BIM and timber construction – The opportunity for seamless digitisation in the construction industry
How do we bring digitalisation directly to the construction site? And by that I don’t mean that we bring an iPad or a USB stick to the construction site. By that I mean that we directly control the production machine, the CNC milling machine, without a paper plan. That is the idea with which we started. And the idea works.
In the aircraft industry, in the automotive sector, everywhere products are already designed on the computer, a real digital twin is created and this directly controls the production chain. But that is series, that is mass production. That’s why we also look at other sectors.
In dentistry, for example, your mouth is measured in 3D. The digitised data for the dental prosthesis is sent directly to the production machine and the new tooth is then inserted into your mouth with a perfect fit. That is where we want to go. Individual production controlled directly from the computer.
Is the construction industry digital?
What is the status quo in planning and the construction world? The construction industry is digital. We enter virtual reality with VR glasses, we can experience buildings before they have been built. We enter an urban planning model and push around entire building complexes. The employees can sit in Munich, Bregenz, Vienna, it doesn’t matter. Our BIM models contain all the data, from construction to operation. Many architecture firms already have all the data in their BIM model. Even out on the construction site, if we want to present during a construction negotiation, for example, what the project will look like later, we can show that accordingly with augmented reality. Great, super, I like it. All computers, yes.
But how do I get this high precision, this efficiency we plan with, out of the computer? How do we build it in the end? We print out a plan and finally the building site looks exactly the same as it did before. The bricklayer, the carpenter, the formwork carpenter kneels on the ground, measures out the numbers and builds his formwork panel exactly as he sees fit, with tolerances of up to two centimetres. That’s not the precision we want! The only thing that has changed in the history of planning is how the line gets onto the paper. I used to draw by hand, then in CAD and now I generate a BIM model. At the end of the day, the paper plan is still the information carrier on the construction site. Is that digital? I don’t think it’s digital. The construction industry is not digital. The PLANNING is digital.
Timber construction as a pioneer of digitalisation
In my opinion, timber construction is the most modern building material in our business. Timber construction has been digital for years. For a long time now, the digital planning of joinery has been working exactly as I imagine it: the production data is set up in 3D, in HSBCAD, CAD Work etc. For years, we have done nothing else in timber construction but enter the production exactly in 3D and then directly control the production machines. The components come out so precisely that they fit together with millimetre accuracy. As Dietrich | Untertrifaller, I want to build with exactly this precision, that is our claim.
In timber construction, it is true that paper printing is no longer necessary and the architects’ BIM model is transferred digitally. But the timber construction company still draws its own model. And now we don’t have the digital twin again, but another break in the digital value chain. So we must succeed in precisely closing this gap. That was the vision with which we once started and which we are now implementing. Because if we manage to close the gap between the BIM model, architect, engineer and work preparation, I manage to close the gap on the construction site. And then I can press the button and directly control the production machine.
A good example is our TUM Campus in the Olympic Park in Munich, one of the largest timber construction sites in Europe with a 180-metre-long roof that cantilevers 20 metres. The canopy girders were created with exactly this precision. There is no longer any difference between the planners and the executors. Reality and the planned digital twin are congruent. That is millimetre-precise, modern, digital work.
Integral planning workshop as a solution
But can I achieve this with the usual project processes, the HOAI? No, for that I need integral planning teams. But most of these teams consist only of architect, structural design and building services. We have supplemented our integral planner teams with work preparation. In this so-called integral planning workshop, all project participants sit at one table, including the client. We work with agile processes here – design thinking in the design phase, Scrum when we work through the project ready for approval. When the building permit is granted, we switch to lean construction and implement the project in a process-optimised way.
We’ve already done this in different markets in Germany and Austria. To cut a long story short: we bring digitalisation to the construction site.