Digital twins, photogrammetry, and analytics are paying off for owners and developers when this technology is in the hands of experts who push it to its limits.
The complexity and risk of any project today is daunting, but the consequences of poor information on multibillion-dollar projects can be catastrophic. Having the right information at the right time is paramount when each day of delay can cost millions of dollars. Paper blueprints do not fit the projects of today when precision and prefabrication are the keys to success. Digital twins (digital model representations of a building) are revolutionizing the design, construction, and operation of modern structures. Some institutional owners are now understanding that the data may soon be worth more than the physical structure itself. Our experts at OAC Services, Inc. have been utilizing digital twins for more than a decade as the technology has evolved. We are now moving into the next phase of utilizing photogrammetry-generated point clouds meshed with the models.
Through the design process, digital twins increase quality because designers, as well as owners, can see what is going to be built in virtual reality. There are now meetings being held with virtual walk-throughs where multiple people in different locations can meet in the designer’s model, look at details, and make decisions or changes about the design. The coordination and collaboration are improved because the light table of old has been replaced by software that finds specific locations of objects in the model. The software tracks issues and notifies team members that the problems need to be resolved. This reduces RFIs in the field, which saves the owner time and money in terms of a delay or change on the project. This increased quality of design has led to more prefabrication and model-based estimating, which produces more accurate estimates while reducing wasted material in the field. OAC is targeting numbers as low as 1.4 lbs. per square foot of total material in waste and recycling on digital twin projects, reducing the projects’ carbon footprint.
Photogrammetry is the next innovation that is revolutionizing the digital twin with the digital truth. The old saying “a picture paints a thousand words” is still true today – whether it is a picture generated by a drone flying over the project or someone walking with a 360-degree 5.7K video camera. There are some brilliant people who have written software to turn those pictures into point clouds and, in some cases, register them exactly with the digital twin model. Those in the industry are now seeing things that they have never seen before. They can literally go in the model under the dirt grade and measure to the top of the model footing. It’s now possible to look at utilities under the ground or see if equipment is in the correct location and installed the proper way. As-builts are now called As-Truths because they have a picture that is date and time stamped.
By utilizing aerial survey points on the ground, the photographs are being turned into surfaces precise enough to calculate exaction volumes on sites. Artificial intelligence is being used to count the number of plants installed on projects. OAC has used this photo mesh and models to check layout of underground piping and perform quality control on some large and small projects in Washington State and Mountain View, California. The 360-degree camera has been revolutionizing capture inside of buildings to document work installed, or the status of an existing structure. This data can be utilized just like the digital model for coordination of design or measuring elements installed. The ability to look at a timeline of the building in a structured, orderly way by location is putting power back in the hands of the owner for change orders and project schedule. Owners can see what the current status of the project is at any time. This will revolutionize the industry the way the internet changed car sales forever.
With all this new data coming from the concept of the digital twin, OAC is also looking at the data on a project in new ways. By combining Microsoft’s data visualization tool, Power BI, SQL programming language, and heuristics, we are providing owners dividends in cost and schedule by looking ahead at what is probable rather than having to fight a claim after the fact.
OAC is employing some advanced cashflow analytics to see whether project schedules are viable before they start or are running behind schedule when the superintendent’s schedule says that they are fine. Our project managers are doing this by normalizing the data of many projects and looking for patterns in the data when compared against variables such as square footage, time, workers, trade type, and number of elements to install. OAC is also mining out the model to create heat maps showing the number of elements in each area in order to create better schedules based on data. By doing this kind of analysis up front we reduce claims and produce better outcomes for our clients. OAC Innovation is also finding that the data visualization tools in Power BI make it easier to communicate what is going to happen if adjustments are not made before the work begins. This kind of data analysis is exactly what is needed to save owners from the pain of regret on those multibillion-dollar projects.
Construction has always been a data game, even as far back as my early years in 1991. Keeping it straight and organized was the key to success. Today the complexity can be overwhelming with the new technology, speed, and cost of a modern project. But for those who embrace these new technologies, we can accomplish more in less time with a satisfied customer. The designer, builder, and owner of today must be data driven and understand the tools and techniques needed to succeed. At OAC, we have been very pleased with these technologies, and we are continuing to innovate with them to find new ways to improve the future of construction.
Chris Heger is chief innovation officer at OAC Services, Inc. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.