The consequences of the pandemic bring to light the need for the digital and industrialised transformation of the AECO sector

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The consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic are affecting the entire world. The negative effects are myriad, but it has also served to bring to light situations hitherto not regarded as a priority and for measures to be taken to optimise resources and improve efficiency. According to Ignasi Pérez Arnal, CEO of BIM Academy, in the AECO (Architecture, Engineering, Construction and Operations) sector, the “new normal” is accelerating the transformation required to correct aspects that have been shown to be urgent, and it is doing so on the basis of five key concepts:

Decarbonisation

Since March, we have spent a great deal of time inside buildings. “We have realised that they have too many pollutant emissions and that for this reason air quality inside buildings is poor. Moreover, spaces are not multifunctional, they are not prepared for people to live together for so long and to do so many activities. The tendency now is therefore to propose flexible and multifunctional spaces, with good interior air quality that issue the lowest possible amount of CO2. In other words, buildings with good energy efficiency.

Circular construction

It is a concept closely linked to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). In all industrial sectors, reuse, recycling and waste minimisation are high on the agenda. The circular economy is a commitment being made by many companies prompted by the demands of society and marketing strategies. On the other hand, “in the AECO sector we are experts in the generation of urban waste and the use of non zero-kilometre products, and we leverage less than 3% of the materials resulting from the demolition of a building, which end up in landfills”.

Industrialisation

The spaces where people have to spend a lot of time need to be humanised, and the way to do so sustainably, in terms of both cost and time and with a minimum impact on the environment, is through industrialisation. In other words, through offsite prefabricated modular construction. “The number of companies that engage in the manufacture of building components is growing spectacularly. The consequence is that houses are now fabricated, they are not built.”

For this type of production data and needed. “Building projects have always been implemented with lines and drawings, not with data and digital models. With BIM, we can model digitally, and once we have secured the client’s approval we send the project to be fabricated: structures, components of installations, sections of façade and even modules that no longer need to be built on-site but rather will be assembled there”.

Digitisation

If we are to work with data, a digital transition is called for. “Everything that used to be done with pencil and on paper can now be expedited digitally by inputting data into a mobile phone or tablet. In the AECO sector, thanks to laser scans, we no longer take photos or measurements, we do point clouds, we scan the entire space where the building or infrastructure will be located. This gives us a digitised representation of the reality and we can therefore industrialise building process and avoid issues caused by inexact measurements. It is what we call the digital twin”.

Sustainability

The preceding four concepts converge in this fifth one. “Hitherto, society has tolerated our being the most polluting sector through the generation of waste, energy consumption and a lack of recycling, but this must stop. We must be capable of self-generating the energy we need, of not using toxic materials and of ensuring that the air we breathe indoors is better-quality than the outside air. Technology should allow us to make more comfortable buildings with less impact on the environment.

The pandemic is accelerating this transformation, not only through social and environmental awareness, but also because “this way of doing projects is more efficient. It gives us control, data and management in real time”.

BIM (Building Information Modelling) straddles this entire transformation, although the current situation is also promoting a closely-related work methodology: Integrated Project Delivery (IPD), which “is about relationships between people. Everyone is aligned with a common goal. In building, this occurs only exceptionally. Up until now, the norm was that each participant in the project sought their own benefit first and foremost. This integrated management was missing”.

The social responsibility of the AECO sector

From the economic standpoint, we cannot overlook the fact that AECO sector accounts for between 5% and 10% of any country’s GDP, and this figure is even higher in some nations. Ignasi Pérez Arnal points out that, taking into account the negotiation with the European Union for the provision of structural funds to Spain, “the sector should call for 10% of these funds to be invested in order to accomplish the digitisation and sustainability goals”.

He warns us that “every year, we build only 50,000 of the 200,000 houses that would be necessary to cover the population’s needs, meaning that we are preventing the emancipation of thousands of young people. Digitisation and industrialisation must serve to make more comfortable and more affordable houses. This is something that remains pending and the building sector should take responsibility. We have a very important social role that we must embrace”.

One of the promoters of the European BIM Summit opines that the indicators used for policy-making should be changed. “The indicator should be that nobody has to live in the street or that the air we breathe should have at least a minimum quality level. In the last six months, activity plummeted, but environmental pollution increased. How do you account for that? We have the tools to turn the tables, but we need to get down to work now”.

He reminds us that the building sector “is the one that generates the greatest number of jobs with the least investment. It has to be the driving force of the economy. This does not mean uncontrolled building, but rather building in an industrialised, digitised and sustainable way to provide people with affordable and quality housing”.

Concluding, Pérez Arnal regrets the fact that “we have failed to bring the world of politics closer to our sector, and at this point in time building is still synonymous with corruption, commissions, delays and changes that swell the budget”. However, BIM and the digital tools available “can put an end to all that. I can hire with blockchain and not one Euro of the budget will be impacted. Moreover, we can manage project development in real time”.

“We need to become a regular industrial sector”, he insists. “Getting closer to the world of politics and society, and doing so transparently, is crucial”.

 

The European BIM Summit is possible thanks to the contribution of our sponsors: Roca, as Main sponsor; Finalcad, as Gold sponsor; Agència Catalana de l’Aigua, ATL, Bentley, CIAT, FGC, MUSAAT, PREMAAT, Graphisoft Archicad, SIMBIM Solutions, Ineco and Suez as Silver sponsors; Calaf Constructora, Copisa, and Fundación Laboral de la Construcción, as Pro sponsors; and Master Builders Solutions, as Sustainability sponsor. It has also the support and the collaboration of the Departament de Territori i Sostenibilitat of the Generalitat de Catalunya.