Building better: A new era for the built environment sector – How transformative technologies are forcing this sector to change?
Dr Seyed Ghaffar, PhD, CEng, FICE, FHEA, MICT
The built environment is transforming the way buildings are designed, constructed, monitored, maintained, and managed. However, one persistent challenge that continues to plague the sector is poor traceability and visibility, as well as the lack of correct/useful product information. Traceability refers to the ability to track and document the origin, movement, and life cycle of materials and products. In the past, the built environment sector has struggled with the accurate identification and sourcing of materials, leading to inefficiencies, delays, and potential risks. However, digitalisation and novel management systems are emerging to address these issues. For instance, blockchain, a decentralized and transparent record system, can deliver a secure record of every transaction and movement of materials. This allows stakeholders to have near real-time visibility into the supply chain, ensuring that the products used in construction projects are authentic, safe, and meet the required standards. Many construction projects involve multiple stakeholders, including designers, contractors, suppliers, and regulatory bodies. Often, miscommunication and inadequate sharing of information occur, leading to mistakes, rework, and delays. To address this challenge, Building Information Modelling (BIM) has emerged as a transformative innovation. BIM enables the creation and management of a digital representation of an asset, incorporating detailed information about every component and system. This shared representation enhances collaboration, minimises errors, and allows for better and more reliable decision-making throughout the project life cycle.
The lack of correct product information poses significant risks to the built environment. It is crucial to have accurate and up-to-date data regarding the specifications, performance, and maintenance requirements of building products. Fortunately, technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT) and cloud computing have enabled the integration of product information databases with physical objects. By embedding sensors and RFID tags into building components, stakeholders can access near real-time information about product origins, certifications, and maintenance instructions drawing from product information databases. This ensures that the correct product information is readily available, enhancing safety, durability, and sustainability in the built environment.
Addressing the issues of poor traceability and visibility, as well as the lack of correct product information, is paramount for continued innovation in the built environment. The integration of technologies like blockchain, BIM, IoT, and cloud computing holds great promise in transforming the sector, promoting transparency, efficiency, and sustainability. By leveraging these innovations, stakeholders can make more informed decisions, mitigate risks, and build assets that are safer, more resilient, and environmentally friendly.
Regulations are often introduced to address societal concerns. As the awareness of climate change and environmental impact grows, governments and regulatory bodies are implementing stricter rules to reduce energy consumption, promote renewable energy sources, and minimise carbon emissions in the built environment. These regulations drive the adoption of energy-efficient technologies, green building practices, and the use of sustainable materials, ultimately contributing to a more sustainable and resilient infrastructure.
Both green and digital transitions are the main priorities of the built environment sector. These ‘twin’ transitions, the green and digital, can reinforce each other. For example, distributed ledger technology, which underlies blockchain and thus cryptocurrencies, can be used in material tracing, aiding the circular economy as it can lead to better maintenance and recycling. Nevertheless, it’s worth noting that adapting education and training systems to match rapidly transforming sectors is an undermined point that requires the higher education institutions and industrial partners to work in collaboration to address the issue of lack of awareness and eventually the successful implementation of innovation across the built environment.
Completing the Circle
The built environment is an ideal sector to exploit circular economy due to its important and substantial resource intensity. However, the circularity culture has historically been limited due to its unique characteristics and the complex nature of circular economy. Download our new whitepaper and learn more about digitalisation and its benefits for unlocking circular construction.