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Paul McCarthy, CTO, Service Works Global, discusses with pbctoday how digital construction with BIM models and Digital Twins can improve building efficiency and help with sustainability goals without breaking the bank.

The concept of the ‘Smart Building’ has grown in popularity in recent years. In its simplest form, a smart building takes data from sensors and systems and uses the information to improve its performance. For example, many companies are using occupancy sensors since hybrid working became more common to understand which spaces are being used and when allowing them to make changes backed up by data. This might, for example, involve creating more meeting rooms if data shows that those spaces are the most in demand.

Creating a smart building can help to deliver improvements in sustainability, user experience and business efficiency, as well as reduce costs. It does not need to be seen as an unsurmountable task; additional elements of smart building technology can be integrated after the building data is collected and uploaded and have huge potential.

Bringing together FM, BIM and real-time sensors to maximize the potential data for building efficiency

To maximize the potential of smart building data, it is important to have three areas of digital construction and operation all working together – the facilities management (FM) system, the Building Information Modeling (BIM) information and the real-time sensors delivering data. Having a data-rich 3D BIM model is the starting point for creating a digital representation of a building, but on its own, it has limited useful impact. Bringing it together with the operational systems from the FM team, combined with sensor data from an IoT platform, is when meaningful results can be achieved.

Each element will provide insightful data about the building, but without the other systems in place, that data cannot be used to improve how a building is run. For example, the IoT platform on its own will deliver sensor data which is useful. However, by integrating this data with the BIM information, you can add precise locations where the data comes from in the building. As such, the sensor data collected from that area of your building can help to inform decision-making around how that space is used.

Then, by adding the FM systems to the mix, the data and building information can inform decision-making and improve building efficiency. For example, an office may have a meeting room that everyone avoids because the heating is temperamental. BIM data can pinpoint the location of the related asset, the FM system will detail its maintenance history, and the IoT system can give real-time performance data. This holistic view means the issue can be addressed quickly, and occupants have the best possible user experience at work.

Driving building efficiency in existing buildings

There was often a tendency to think that BIM data was not utilized during the construction phase of a new building. You have missed the boat, and starting the BIM process in an existing facility could be cost-prohibitive. However, rapid advancements in laser-scanning technology have ensured that harnessing BIM data in older, pre-existing buildings is possible and well worth the investment.

Digitising older and existing buildings can help to create a baseline of information to work with when assessing their future. Numerous benefits can be achieved from utilizing BIM data, IoT systems and FM software to gather real-time building performance data. The example of a meeting room with temperamental heating is just one scenario; when these technologies are in place across an entire building, the efficiency improvement can be significant.

A timely example for all businesses is energy efficiency, with Government support expected to end after March. Energy management systems can be integrated with BIM data to gain a better understanding of how energy is used within a building and how this system could potentially be streamlined to become more efficient. By analyzing sensor data about how often certain rooms are used, FMs can make informed decisions about how often rooms need to be heated or cleaned or whether the light can be linked to a sensor that is activated when it detects movement to minimise wasted energy.

Digital Twins can offer huge potential for modeling scenarios

Once you have the systems and tools to gather and analyze live building data, you can start exploring the potential of digital twins. A digital twin is a replica of a building, its physical attributes and live operational data – a dynamic virtual copy of a facility – which can offer huge potential for modeling scenarios.

The end goal may be to reduce emissions, save money, improve occupancy levels, or, more likely, a combination of these. A digital twin allows you to model “what if” scenarios based on real-world operational data to inform future FM strategy. For example, a digital twin could be used to test how a cooling system would cope with a 10 per cent increase in building occupants. Testing such a scenario will greatly reduce disruption to building occupants and remove the ‘trial and error’ process that can occur without a digital twin.

Smart buildings don’t need to break the bank

The important thing to remember when investing in infrastructure for a smart building is that it does not need to break the bank. You don’t need a building with numerous technology systems and sensors to achieve results. The overall aim is to create a system that enables buildings to use fewer resources, requires fewer maintenance visits, and delivers its service most efficiently. You could spend a lot of time connecting a frenzy of sensors all around a building, but it will likely just give you a lot of noisy information that is hard to work through. A big upfront technical project from the outset might not end up delivering the benefits expected from a very high level of investment.

My advice is to start small with one project at a time, so there is a chance to assess the information and create positive change in that project’s sustainability aims, efficiency, cost savings and service levels before you move on to the next phase. You can apply this model to any aspect of your building to create efficiencies and grasp the tangible benefits of remodeling a building to be smart.

What does a smart building look like?

You may want to start by looking at something relatively simple within your building that can be made smart for low costs. For example, combining room occupancy with temperature measurement. Combining this data can help you make decisions around cleaning rotas in certain rooms based on their occupancy data and air conditioning usage based on the temperature data, which can increase efficiencies for the cleaning team, as well as reduce the energy usage from the air conditioning unit.

Another great example of how this technology can aid building management is lift maintenance. The real-time data from a lift, combined with BIM information and maintenance history from the FM system, can deliver data about how often it is used, by whom, and what their journey looks like. The technology can set up routine maintenance checks and align planned maintenance regimes with usage and performance statistics, reducing the need for emergency call-outs and reducing lift-down time, which is a large facility which is clearly a cause of frustration for building users.

Integrating smart buildings to engage in the sustainability agenda

There is clearly huge potential to reduce carbon usage and improve the overall environmental impact of maintaining a building by introducing smart building technology.

In the higher education sector, we are seeing big moves towards making campuses and the buildings within them more sustainable. As younger generations enter further education, their expectations for their institution of choice have expanded beyond just the courses offered. Times Higher Education found that upwards of 9% of prospective students say that sustainability was the most important factor when choosing their place of study, and 77% stated that an institution’s commitment to teaching knowledge, skills, practices, and values of sustainability across all programmes was important. To be able to teach about the importance of sustainability, a higher education organisation will need to live and breathe it too.

Other sectors are also seeing this shift as their customers are demanding more than just a sustainability agenda. They are asking what these businesses are doing to tackle this effort. As we see more movement towards these ways of thinking, integrating smart buildings to engage in this agenda will become more popular for businesses that operate out of various buildings.

Overall, digital construction is beginning to gain more traction, and we are seeing greater transitions of digital data between the construction and operational phase of a building’s lifecycle. There is clearly a need for documented case study examples which demonstrate how this technology can deliver impactful change and the value it has the potential to deliver. Other regions that SWG work in, such as Scandinavia, have made great strides in the shift towards more smart buildings and have begun to see real-life results because of this, and this is a trend that I anticipate we will see growth in the UK and overseas.


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