Cutting-Edge Digital Tools In The Construction Industry
Digitised models and gamification can enhance the engineering process by gaining feedback from construction contractors, operators, community and stakeholders during project development and execution. This is the methodology of engineering, design and advisory company Aurecon (rebranding as Zutari). The approach gives engineers and owners remote access to their virtual projects and contractors insight when tendering for contracts, while allowing specific training of operations and maintenance staff before assets are even built.
“As we realise new, decentralised ways of working in the future, our ability to create value in situations where distance separates users and assets continues to grow,” says Murray Walker, creative technologies developer at Aurecon.
The COVID-19 pandemic is an excellent example of how digitised construction assets are affording stakeholders the opportunity to gain value without site presence. “In times like these, where we are forced to decouple from our teams, clients and project sites, cutting-edge digital tools can ease the burden,” says Walker. “Digitising design, construction and operational assets enables unparalleled remote insight into engineering, status and quality.”
Advancing project visualisation
For the last three-and-a-half years, Aurecon has explored how advanced project visualisation can aid its design teams and clients. “From the get-go, we have combined reality-capture and design-model data with a gaming engine to build custom interactions into applications that aid the design teams in both decision making and client understanding,” explains Walker.
Beyond working purely with design models, Walker says Aurecon is able to monitor and communicate construction process by combining drone imagery, smart field applications and insight from the site team to track progress and quality in a gamified digital twin. Creating geospatial digital databases linked with design models, he says, has enabled the creation of workflows that can assign construction and quality information to the digital asset automatically.
“Using our proprietary SiteLab tool to view this information, users anywhere on the globe can observe real construction progress and quality by asset layer and through time,” says Walker. “This is critical given the many remote project sites in rural Africa, with the owners, engineers and contractors often headquartered outside the country, let alone being off-site.”
Reality capture – using terrestrial laser scans, drone photogrammetry or manual terrestrial photogrammetry – allows for remote assessment of sites and assets. If the capture is conducted to the correct standard, an incredible level of detail can be realised. For this reason, reality-capture technology, best-practice capture methods and smart data processing tools can all combine to slash project budgets for organisations.
Walker says that extending the value of the models extracted from reality capture data is a major industry focus now, with the goal of improving the assignment and transfer of metadata and attributes from design through to construction and into operations. “We are creating digital tools today so the asset managers of tomorrow are empowered to maximise value from their portfolios by having maintenance manuals, building information modelling data and sensor data that is all available in an intuitive, real-time and interactive environment,” explains Walker.
Asset digitisation also opens up the possibility of developing robust, practical virtual-reality training modules for asset operators and maintenance teams. Walker points to a full substation technical training module developed for one of South Africa’s municipalities, which can now train new electrical technicians on their specific assets in a safe environment.
In solar energy, Shane Eglinton, Africa wind and solar leader for Aurecon, says automated workflows enable designs to be transferred to full 3D digital in minutes rather than weeks. “The engineering engine allows for the accurate calculation of shadow paths with accurate tracking movement, confirmed component placement and function, in-simulation measurement, and completely free user navigation through the model.”
Eglinton says civil works designs are being tested on wind-energy project sites with gamified delivery vehicles (including telescopic trailers with rear steering for delivery of abnormal components), visualising wake impacts from wind turbines to assist layout development and explain impacts to non-technical stakeholders, and animating construction sequencing. This allows owners, engineers and construction contractors to test solutions throughout the development process before executing final designs.
“It’s important to be constantly looking ahead to what emergent technologies can offer the engineering world,” concludes Walker, “adopting tools from other industries such as gaming to bring multiple new layers of understanding, versatility and value to projects.”