifecycle of a building. This data can then be recorded as well as combined and linked together. In the form of a 3D model, BIM maps every stage, from the building’s design, planning, construction, infrastructure, and management right through to its renovation or demolition. Along with BIM 3D models, BIM 5D and BIM 7D models can even be used as well.

Building information modeling enables companies to develop digital simulations as early as the planning stage. In addition to visualizing all project stages and structures, the model also provides information on the schedule, costs, and status quo of the project, not in the form of documents or tables, but instead integrated in the central, three-dimensional BIM model. In this way, poor time planning can be prevented early on and potential additional costs can be identified.

Building information modeling is an important catalyst for the digitalization of the construction industry and it has become much more widely known and popular in recent years. The model can be applied in various subdivisions of the building sector, whether by building developers, architects, engineers, or building technicians.

Multitalented highfliers: drones in the building sector

Aside from building information modeling, other digital applications and tools are also gaining ground in the building sector, and it’s no longer uncommon to come across drones on construction sites due to the key role they play in the digitalization of the construction industry. Multirotor flying objects – which are easy to maneuver, weigh little, and are extremely user-friendly – are usually favored. The drones are mainly used by site supervisors, project managers, and building authority representatives and have a wide range of uses on-site, such as: spotting potential construction flaws, documenting construction progress, inspecting safety issues, surveying construction sections, or even transporting tools.

Virtual reality for remote construction site visits

Virtual reality (VR) is truly revolutionizing the construction industry, particularly in terms of construction site safety. The majority of construction site accidents are caused by falls. Thanks to virtual reality, employees can be optimally trained and prepared in advance of their tasks on a construction site even if it doesn’t physically exist yet, since they can visit and visualize it virtually through VR glasses. The surroundings can be changed via remote control, while earphones generate real-life sounds. Dangerous situations can thus be simulated and correct behavior in the event of a fire or thunderstorm can be rehearsed.

Augmented reality provides a glimpse behind the scenes

Something just as revolutionary is augmented reality (AR). This technology is all about virtually extending reality, and has been creating unique shopping experiences in e-commerce for some time now, as an example. As an element of digitalization in the construction sector, AR offers just as much potential, for instance allowing a virtual look behind an already plastered wall using a smartphone or tablet.

As the digital models have often already been created using building information modeling, the data contained in them can be ideally used for VR or AR, thereby allowing measurements to be automated, errors during planning and execution to be detected early on, and hazards to be identified. Digital tools in the construction sector therefore make processes more efficient, massively reduce costs, and significantly improve occupational safety.

Urgent need for digitalization in the construction industry

According to data from McKinsey, targeted digitalization of the construction industry could free up around 30% of planning capacities. What’s more, digital tools could considerably raise safety standards and thus prevent accidents, while at the same time construction projects could be implemented much more efficiently. Considering this enormous potential, it is a sad state of affairs that the construction industry is one of the economic sectors that has embraced digitalization the least. When you think about the floods of people moving to cities, it is high time that the construction industry started leveraging digital technologies in order to meet the growing demand for living space.

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