Agility means taking a flexible attitude towards changes and reacting to them quickly. Self-organisation is an important element in this context. Teams that don’t need to make a thousand requests and work their way through hierarchies are able to act and react more quickly. Scrum and Kanban are both agile project management approaches.
Scrum comes from software development, but can also be applied in construction projects. Tasks are defined for a specific period of time, or “sprint”, and the amount of time required is estimated. All tasks are thrown into a pot from which each individual can pick one, and the goal is to complete all tasks as a team within the defined period of time. For further coordination, short meetings are held at which each person can report on the current status and highlight any obstacles. This means that everyone knows who is doing what, which in turn aids the collaboration process.
Kanban is mainly concerned with the optimisation of work processes, with one important principle being the visual representation of the progress of the work. In general, the concept consists of three columns: “To do”, “In progress” and “Done”. Other columns can also be added. Tasks are moved from one column to another, either in a conventional way with Post-its on a whiteboard, or using a digital version. The number of tasks outstanding at any one time should be limited so that the team’s capacity is not exceeded. This is not always easy, which is why clear prioritisation of tasks and optimisation of the process are important when a backlog occurs.
Connections between nerve cells in the brain enable people to learn, reason and think abstractly. Artificial intelligence attempts to emulate this mechanism with algorithms. The network is fed with information, and the system constantly improves the algorithm through positive or negative feedback. Examples of AI include speech recognition such as Siri, a chess simulator or even spam detection. This is a case of weak AI, which means it is limited to one sub-area and is unable to transfer the acquired skills and conclusions to other areas. Strong AI, on the other hand, aims to achieve the same intellectual accomplishments as humans. This has not been achieved as yet.
AI can support the planning and realisation of construction projects, above all by minimising errors, e.g. in scheduling, construction cost estimation or even models, which could be detected at an early stage.
Augmented reality (AR), as the name suggests, is an enhanced version of the real physical world. It provides additional computer-aided information or virtual objects by means of superposition and overlay in the real environment, enabling them to be experienced by the individual. This means that the real environment is still visible, whereas with virtual reality (VR), it can no longer be seen.
History The foundation for this technology was laid as early as 1986 by Ivan Sutherland with “The Sword of Damocles”, but not until 2007 did we see the breakthrough with the first iPhone generation. The processing and camera performance of the new smartphones meant that more and more developers became interested in the subject, and innovations in the field of AR were driven forward like never before. At the latest with Pokémon Go, the general public also increasingly came into contact with the term.
AR applications in the construction industry
CAD and CAAD systems are subject to databases of geometric and other objects with a user interface for visual representation. The difference between the two systems is that with CAAD software, the geometric shapes are associated with certain properties in the database, and building-specific objects and data are therefore stored.
CAAD software consists of at least two different levels. One level is the design (2D or 3D) with geometric properties in which labelling, dimensions and material properties are stored. These can be floor plans, plans or even sections. On the second level, geometric objects are enriched with data, and the metadata are made available in list form. These can be parts lists or construction schedules, for example.
Industry Foundation Classes (IFC) and BIM Collaboration Format (BCF) are standardised data formats. A construction project involves different people working on the same undertaking, but with different software products. Standardised data formats can nevertheless guarantee the exchange of models and information without having to consider functions of a specific programme.
IFC makes it possible to send not only graphic elements, but also the properties of building components. This means that 3D models can be sent to others with all the associated information, and displayed in full in any BIM software.
BCF comes into play during collision checking. The models sent from the different disciplines can be superimposed using suitable software, enabling collisions in the model to be detected. These errors can be exported as a BCF file and returned to the specialist planners. The errors can also be understood as a task for making changes to the model. In contrast to the IFC, the BCF file can also contain comments, images, etc., which serve only to improve communication between the project team members and not to add further properties to the model, for example.
