Architecture, Engineering and Construction (AEC) integration with Industry 4.0

The meaning of the term Industry 4.0 has not been concluded. There is a level of ambiguity of what it means for the construction industry[1]  

According to Jim Mansfield, the Industry 4.0 is a subset of Fourth Industrial Revolution which includes technologies, software, and processes that are generally not associated with the Architecture, Engineering and Construction (AEC) industry

In a book entitled ‘The Fourth Industrial Revolution’, Professor Klaus Schwab describes how the fourth revolution differs from the three previous ones, characterised mainly by technological advances. In the ‘fourth revolution’, we face a new technology that connects the physical, digital, and biological worlds.[2]

Industry 4.0 in AEC, means to me a decentralized connection between the physical space and the cyberspace through global connectivity.

Digital technologies have driven computer-integrated manufacturing (CIM) defined by the Purdue model[3] in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Today Building Information modelling (BIM) and widely available digital technologies are more commonly used in construction promoting building planning through prefabrication and modular construction.[4]

BIM and Digital Construction should be looked at in broader terms; it is not an isolated industry but industry that merges and interacts with every other discipline – without boundaries.

The terms Fourth Industrial Revolution and Industry 4.0 are interchangeable; both describe the transformation, which unfolds exponentially, disturbing and transforming in every respect, promising to be the most significant change in the history of human civilization since the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century.[5]

According to the World Economic Forum report, 65% of children joining primary school today will work in a completely new profession, which does not currently exist.[6]

AEC and Industry 4.0

Industry 4.0 is more than just manufacturing. Smart, connected technologies transform how we design, manufacture, use and maintain parts, products, and entire buildings. The interconnected technology also changes the way organizations use and respond to information to achieve operational goals and continuously improve project team and end-user experience.[7]

The future is already here

The future is already here — it is just not very evenly distributed.[8]

Gibson’s quote implies that only part of today’s technology is currently used; this status quo is precisely correct when related to the construction industry.

Market and current skillset drive the enhancement of existing innovations towards software development and services.

Existing technology is effectively used by the tech companies to improve productivity – as an example refer to companies shown inside the technology circle Figure 1

In the AEC industry except for Large Organizations, most Small and Mid-size Enterprises (SMEs) utilise only part of the available technology with the construction sitting outside of the inner circle.

AEC and Industry 4.0

Figure 1 – AEC and Industry 4.0

Accelerated Shift

There are plenty of reports on how the construction industry can be transformed, starting from Egan & Latham in the late 1990s to more recent Farmer & Jansen.[9]–[11]

Despite the reported considerable agreement of what needs to be done, a few recommendations have been implemented.

Technological progress in construction has been slow, and the industry is lagging in productivity, efficiency, and sustainability.[12] Universities have developed countless research ideas to address construction challenges and provide tools, technologies, and methods to support the sector.[13]

The shock and disruption of the coronavirus pandemic (Covid19) crisis offers an opportunity to implement genuinely disruptive changes in the industry and use the accumulated wisdom from the last 20 years of research, development, and innovation.

The Covid19 forced us to rethink the way we work, not only in the construction industry. The pandemic has forced organisations to find new ways of planning, designing, and building for the future. In construction, the pandemic initiated rapid deployment of digital technologies to allow the continuation of construction activities, design process and general communication.[13]

The pandemic has provided an opportunity to reset and refocus industry’s priorities, put carbon reduction and sustainability at the top of global agenda, and drive the adoption of Modern Methods of Construction (MMC) and digital tools on a scale.

Integration of BIM data to service-delivery processes

Generally, effective management is only possible if the related information is correctly managed in a structured way.

The recent publication of BIM related standards and guidance documents provide a framework for secure and collaborative information management and exchange between project team members, throughout the lifecycle of an asset.[14]–[20]

As the design process moves from two-dimensional (2D) drawings to three-dimensional (3D) modelling, each prospective project team member can share information electronically with other disciplines. Task teams can exchange data referred to as information models using the Unified Cloud Platforms (UCPs). The most common platform is referred to as Common Data Environment (CDE), which acts as a central repository for project documentation, also referred to as ‘single source of information’[21]

Information models exchanged through CDE allow users to access and analyse verified information to make informed decisions using the latest information.

The unified cloud platforms are one of the most significant outcomes of Industry 4.0 The UCP sometimes referred to as Unified Communications Service (UCaaS) or Cloud Volumes Platform (CVP) facilitate the integration of multiple cloud services into a single cloud environment. It is essentially a cloud management multi-platform that provides the ability to seamlessly integrate microservices allowing users to manage workplace communications across multiple devices such as smartphones, tablets, laptops, desktops and other devices. The UCPs systems integrate with various other cloud services, including cloud storage, data centres, adding communication capabilities to workflows that include multiple software types.[22]

UCP benefits for AEC Industry

We currently experience a transmission of the UCP benefits already utilized by the software development organisations in the AEC industry.

The availability of unified cloud platforms allows the application of ISO 19650 information management framework, offering add-on value with limitless services build upon the technology, in line with robust international standards.

