Post-COVID 19 pandemic Architecture Engineering and Construction (AEC) Industry

Introduction

The COVID19 pandemic has impacted global health and the economy. This report explores the shift in Building Information Modelling (BIM) and associated technology, its impact on health and safety, and ways of minimising the pandemic’s effect. The investigated concept of Internet of Things (IoT), smart building, and digital twins as a potential to improve cross-platform integration and quick adaptation of information exchange, design, construction and operation of the assets to fight COVID19 spread and allow continuation of the business. 

Smart Buildings look-ahead

While the current global epidemic poses challenges at all levels of the built environment, it will take time to develop an antivirus paradigm – one that reduces potential risks and prevents the virus from spreading. Just as scientists developed drugs for epidemics, the Architecture Engineering and Construction (AEC) industry must find solutions to reduce the built environment’s potential impact on current and future viruses spread.

A pandemic requires further analysis and could fundamentally change the way we work in the future. AEC professionals must study the social and spatial impacts to generate new patterns and use of urban spaces.  The planning challenges associated with infectious epidemics are shown in Figure 1, where the AEC professionals’ role is to consider the immediate and precautionary measures and consider technology use.

Social distancing and lockdown reflections and their links to the variables under research

Figure 1 – Social distancing and lockdown reflections and their links to the variables under research [1]

The use of digital transformation and advanced technology, new materials, and different methods to design the built environment, with consideration of multiple preventative measures, is needed. Referred by Megahed and Ghoneim[1]security layers to prevent an ever-progressing mutant virus attack and allow extended time for a cure that could be implemented in the aftermath of a pandemic is essential to build a future sustainable environment.

Smart buildings use interconnected technologies to monitor and share information about the asset and its use with different systems to increase its efficiency and provide a better user experience. The cross-platform seamless exchange of information is the crucial enabler of an intelligent building; thus, BIM principles with its collaborative approach to information management can be used as a framework. BIM can establish seamless controlled and secure information exchange, enabling the static asset to become a dynamic, responsive, intelligent building.

Such responsive and dynamic building where all services are continuously adapted,  based on lean demand-driven inputs or environmental conditions, can save energy, reduce carbon footprint, and offer a solution to several challenges posed by the COVID 19 pandemic.

The use of intelligent building technology can help control and limit the spread of infectious diseases. The technology can also be supported by enabling transparent, data-driven building management and creating compelling and smooth experiences for asset users and facility management. [2]

Pandemic the IoT and digital twin

According to a McKinsey report by Fahrni et al.[3] the pandemic’s end will bring unforeseen health problems, supply and demand disruptions, and geopolitical tensions that impede trade.

Businesses can build resilience and accelerate their return to normal operations by focusing on waste reduction, extended maintenance cycles of their assets and digital performance management utilising the IoT enabled workflows.

The IoT and Industrial IoT (IIoT)

Robust connectivity of the sensors and cybersecurity can increase visibility in the supply chain and create dynamic, reliable digital twins, permitting analysis, forecasting, and enabling quick industry response to disruptions. Fahrni et al. (2020) report predict the increase of IoT and the industrial IoT in their supply chains, especially in critical sectors such as healthcare, transportation, and manufacturing. [3]

The growing use of advanced technologies in the AEC industry has led to the increasing adoption of BIM as the construction industry’s information exchange standard. The industrial IoT (IIoT) is an integral part of Industry 4.0, smart manufacturing, developing interconnected sensors and other input/output devices linked to manufacturing applications, supporting industrial automation and digitalisation. The secure wired and wireless connectivity modular framework allows flexible manufacturing and adaptation of production lines responding to pull requests.

