Between raging bushfires, record droughts and a global pandemic, Australia’s architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) industries have weathered immense challenges over the past two years.
The industry has had to grapple with global supply chain issues and new health and safety protocols while adapting to remote working conditions amid recurring lockdowns.
More recently, construction has been temporarily suspended in parts of the country to contain the spread of the virus, resulting in postponed projects and a large part of the sector’s workforce. In the midst of chaos and uncertainty, the AEC industry has made a significant shift towards new technologies to provide a level of business continuity and ultimately to stay afloat.
As part of this transition, AEC companies have not only embraced technologies to facilitate remote and hybrid working conditions, but have also incorporated new innovations to improve their core operations and business functions. From cutting costs, increasing security, and improving business results, the benefits are far-reaching.
While the digital transformation in the AEC was in full swing before the pandemic, the events of the past 18 months have catapulted the industry years into the future. Now that the Australian government has set its roadmap for the pandemic, the industry needs to make sure it has the right tools and skills to not only survive the transition but thrive beyond it.
Industry 4.0 is gaining momentum
The fourth industrial revolution, also known as Industry 4.0, underscores the importance of digital technological advances such as digitization and automation in order to increase connectivity across all sectors. But what exactly does that mean for the AEC industry?
In essence, digitization is changing the way AEC experts design, build and use their products and spaces. With centralized digital data, companies can benefit from improved access to real-time data from site selection to design to post-build and post-build design. Not only do these features enable better, more informed decision-making, but they also have a significant impact on the bottom line, often through lower labor costs and greater efficiency.
Technologies that are shaking up the sector include digital twins – photorealistic 3D replicas of the built world – that have enabled AEC companies to break through the barriers of social distancing and bans. Digital twin technology is now being used to transform organizations within the AEC industry to adapt to Industry 4.0 and bring physical spaces to life in the virtual world.
The disruptive potential of digital twins
A digital twin is a digital copy of a real place or object, be it a room, an entire building or an outdoor area. Based on artificial intelligence and machine learning, digital twins are dimensionally accurate 3D models that can be constantly updated to reflect changes with their physical counterpart.
Digital twin technology has enabled AEC professionals to add a new layer of powerful real-time data via more traditional virtual visualization workflows such as 3D and BIM modeling. By pairing physical and virtual spaces, companies can analyze real-time data and create simulations to address potential problem areas and develop new, innovative strategies.
While physical distancing is still a drag on the AEC industry, by leveraging digital twin technology, companies can improve their customer experience, develop improvements in their services, and virtually increase innovation for their business.
We improve the way, we design and build
While the AEC industry is essentially about constructing the physical world, digital twins play a key role in increasing productivity across the industry by enabling teams to collaborate and work remotely with spatial and metrological data work that can be explored by anyone in the world with an internet connection.
Architecture firms, for example, can use digital twin technology beyond the pandemic to reduce their footprint on construction sites, accelerate design and project management processes, and improve access to information inside and outside the company.
In the construction phase, digital twins can effectively reduce the number of participants required on site during the entire construction process. The benefits of this extend well beyond the pandemic, resulting in lower labor costs and potentially longer-term improvements in safety.
Building is a complex endeavor with legacy processes that involve regulators, architects, contractors and building owners. The use of digital twins, which create a digital representation of real systems and components, is particularly important as a communication and workflow efficiency tool for an industry that is viewed as slow in adopting digital technologies compared to others.
Digital twins promise to be a key enabler as the construction industry seeks demand for new facilities and new layouts in the wake of COVID-19.
Meeting the demands of the future
The pandemic has given the AEC industry the opportunity to face the previous digital challenges directly and to accelerate the introduction of new technologies. As a result, forward-thinking companies have used data-driven technologies like digital twins to completely transform the way things are done and unlock new value chains.
In a post-COVID-19 world, it is the AEC companies that are accelerating their transition to digital technology that will grow and strengthen in Industry 4.0. By prioritizing advances in digital twin technology, these companies will be able to interact, share data and reinvent their work processes to increase productivity, reduce costs and develop innovative solutions.
It may sound simple, but by adding a digital twin to the traditional toolkit for builders, managers, or engineers, AEC companies can help evolve technology to meet the digital needs of the future.
Stephanie Lin is Senior Director of Business Strategy at Matterport.