The last few years have seen countless seminars, conference papers and articles extolling the benefits that the digital revolution will bring to our industry.
So why is our industry so slow to adopt digital ways of working? For many, investing to turn digital theory into digital reality requires evidence of the added value for projects. For others, adopting progressive digital tools simply seems too complicated and risky. Whatever the reasons, the fact remains that today our industry is still not taking a digital-first approach to project delivery, despite some very high-profile projects where going digital has yielded real benefits.
At Mott MacDonald, we believe that being ‘digital by default’ is fundamental to our long-term success and commercial sustainability, with a number of recent projects demonstrating the tangible benefits that a digital approach can bring:
The fact that digital project models enhance stakeholder collaboration is well known, but developments in technology mean you can go further. In developing our design for the expansion of Sydney Metro, we used virtual reality (VR) headsets to give 100 potential commuters the chance to experience navigating our new stations several years before they will be built. This provided the design team with feedback on aspects such as wayfinding and safety, enabling them to refine and improve the designs. VR is becoming more common in the industry, especially for major projects. The success seen so far on VR applications is compelling project teams all over the world to adopt a similar immersive approach on their own projects.
Our work as BIM coordinator for the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games saw us overhaul the way building services load schedules were produced. Using Dynamo, a visual scripting language, information from an Excel spreadsheet was loaded onto an overlay model. With traditional load schedules the value is lost as the design changes, but our automated solution kept load data current whenever the model was updated. This slashed the time it took to produce load schedules by over 95%; saving several hundred hours of work when taking into account all 18 sports venues and the continuous changes to design between planning and the end of the games. By automating traditionally repetitive tasks, we open up time in other areas to innovate and add value.
Carbon is fast becoming the new bottom line. While BIM aids design optimisation and value engineering, applying digital technology specifically to the problem of cutting carbon can deliver inspiring results. Mott MacDonald developed an advanced Carbon Portal, the first BIM-enabled carbon calculator. This allows the emissions footprint of entire assets to be quickly calculated in a way which enables lower-carbon optimised designs.
We have made GoPro cameras available to project staff. These come with GPS and voice control, and can be fitted to hard-hats, providing a passive, hands-free system for field reality capture which obtains extensive information in an extremely efficient way. Using this approach combined with cloud capabilities, field teams can carry out detailed inspections with high-definition/4K photos and videos which are fully georeferenced with voice transcriptions. What used to take several days in an analogue environment now takes minutes. This technique was recently applied to a major project for the New York City DEP, where the field inspection schedule of over 100 assets was cut in half with a completely digital workflow.
Digital technology boosted safety in the delivery of the Thames Tideway Tunnel, a major sewer expansion project in London. We developed immersive virtual reality safety scenarios to identify hazards when constructed, and worked with the contractor to record and communicate these hazards to the whole delivery team via a SharePoint site. We also trialled a process to populate these safety risks into the BIM models, ensuring that they are taken into account for all future upgrade and maintenance work.
Whenever we have worked with our clients to develop a digital-first approach to our project delivery operations we have seen outstanding benefits and results including: reduction of key project risks; improvements in operational efficiency; enhanced value in our deliverables; and safer fieldwork environments.
Given the increasing rate of digital maturity, perhaps the most exciting aspect for Mott MacDonald is what inspiring and unexpected benefits we will discover next in our project delivery work.