For example, in June 2020, Siemens has launched the Teamcenter X software, a new product lifecycle management (PLM) system that enables rapid implementation, scale, and integration of industry-leading PLM technology throughout functional disciplines. The cloud access to Teamcenter X facilitates creating a complete digital twin, with multi-faceted areas of design and bill of quantity integration. Moreover, in partnership with IBM, Siemens is developing an optimisation system of the service lifecycle management (SLM) of assets by dynamically connecting actual maintenance activities and asset performance inputs back to design decisions and field modifications to improve product performance, maintenance, and operations. [4]

The Digital Twins

When considering a type, the digital twin represents physical systems, processes, products, and services with real-time data generated by sensors. Using multiple sources, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) capabilities can learn and update themselves to ensure accurate real-time status. By integrating spatial networks and graphs, digital twins can create simulation models that are as accurate as their physical counterparts. [5]

The complex pandemic-fighting digital twin systems may still be years away and require more significant investment and coordination across disciplines[6]; however, the digital twins can be used for project management, visualisation, analysis, and forecasting, helping to manage the collected information.

Summary

My research on the impact of the coronavirus pandemic concludes that while the effects are tragic, the situation also requires people to rethink their interaction with the built environment in which we live, work and play. Confronted with the COVID-19 crisis, the global industry’s priority is to maintain operations. However, the common goal must be more than just the pursuit of profit; the environmental impact must also be considered. The past few months provide some perspective on the opportunity and need to construct fully connected communities and places, not just connected built environment. [7]

With the increased global digitisation, cybersecurity becomes more important; in addition to efficient basic cybersecurity measures such as critical software and firmware updates and overreaching organisational security measures, organisations should pay attention to preserving human rights and freedom and justice.

In the post-closure pandemic period, people will be less likely to touch light switches, elevator buttons, and thermostats, likely increasing the demand for voice-activated services or alternative input control measures. Likewise, the need for new technologies and materials to minimize the virus’s survival rate will likely drive innovations.

Although it has been proven that the development in manufacturing, such as the implementation of plug-and-play modular IIoT systems, can aid business continuity, ensure employee safety and security, improve liquidity, and lower short-term costs.[3] The AEC industry is lagging in the ability to harvest the same benefits as in manufacturing.

I assume there is an urgent need for either a single platform to accommodate all the different data types generated for and by the AEC industry or improvement in cross-platform information exchange.  

Furthermore, the support of governments and industry collaboration is needed to visualise an integrated, holistic scheme that matches the local resources supporting the sustained growth of the connected communities and industry to ensure safe, secure and healthy living in the future. Lastly, the governments and industry should help identify and implement the scheme on the appropriate projects; with the teams having the right skills, the future success of such endeavours will drive further implementation at more granular levels within the industry.

[1]        N. A. Megahed and E. M. Ghoneim, “Antivirus-built environment: Lessons learned from Covid-19 pandemic,Sustainable Cities and Society, vol. 61, p. 102350, Oct. 2020, doi: 10.1016/j.scs.2020.102350.

[2]        V. Tišler and D. Jandl, “Smart buildings in the light of COVID-19 pandemic – Lexology,” Nov. 06, 2020. (accessed Apr. 05, 2021).

[3]        S. Fahrni, C. Jansen, M. John, T. Kasah, and N. Mohr, “Coronavirus: Industrial IoT in challenging times ,” McKinsey & Company, 2020. (accessed Apr. 05, 2021).

[4]        MarketDigits, “Digital Twin Market 2021 Expected to Reach Highest CAGR During COVID 19 Crisis | Microsoft Corporation, Siemens AG, ANSYS, SAP, Oracle, IBM ,” The Courier, Mar. 24, 2021. (accessed Apr. 05, 2021).

[5]        R. Pit, “The Accelerated Adoption of Digital Twins in 2020 — And What That Means for 2021 – Copperberg,” Copperberg, 2020. (accessed Apr. 05, 2021).

[6]        B. Levesque, “UF Health researcher plans for next big step in medicine — human digital twins ,” UF Health, University of Florida Health, Mar. 22, 2021. (accessed Apr. 05, 2021).

[7]        M. Jansen, “The Impact of COVID-19 on the Implementation of Digital Twins in the Global Building Industry: Perspectives from Expert Practitioners ,” Apr. 2020. Accessed: Apr. 05, 2021. [Online]. Available: www.cityzenith.com.

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