Digitalisation: How to give buildings a voice

31 May 2022 Kingspan Group

A vision for the construction industry from Brian Glancy, Kingspan and Anand Mecheri, CEO, Invicara

Unlike other sectors, construction has been slower to harness data to improve outcomes. Cars have a dashboard which alerts users to potential faults through status updates – but buildings have no equivalent.

But this is where digitalisation comes in. According to Brian Glancy, Head of BIM Strategy at Kingspan Group: 

Digitalisation is the way the built environment will solve its most pressing problems. The essence is bringing together the disparate sources of data produced by and supporting buildings, and using them to create better spaces. We want buildings to be more than just objects: we want to give them a voice.
Brian sees digitalisation as the biggest moment for construction since the invention of the elevator. “The elevator was a game-changer for the sector, reconceptualising buildings from the ground up. Digitalisation is the next route for the construction sector to reach new heights,” he says.

It will also help tackle arguably the construction industry’s greatest challenge – its environmental footprint. The sector is responsible for 39% of global carbon emissions, and around a third of the world’s waste. Digitalisation provides several routes to address this, from understanding a building’s thermal efficiency to decreasing waste.

In 2018 Kingspan made a landmark investment in Invicara, the developer of the cloud-based software platform Invicara combines sources of design, construction and operations data to create transformative workflows. Invicara’s CEO Anand Mecheri sat down with Brian Glancy to discuss their vision for the industry.

Digital design and planning
Buildings involve vast amounts of data which is often not collected, organised, or maintained. Over the decades important information, ranging from the energy performance of buildings materials to product recycling, is lost. 

As Anand points out, maintaining data is easier if there are clear objectives. 
There is no use in capturing data unless it is important to a building’s owners and users. Digitalisation is more than just storing data: it’s the art of making sure your data serves a purpose.
Data could be collected for the purpose of reducing a building’s carbon footprint, for example, to make a building resource-efficient during use.

This starts with planning. Using digital versions of products with a full suite of data attached – as Kingspan produces in its digital product library – designers might model the level of natural light in a room throughout a day, reducing the need for electrical lighting. Creating a 3D simulation allows designers to coordinate structural, mechanical and environmental data, and spot problems which would be missed in 2D. Likewise, simulating the construction process allows project managers to identify errors or potential delays which would lead to increased costs and site waste.

Digital twins
Digitalisation is key to the ambition for autonomous, or "smart”, buildings: buildings with systems that monitor equipment and regulate their operation for maximum efficiency. A digital model, when linked to a physical asset, can respond to data on a building’s performance in real time. This enables diagnostics, dashboards and predictive capability to prevent failures, as well as improving well-being and reducing energy use.

As digital twins advance into the realm of autonomous, they will automatically adjust lighting, shading, airflow, temperature, air quality, and other parameters. They will diagnose and heal faults, and balance occupant well-being and energy use targets without any interference from human operators.
If we focus now on producing Digital Twins, then these – accompanied by BIM – can be the nucleus of change for the built environment, Brian says.
Digital first: the Kingspan opportunity
Even where the systems are shown to be viable and advantageous, there are barriers to wider adoption. “Data alone is not enough,” Anand says. “Digitalisation requires multiple stakeholders to buy into changing the existing delivery model of a building.” Brian agrees: “Collaboration is critical.”

“Build digitally first before building physically,” Brian says. Another barrier is the importance of the manufacturer in data and digitalisation. “We need to be at the project delivery table in future to demonstrate the advantages of high-quality data - and to encourage a digital-first approach to planning and design.”

The ambition, Brian says, is for Kingspan to “supply world-class data alongside digital products and services, to derive more value for all stakeholders.” He sees this as a key outcome of the partnership with Invicara. 
“People are conscious of the food they eat, and the efficiency of their cars,” he adds. “A building should be no different, using better materials, creating better spaces, and better performance for the occupants.”

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