The construction industry is traditionally one of the most resource-intensive sectors, but with rigorous planning and digital tools, the construction process can instead make an active contribution to environmental protection. Energy, resources, and materials can be intentionally saved during the construction process to widen the conversation from simply sustainable buildings as an end product, but sustainable construction as a process. Digital solutions can play a decisive role, yet the industry has so far made too little use of the numerous possibilities that are available. Below, the experts from the Nemetschek Group present some of the opportunities they provide.
Digital Construction Saves Resources
The BIM Benefits Measurement Methodology from PricewaterhouseCoopers shows that digital construction prior to the physical construction and the use of modeling and virtual reality helps to identify conflicts and incorrect specifications early on in the construction process. This thereby minimizes on-site rework, which in turn reduces energy consumption, carbon emissions, and the amount of building materials used in the actual construction.
In addition, a building can then be efficiently demolished even years later because its details are precisely documented. This approach has another important advantage. Currently, many buildings from the 1980s are being converted or dismantled, yet no one knows which materials were used where and in what quantities, and this means that the dismantling process involves enormous effort and can lead to unexpected complications. For buildings planned with BIM, the materials used are recorded digitally. In this way, the demolition process can even be used to extract raw materials.
Using digital solutions, models can be checked thoroughly at an early stage in the planning process so that no cost- and material-intensive changes will be necessary later in construction. Sustainability analyses can also be carried out in this way. For example, customers can use cost and emission factors to color the model as a 3D heat map, helping them understand which parts of the design need to be reworked for increased sustainability.
Less Raw Materials + Less Energy
Significant amounts of material can be saved through the precise calculation and better planning of complex structures. In the Gotthard Base Tunnel, for example, a total of 89,000 cubic meters of concrete was saved in the new railroad tunnel by geometrically optimizing the tunnel lining in two sections.
Digital structural analysis solutions can save materials – and time – in the design and construction of various types of construction. For example, less concrete can be used for a column or builders can make a sustainable swap, like utilizing wood construction. Digital planning of precast concrete elements in CAD can significantly reduce the error rate for that construction system. In the Metsä Wood Pavilion in Tokyo, the starting point for the design was to minimize material loss via optimization of the structure. The individual elements were designed to be industrially efficient, therefore the widths of columns and beams were kept as consistent as possible. Optimized planning and the improvement of the steel connections in the project can also save large amounts of connecting material. A medical supply center in the USA, for example, saved 25% on screws.
Resources can also be saved in the administration and management of the finished building by making optimum use of space. Integrated Workplace Management Systems can be used to more accurately measure the need for office space. This ensures that the space designed is only that which is actually needed, another important tactic for sustainability. In turn, this allows for right-sizing of the HVAC systems and creates the additional effect of providing a positive and comfortable working environment for employees.
There are many ways to reduce the ecological footprint of the construction industry. All that it requires is that the participants decide to actively contribute. Even the reuse of raw materials from buildings is possible using BIM solutions. Due to the complete digital documentation, it is possible to locate exactly which material was used where, even years later. The building thus becomes a supplier of raw materials even as its “useful” life is at an end.
The Nemetschek Group is driving the digitalization of the building industry. With their software, architects, engineers, construction companies, and facility managers can plan ahead, seamlessly share information and work together more closely. Building and infrastructure projects can thus be conducted more efficiently and sustainably. Find out more about these technologies and their different applications.