Studies have shown that productivity in construction projects decreases year after year. The reason for this is that the various tradespeople and project team members pursue different goals, and don’t necessarily act for the good of the project as a whole. Construction projects also involve significant challenges in terms of deadline and cost reliability. IPD proposes solutions aimed at eliminating the problems mentioned above. It focuses on the quality of the final product and attempts to unite the interests of the individual parties so that they contribute to the success of the project.
IPD encourages project team members to:
Goals/KPIs: Goals and key performance indicators (KPIs) are defined that are credible and meaningful to every project team member. All project team members commit to these goals. The goals are known to everyone at all times, and continuous public reporting measures whether they are being achieved. Everyone is also aware at all times of the gap between “target” and “performance”. A risk/reward system is recommended, which means that if the project is going well (i.e. the overall project goals are being achieved), all of those involved receive a bonus. This system helps to ensure that everyone focuses on working towards the overall objectives, not their own company or personal goals. It also promotes innovation, as process optimisation has a positive impact on the achievement of goals.
Collaboration: IPD brings together all stakeholders such as clients, architects, planning teams and contractors. As mentioned above, this team negotiates common goals. However, IPD also demands that individual know-how be brought into the project as early as possible.
The Last Planner System (LPS) uses a highly collaborative approach to process planning. This approach involves planning schedules, removing obstacles and dealing with constraints within the team. The individuals who actually do the work are involved directly in the planning, guaranteeing that the specific know-how of a trade is incorporated, and improving reliability by creating a better sense of responsibility for the plans and the work. Last Planner is based extensively on ideas from IPD (integrated project delivery) and lean management.
The LPS accepts that projects must always respond to external, uncontrollable influences, and establishes the following principles:
In other words, working out a day-by-day plan of work that is due in two years’ time today is wasted effort. Therefore:
Step 1 (overall process): Instead of working with a schedule based on experience, the overall process is defined together with all key individuals involved. The necessary process steps are determined and arranged in a logical order, with a focus on sequences, dependencies and preliminary work. This team-based approach creates a common understanding of the goals, opportunities and risks. Measurable overarching, cross-project and cross-lifecycle goals are defined, and are communicated to and accepted by all project team members.
Step 2 (process planning/milestones): Process planning is only tackled once the overall process is in place, and processes are given a duration in order to integrate them into a schedule. First, however, clear project milestones are set, such as submission of the building application, start of earthworks, building envelope. All parties involved are required to make decisions and provide assurances. Important: milestones and goals must be agreed together!
Step 3 (six-week plan): In a six-week rhythm, the coming six weeks are planned with the whole team. Depending on the intensity and type of the project, a different rhythm may make more sense. The output is a detailed, up-to-the-minute overview. The various tradespeople themselves define activities, dependencies, binding goals and required resources and machinery on a daily basis.
Step 4 (weekly plan): The coming week is discussed within the team. The planned activities are finely aligned, making it possible to identify potential risks immediately.
Step 5 (evaluate, learn and improve): The final step involves analysing the past week. Were all goals achieved? If not, why? How could the problems have been avoided? What went well? Why did something go well? The aim is to regularly learn from experience and avoid future mistakes. The findings are used to scrutinise steps 1 to 4 and optimise the processes if necessary. The assumption with the lean management approach is that processes can be improved on a continuous basis.
Lean construction applies the ideas of lean management to the construction process. Lean management aims to generate added value without waste, and in a construction project this mainly involves issues such as compliance with costs, deadlines and the required quality. The planning process and its execution are designed in a holistic approach aimed at better meeting the client’s needs. Work is organised throughout the process in a way that maximises value for customers and minimises waste (inefficiencies, waiting times, excessive stock, unnecessary transport and later adjustments). Optimisation focuses on improving the overall performance of the project rather than optimising individual sub-areas. Processes are controlled proactively to reduce variances in the performance of individual process steps and thus ensure a steady production flow.
