Green technology and BIM workflows reshaping future construction industry

The growing trend towards prefabricated, offsite and modular construction and the use of Buildings Information Modelling (BIM) are emerging tech trends reshaping the industry and helping to futureproof the built environment.

When construction moves offsite, material can be managed with extreme efficiency, reducing costs and driving down a building’s final embodied carbon. Stock can be ordered to spec, cut and assembled with precision, keeping tolerances tight. Tighter tolerances, in turn, make buildings more energy-efficient. Precutting material and assembling building components in a controlled, factory-like setting allows for a more streamlined build process and minimizes site disturbance. This approach also reduces waste from overage and scrap, and even boosts operational performance.

Contractors can also reduce variability and tighten their delivery timeline by decoupling construction of the modular assembly from onsite schedule. Modular buildings have been shown to perform better than their site-built counterparts, saving owner-operators on their energy bills and cutting emissions during occupancy.

Demolition contractors regularly quote for the recovery of building materials in their bids. But BIM can do much more to ensure buildings and tenant improvements have a cost-effective, environmentally sound end of life. Huge quantities of construction and demolition waste still find their way to landfill each year as incoherent scrap. This continuous flow of waste represents lost value and a missed opportunity to cut carbon emissions: recycling materials, such as steel, produces a fraction of the greenhouse gas–and is typically less expensive–compared to the production of virgin materials.

BIM paves the way for a more “circular” model, where materials stay in play for longer, getting reused or at least recycled whenever possible, helping to mitigate the resource crunch. And in some regions, especially Europe, the industry is increasingly treating “buildings as material banks.”

Design for disassembly and reversible construction techniques ensure that what gets built can come apart again with minimum effort. BIM helps rationalize, plan for and guide material reclamation, lowering the amount of time and cost required to do so. Some large firms, like Royal BAM, are already going so far as to simulate building disassembly, taking, one could say, a VDC approach to decommissioning: a trend likely to spread in coming years.

BIM ushered VDC into the world, making it much easier to plan, simulate and visualize builds in advance. 4-D and 5-D construction, increasingly common, now help streamline onsite work, making it leaner. These practices effectively reduce a building’s embodied carbon: minimizing the energy and material stock going into it, and cutting the waste coming out of it. Projects taking full advantage of this trend are achieving unprecedented reductions in cost, logistics and timelines while boosting margins by turning construction into a tightly choreographed number with a slimmer environmental footprint.

Green building enhances property value, but it can be tricky to know how well a project is actually doing, or even to choose the right benchmark for comparison. And as the global response to climate change ramps up, high-impact sectors like construction are going to be increasingly accountable for their environmental impacts. Quantifying energy and material savings can be a daunting task–translating these factors into carbon emissions averted even more so. But getting at these numbers is essential to informed decision-making and, increasingly, for compliance with regulatory standards.

In the future, expect to see BIM tools surfacing actionable environmental impact data at key moments during planning and execution. Technology will help contractors rationalize greener construction in the bidding process, empowering them to clearly communicate the environmental and financial logic of their decisions in tandem. Eventually, machine learning and AI will automatically serve up the optimal choices, providing recommendations for cost, material, carbon and even water savings.

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November 28, 2017