How the construction industry is using technology to become more sustainable
Construction companies are increasingly relying on technology to support their sustainability efforts. Below are five instances of successful sustainable construction initiatives made possible by modern tech tools.
By Harsh Pareek, Regional Sales Director, India and SAARC, Trimble Solutions
Global warming and climate change are among the biggest challenges of our generation today. Almost 40 per cent of energy-related greenhouse gas emissions are from the buildings and construction sector, as per UN’s 2019 Global Status Report for Buildings and Construction. Fortunately, the world’s largest industry by size and scale has been taking concrete steps to control and reduce its own carbon footprint.
Many large construction companies around the world are well aware of their role and responsibility in mitigating the carbon impact of their industry. As per a McKinsey survey of 100 senior construction executives in 2021, 53% of industry leaders put sustainability as a key trend that they expected to accelerate in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic. The same year, it was also reported that 82% of architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) companies now have a dedicated sustainability team in place, and 74% of firms are directly investing in technology to improve sustainability.
This shift towards sustainable thinking and planning has consequently led to reduced consumption and a corresponding rise in productivity. Construction companies are increasingly relying on technology to support their sustainability efforts. Below are five instances of successful sustainable construction initiatives made possible by modern tech tools.
1. Energy Analysis Plug-Ins for Net Zero Energy Design
The design for the new building for Benjamin Banneker Academic High School in United States’ Washington DC had to measure up to expectations, as the interplay of energy and well-being was specifically highlighted in their sustainability goals.
To achieve a net zero energy status for the school, the design team combined 3D modelling in the design software SketchUp with energy and daylight analysis in the Sefaira plug-in and Climate Studio. These tools assisted the team in ensuring occupant comfort without sacrificing smart design, through a comprehensive examination of daylight, thermal comfort, acoustics, and air quality. With the Sefaira plug-in, the design team could concentrate on performance optimization, rather than outsourcing their energy analysis to other experts as was done earlier. Ultimately, the building not only successfully achieved a net-zero energy status, but also earned LEED Platinum Certification.
2. Detailed BIM Modeling to Reduce Material Waste
For the East Coast Multi-Structure Brewery project in Sierra Nevada, concrete contractors Wayne Brothers used detailed BIM modelling to significantly reduce rebar material waste. The 12,000-square-foot fermentation tank structure was detailed via a leading BIM software. The detailed modelling not only shaved a week off the three-month schedule but also resulted in no rebar discrepancies due to detailing or fabrication errors. For this type of project, one would expect 10 to 15 per cent rebar waste; however, this was reduced to less than 1% or just two tons out of 300 tons of steel. This building also earned the prestigious LEED Platinum Certification.
3. Offsite fabrication for higher efficiency and lowers emissions
Research by South Korea’s Hanyang University has shown that industrialized construction decreases carbon emissions by 40%. Cooper Electrical Construction Company realized this when using advanced detailing software, the company was able to produce comparatively more detailed design models. These models allowed Cooper to move 60% of the field labour to their off-site fabrication facility. In addition to the decreased emissions from off-site fabrication, Cooper Electrical has experienced significant gains in productivity, safety, and quality.
4. Offsite Construction for Zero Waste Fabrication
UK’s Sigmat is a leader in light-gauge steel framing. The company knows the impact 3D modelling has on offsite construction, and thus it constructs all projects twice: once in the digital environment and once onsite. Sigmat relies on cutting-edge BIM software to create accurate and effective models because they believe that if something functions in a model, it will function in real life.
A high degree of precision in virtual design and construction (VDC) procedures allow Sigmat to reach zero waste with offsite construction. Additionally, automation of other processes ensures that the right amount of material is always bought, and there is no need for rework because of faulty fabrication or detailing.
5. Linear Scheduling Software for Faster Project Delivery
It is very unlikely for a high-speed rail project to be completed on schedule, especially if it involves 1,600 king posts, 3,000 pylons and 300 kilometres of aluminium cable, overhead wires, and fiber optic cables. Yet, this happened in the German Cologne-Rhine-Main line construction project, where the team used an advanced scheduling software expressly meant for linear construction sites. The system allowed them to manage a large number of activities and numerous interfaces between different trades.
The software maintained a large database of algorithms that include details on the time of the procedures, the tools used, the people involved, relevant costs, etc. Each process could be correlated with data like quantities and resources that are kept in libraries together with the accompanying performance values.
Teams were able to exchange information and make real-time adjustments thanks to the open-data linear scheduling software. The project’s timely completion depended on the software, and its delivered.
As the above cases show, we are only starting to realize the potential of technology to improve sustainable construction. Still, there are many more opportunities to responsibly use resources and reduce carbon emissions within the construction industry, and innovative technologies like constructible BIM, mixed reality, machine control, robotics and drones can all play a role.
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