The end of Digital Construction Week (UK) provides a great opportunity to reflect on how the industry is utilising new technologies to drive forward efficiencies and value. This year many of the speakers were keen to focus the listeners minds on the challenges facing the industry, often referring to the Construction 2025 targets and the need to deliver our projects cheaper, faster and more sustainably, without sacrificing on quality. The popular technologies exhibited this year included augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), as well as drones. Although most of these have been around for a few years it feels that these technologies have moved on well, resulting in real-life, practical applications. Some of the most interesting applications included; the use of VR with clients, providing them with a more immersive guide through their projects, aiding the design process; as well as using AR to support on-site construction teams to understand the appropriate installation processes during building. It feels like these technologies are now providing real benefits to the construction process.
Where various new technologies are introduced, it can result in new methods for collecting and utilising data. Several discussions and seminars focused on how sensors and devices are being used to collect data from across the whole lifecycle of an asset, as well as how all this data can be brought together to create a digital twin, providing an up-to-date digital representation of the asset.
“Digital twins are realistic digital representations of physical things . . . What distinguishes a digital twin from any other digital model is its connection to the physical twin. Based on data from the physical asset or system, a digital twin unlocks value principally by supporting improved decision making, which creates the opportunity for positive feedback into the physical twin.”
Centre for Digital Built Britain, The Gemini Principles, 2018
The connection between the digital twin and the physical twin creates exciting opportunities, as the digital twin always remains a relevant and accurate representation of the physical asset. The ability to collect data over multiple technical areas (e.g. energy, water, waste etc.) throughout various stages of the asset’s life enables easy connections to products like BREEAM which can help to determine how the asset is performing.
Providing a fully functioning digital twin for every asset within the built environment is very ambitious and the industry is likely to be a long way off this. Nevertheless, the good thing is that using this kind of technology doesn’t need to be an all or nothing approach. A recent report produced by the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) explains that solutions are already available in the marketplace which enable assets to start to build this capacity and it isn’t essential for assets to go straight for a “fully responsive, automated holistic system”. Incremental development is achievable which is essential considering that 80% of our assets operating in 2050 have already been constructed. We need to find easy ways to bring the entire built environment on this journey.
How does this align with BREEAM?
As can be seen above, asset owners and occupiers are looking to collect structured data throughout the entire life of an asset. This will help to provide insights into asset performance, informing us how to improve both the existing building stock, as well as those currently being designed. BRE, through products like BREEAM, are keen to help drive this agenda forward and support those stakeholders already working to collect structured data. Our next steps look to ensure that our BREEAM product range is easily accessible, by providing transparent, machine readable data requirements to the market, which will streamline BREEAM assessments, as well as the associated assurance processes.
But, what does that mean in reality?
Currently the data requirements (i.e. the data that needs to be submitted in order to determine the performance of an asset) are stored within our technical guidance documents. However, BREEAM are looking to clearly define these data requirements in a structured, machine readable template. The process of templating the data requirements would outline terms for specific data points, as well as any necessary validation surrounding it (e.g. the unit, or data range etc.). By defining the requirements within a template, it provides clarity and certainty to a range of stakeholders. The Assessor and the associated design team or asset management team would be able to quickly distinguish all data points they need to collect in order to undertake certification. As well as this, the templates provide the potential to collect this data within third party solutions which follow the same data structure (one potential solution could be a digital twin), before sending this through to BREEAM via an application programme interface (API).
For example, in order to assess the performance of an asset within Wat 01 of the BREEAM International New Construction standard, a project would need to collect a series of data points related to the performance of water consuming appliances, such as the flow rates for example. Therefore, if BREEAM were able to clearly define these data points they could then be collected within building information modelling (BIM) software by the design team. The data could then be pushed to BREEAM through a plug-in which could immediately return the number of credits achieved, enabling the design team to receive instantaneous feedback on their performance, as well as streamlining the data collection process for the Assessor. This could support the design team through the design process by enabling them to quickly understand the implications of their specification decisions on the BREEAM rating (see Figure 1). It is these types of applications which we are extremely excited to explore further.
With this in mind, we are keen to work with stakeholders across industry to explore how defining our data requirements can open new opportunities throughout the whole lifecycle of an asset. We currently see potential value through increased efficiencies in the collection and verification of assessment data, reduction in human error, and further opportunities to provide performance insights – but we are keen to hear about what the industry thinks.
If Assessors, Designers, Asset Managers, Third-party Platforms or any other stakeholder would like to talk to us about any of these opportunities please do not hesitate to get in touch (firstname.lastname@example.org).