An example of the integration of ISO 19650 Part 3 information management framework with UCP services is depicted in Figure 2

Integrated information management on Unified Cloud Platform

Figure 2 – Integrated information management on Unified Cloud Platform

The UCP benefits for AEC Industry are endless; I describe only a few key advantages currently used in the construction industry

Automatic clash detection

BIM 360 Coordinate is a service provided by Autodesk where clash detection is carried out automatically once information models are uploaded to the BIM360 project. Based on permissions project members can upload models, detect, view and manage clashes, and resolve issues in real-time.[23]

Augmented reality (AR)

DALUX among many other multiple services offers technology where the digital and physical world are merged and can be viewed using smartphone or tablet; see example in Figure 3.  

The AR functionality permit interaction with the information model and aid visualisation before installation.

Figure 3 – Dalux TwinBIM™ Augmented reality[24]

Another example of the efficient use of the augmented reality depicted in Figure 4, is offered by AVUS.

AVUS is a company which maps underground services where pipes and cables that constitute the distribution networks of energy, data, gas, and water lying underground or hidden in walls, slabs or ceilings can be visualised to aid maintenance, fault finding and accurate excavation.

Augmented Visualisation of Underground Services

Figure 4 – Augmented Visualisation of Underground Services[25]

The use of Artificial Intelligence in construction

An excellent example of the Industry 4.0 transformative impact on construction is the use of artificial intelligence (AI). Buildots a company co-founded by Aviv Leibovici, Roy Danon and Yakir Sudry who have developed portable camera technology to automate tasks such as comparing design plans and measuring progress to reduce and resolve disputes.

Buildots turns the construction site into a data-driven digital environment and bridges the gap between strategy and execution. The product transforms construction sites into seamless, digitally managed environments (digital twin) where processes are tracked, and inconsistencies noticed recorded, measured, and data easily accessible.[26]

Buildots’ systems provide real-time information about the projects’ progress, including notification when an expected delay occurs.[27]

Buildots Information tracking system

Figure 5 – Buildots Information tracking system[28]

Off-site Manufacturing

Current technology changed the off-site manufacturing status, which transferred from the promotion of the concept to delivery. The technological advances, government’s pressure for improvement and academic research resulted in our ability to manufacture complex buildings off-site. One example is the world’s largest Cross Laminated Timber (CLT) building completed in 2015 – Dalston Lane Project.[29]

BIM, technology, the advancement of the design methods and project management also allow the successful implementation of off-site manufacturing at a smaller scale.

One example is a supplier of Mechanical & Electrical Fixings (MEF) in Scotland, which offers timesaving, labour reduction, and cost-cutting products. Over the past 20 years, MEF’s product range has developed, to offer high quality prefabricated electrical containment modules.

Mechanical & Electrical Fixings prefabricated electrical containment modules.

Figure 6 – Mechanical & Electrical Fixings prefabricated electrical containment modules.[30]

To summarise

Benefits of the technology are still being realised; currently, the AEC industry started implementing the advantages of standardisation, for example, the ISO 19650 framework.

Moreover, the AEC industry expands the use of various services offered via unified cloud platforms allowing multiple, systems agnostic integrations of hardware and software, dynamic fulfilment of information access requests, synchronised planning, data analysis, and live collaboration.

Challenges

When it comes to technological progress, the combination of man and machine often raises the following questions:

  • – Will our world be maintained only by a fully automated society?
  • – Should we expect techno-feudalism, governed by the main owners of machines and robots, to allow them to rise above the standard of living of human beings while depriving most of the population of all the benefits of technology?
  • – Will our young talent, especially those with advanced degrees in computer science and technology, eventually move to new jobs and businesses, leaving behind millions of skilled workers?[31]

Whether robots and artificial intelligence will displace a significant number of jobs in the next decade remains to be seen, but predictions of labour cast a troubling light on the vast impact that automation will have on employment, skills, and wages. People who will be able to enhance their capability by harvesting computers will automate their work over a time.[32]

Cooperation means a certain level of trust between all parties involved, as they rely on each other to assume their responsibilities. Whatever the industry, relationships are crucial to successful projects, and if the project teams are not prepared to take responsibility, it is easy for the scheme to go wrong.[33]

Benefits

Emerging technologies could help fill the skills and training gap. These new technologies can invert much of what we know about how people work and encourage innovation.[34]

Automation has helped move from craft to mass production. It has allowed us to feed a growing population and transition to a more efficient and sustainable economy with less dependence on manual labour.[35]

Technology is at the heart of the future of work, and as we move forward, more companies will integrate digital workflows into their workforce. If the new methods of work will be applied, lower-value tasks will become increasingly automated. Leading to a reduction in manual processes, giving employees time to focus on tasks of higher value.[36]


[1]        C. Boton and D. Forgues, “Construction 4.0 The next revolution in the construction industry.” (accessed Dec. 29, 2020).

[2]        K. Schwab, The Fourth Industrial Revolution. Currency, 2017.

