Digital engineering can be invaluable for large scale commercial and government projects that involve a host of stakeholders. Federated models can help stakeholders visualize concepts quickly and easily, accelerate the design process, eradicate construction sequencing clashes, and streamline approvals and iterations. It can also be the future proofing an asset needs to master predictive maintenance and be part of the Internet of Things.
And yet, digital engineering is not a magical panacea. Unless the process is undertaken according to consistent requirements throughout the entire Design-Build-Manage lifecycle, unforeseen problems will quickly arise that render outputs unusable. There is a solution though: the application of a holistic, agnostic, independent, integrated approach.
Digital Engineering – The Problem
In the traditional Design-Build-Manage lifecycle of a project, the digital engineering specifications are emerging. Most do not understand them well and when they are used, they are applied in isolation.
The digital engineering and BIM requirements are not normally set by the client. Instead, design teams use their own standards, and the focus is very much on design, rather than construction.
In the design phase, there is no aligned common data environment or central location for models. The frequency of sharing and reporting is not routine, and there is no overarching coordination. This means the handover of the model and its associated data to the construction phase is either poorly managed or non-existent.
As a result, when construction commences, models are not centralized, standardized, or coordinated. The data is incomplete or inconsistent, or it has been modelled in such a way that it fails to consider construction. For example, one model might encompass an entire structure. However, if that structure needs to be built in stages—basement, podium tower, tower one and tower two—then the model needs to be segmented to reflect a staged handover to construction.
If the federated model poses challenges during construction, then it is simply not used. The project team loses faith in the model and reverts to traditional work methods that rely on 2D plans.
As the model is not updated throughout the construction phase, handover of as-built models to the client becomes nearly impossible. If a client needs BIM deliverables for ongoing asset management, then ‘retrospective’ BIM occurs in an attempt to ensure the model aligns with the on-site structure. However, some major projects take years to build; compiling four or five years’ worth of construction data makes model accuracy nearly impossible to guarantee.
Digital Engineering – A Perfect World
In a perfect world, the digital engineering specification is set from project commencement, and the digital engineering team manages all workflows and data capture according to these specifications. There are consistent model deliverables that focus on the overarching client or project objective, which could be design, construction, or ongoing asset management. The frequency and location of model sharing, and reporting is set, and all data and inputs are coordinated, controlled, and properly managed.
Data that is suitable for construction needs is properly handed over so that the model can be leveraged to manage the construction workflow. With the model being used during construction, data is consistently and regularly added to it. This supports the as-built process and ensures that client deliverables for facilities management can be met without substantial rework.
Accepting the Challenge
So then, as the leader of a commercial construction company, asset manager, or a government official, what should you be looking for to ensure the ‘perfect world’ digital engineering scenario is delivered every time?
When contracting a digital engineering partner, it is essential to look for a company that can play a pivotal role across the entire Design-Build-Manage lifecycle, adopting an independent, integrated, holistic, and agnostic approach.
Your digital engineering partner needs to be independent. They should have no vested interest in design, or construction, or operations. This way, their vested interest is achieving the objectives set by you—the client.
Practical project delivery experience across the entire lifecycle of a project is also essential. So, if you want a model focused solely on visualizing your design concept and construction sequencing to iron out constructability or erectability issues, they will be able to help. Or, if you want an end-to-end IoT enabled 3D interface, providing integration across asset attributes and real-time performance data, they’re also the perfect partner.
Agnostic and Automated
A digital engineering team should be software agnostic. They should be adept in just about any software, from model authoring tools, model viewers, document control, project management, visualisation, and data management tools.
Whilst standard, off-the-shelf software is powerful in its own right, you might find that expert digital engineering firms have also developed their own plugins to enhance modeling and detailing outcomes, support internal workflows and improve automation, quality assurance and accuracy. Top tier firms continually invest in automated processes, such as innovative macros, to consistently apply data sets and ensure reliable, repeatable data.
Digital engineering should always involve managing the digital asset from initial scoping, right through to the end of the asset lifecycle. This goes beyond simply creating 3D models. It’s an approach that integrates data and model structures by leveraging multiple primary information sources to facilitate project collaboration, clarify decision-making and streamline project delivery.
Nimble firms deliver a holistic digital engineering service that adds value at every stage of the Design-Build-Manage lifecycle, from initial scoping and 3D visualization, through to holistic ongoing management. This means that they understand what, and how, to capture the necessary data right from project inception. Their custom-designed governing processes and workflows streamline this data capture and input and are integral to maintaining the model as a single point of truth and enabling the transfer of data to the facilities management phase.
Once your project scope is defined, expert digital engineering firms will be able to undertake a capability assessment of your suppliers, to create comprehensive strategy and implementation plan for our project’s digital requirements. They can work with you to position these requirements commercially, and ensure they are achievable. With a strategy and management plan in place, they will actively implement and manage the complete digital environment.
Experienced digital engineering firms employ a communication style that is jargon free. As an industry, digital engineering is renowned for its technical nature. The best firms cut through all the technicalities, explaining the process in easy-to-understand language. This means that you can then communicate the process to your management team and stakeholders.
The best digital engineering firms believe in simplifying processes and outcomes—not overcomplicating matters.