The following five steps of the Last Planner System are proposed:
Lean management aims to generate added value without waste – in other words, to use resources (time and material) as leanly as possible. Central to lean management is the thinking that added value is determined by the customer, and satisfying the customer’s needs is the ultimate goal. In general, customers are only willing to pay for things that serve their goals. Customers are not willing, therefore, to pay for the individual interests of project team members and contractors. As a result, all processes are optimised in such a way that the customer’s goals are achieved. In a construction project, these are often goals regarding costs, deadline reliability and quality. Lean management comes into play earlier than this, however. Customer needs also arise in a construction project with regard to architecture/aesthetics, functionality and longevity, but also with regard to occupational safety and employee satisfaction.
Lean management makes the claim that there is always room for optimisation – and a process is therefore never optimised as far as it could be. This means that processes can be scrutinised and optimised at any point in time, for example when a new machine, a new tool, or a new technology comes onto the market.
openBIM follows the approach that all project team members are free to choose their own software and manage their own BIM data. The concept is more about the exchange and merging of data being clearly defined and easy to handle. It refers not only to standardised data formats such as IFC and BCF, but also to the way in which people work together. The aim is to facilitate open, cross-disciplinary collaboration in which all project team members share structured information openly and freely. Nevertheless, the IFC data model is central in that all information about the building can be brought together and made accessible to all project team members at all times, from planning to management.
In a parametric design, initial parameters (e.g. property volume) are determined with the associated relationships. An algorithm can be used to create a wide variety of design variants and optimise drafts in a very short time. This also allows for common errors in the model to be detected quickly (e.g. static errors) and avoided in repeated tasks. Shapes are not drawn using an analogue or digital technique, but designed with a programming code.
The BEP defines clearly how the objectives stated in the employer information requirements (EIRs) are to be achieved. The BEP contains all specifications for all BIM-related content, structures, processes and roles that are defined at the beginning of a project for all project team members. The BEP, therefore, serves as the basis for the digital planning process.
In practice, EIRs and the BEP are drawn up at the same time and with the involvement of all parties and presented as a single document (usually referred to as the BEP). The BEP must always be read in conjunction with the project-specific organisation and project manual, and applies to all project team members. Basic requirements for model-based working are defined within the framework of the BEP. These include the content and formats of data, such as file naming conventions or the project coordinate system.
At the beginning of the modelling process, general considerations must be made in order to be able to carry out the structuring, zoning and arrangement of the model. The project coordinate system is defined jointly and to be adopted by all specialist disciplines. Basic elements of structural design (e.g. designation of floors) and modelling rules may deviate from the usual standards within the planning team. The vertical arrangement defined by the planner in the architectural model thus represents the specification for the individual models of all specialist planners.
The PIM contains all data and information developed by the contractors via the BIM Execution Plan (BEP). This means that this overall model develops over the course of the project, and hopefully fulfils the employer information requirements (EIRs) at the end of the project. Delivery objects in the PIM include BIM models, and other structured data, plans and documents (door lists, operating instructions, descriptions, etc.). The PIM is handed over to facility management or administration, where the model is modified if necessary and ultimately used to maintain and operate real estate.
Virtual reality (VR) enables you to immerse yourself in a completely separate world. The all-round experience is created using VR glasses developed by well-known tech companies such as Google, Samsung, Sony and HTC. The real environment disappears completely, and you find yourself in a virtual world in which you can move around freely. This can be used to represent a building, for example, and customers are able not only to explore its appearance, but also to find out how it feels.
The technology has enormous potential in architecture and can be used in different levels of detail. In an early phase, it makes it possible to obtain a feeling for spatial relationships and massing, while later on, elements such as interior decoration, the rays of the sun and the outside world can be added. Different options can be explored together with customers, making it possible to avoid subsequent changes with high costs. Various floor coverings can be tried out virtually, for example. Without VR, and only with sample tiles, it’s almost impossible to imagine how the flooring will look over the entire surface.
Rahel Beer, Project Manager, Building Department of the Canton of St. Gallen