[3]        P. F. Elzer et al., A reference Model For Computer Integrated Manufacturing (CIM). Instrument Society of America, 1991.

[4]        J. Mansfield, “Industry 3.0 to Industry 4.0 The Journey for the Construction Industry,” Mar. 03, 2020. (accessed Dec. 29, 2020).

[5]        D. Barno and N. Bensahel, “War in the Fourth Industrial Revolution – War on the Rocks,” Texas National Security Review, Jun. 19, 2018. (accessed Dec. 29, 2020).

[6]        World Economic Forum, “The Future of Jobs Employment, Skills and Workforce Strategy for the Fourth Industrial Revolution,” 2016. Accessed: Dec. 29, 2020. [Online].

[7]        M. Cotteleer and B. Sniderman, “Industry 4.0 overview,” Dec. 18, 2017. (accessed Dec. 29, 2020).

[8]        W. Gibson, “Talk of the Nation, NPR,” 1999.

[9]        M. Farmer, “The Farmer Review of the UK Construction Labour Model Modernise or Die Time to decide the industry’s future,” 2016. [Online].

[10]       T. Jansen van Vuuren, Methodology for quantifying the benefits of offsite construction. London: CIRIA, 2020.

[11]       J. Egan et al., “The Egan Report – Rethinking Construction,” London, 1998. Accessed: Dec. 30, 2020. [Online].

[12]       F. Barbosa et al., “REINVENTING CONSTRUCTION: A ROUTE TO HIGHER PRODUCTIVITY,” 2017. Accessed: Nov. 02, 2019. [Online].

[13]       C. Middleton, “Opportunity in adversity: Time to act to transform construction,” pbctoday, Oct. 29, 2020. (accessed Dec. 30, 2020).

[14]       British Standards Institution, BS EN ISO 23387:2020. 2020.

[15]       British Standards Institution, BS EN ISO 12006‑2:2020. 2020.

[16]       British Standards Institution, BS EN ISO 23386:2020. BSI Standards Limited, 2020.

[17]       British Standards Institution, “BS EN ISO 19650-3:2020 Organization and digitization of information about buildings and civil engineering works, including building information modelling (BIM). Information management using building information modelling. Operational phase of the assets,” 2020.

[18]       British Standards Institution, BS EN ISO 19650-5:2020 Organization and digitization of information about buildings and civil engineering works, including building information modelling (BIM) — Information management using building information modelling Part 5: Security-minded approach to information management. 2020.

[19]       British Standards Institution, “BS EN ISO 19650-3:2020 Organization and digitization of information about buildings and civil engineering works, including building information modelling (BIM) — Information management using building information modelling Part 3: Operational phase of the assets,” 2020.

[20]       British Standards Institution, PAS 14191:2020. 2020.

[21]       CHA, “The Basics of BIM,” Jun. 13, 2018. (accessed Jan. 01, 2021).

[22]       R. Schwartz, “One Unified Platform for Cloud Storage Infrastructure and Data Services,” Oct. 26, 2020. (accessed Jan. 01, 2021).

[23]       Autodesk, “Autodesc Construction Cloud – BIM 360 Coordinate.” (accessed Jan. 01, 2021).

[24]       Dalux, “TwinBIM | BIM on construction site through Augmented Reality.” (accessed Jan. 01, 2021).

[25]       Y. Patel, “Augmented Visualisation of Underground Services,” LinkedIn, Nov. 2020. (accessed Jan. 01, 2021).

[26]       Future Energy Ventures, “Face-to-face with our portfolio: Buildots,” Sep. 30, 2020. (accessed Jan. 01, 2021).

[27]       CalcalisTech, “Israeli Buildots Raises $12.5 Million to Expand Construction Tech Innovation,” Jul. 31, 2020. (accessed Jan. 01, 2021).

[28]       Buildots, “Home – Buildots.” (accessed Jan. 01, 2021).

[29]       A. Goodwin, “Optimised Building Solutions.” Accessed: Sep. 12, 2020. [Online].

[30]       Mechanical & Electrical Fixings Ltd, “Pre-fabricated electrical containment modules,” Nov. 2020. (accessed Jan. 01, 2021).

[31]       O. Castellano, “The Future of Work: Technology Will Kill Your Job. Here’s How,” Medium, May 22, 2018. (accessed Jan. 01, 2021).

[32]       J. Karsten, “Emerging technology can replace workers — or train them for new work,Techtank, Aug. 29, 2019. (accessed Jan. 01, 2021).

[33]       Buildots, “Construction progress tracking – measure work, not labour,” May 10, 2020. (accessed Jan. 01, 2021).

[34]       J. Manyika, “Technology, jobs, and the future of work,” McKinsey Global Institute. (accessed Jan. 01, 2021).

[35]       C. McKay and E. Pollack, “Automation and a Changing Economy: The Case for Action – The Aspen Institute,” Apr. 02, 2019. (accessed Jan. 01, 2021).

[36]       C. Amador de San José, “Future Of Work: 20 Ways Work Will Change In 2020,” Dec. 13, 2019. (accessed Jan. 01, 2021).

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