On 21st – 22nd October, the Business Design Centre in Islington played host to Digital Construction Week, a two day exhibition and conference, showcasing leading technology suppliers from across the AECO industry and beyond. A series of live talks and interactive forums were also presented throughout by industry experts, thought leaders, focusing on the impact of BIM, digital and new technologies for the construction industry.
Oliver Hughes, Director of Digital Construction Week, explained in the event guide that it was launched to not only explore how the latest technologies and processes can help the multimillion pound construction projects of the future, but also how businesses and individuals can start to adapt and harness them now for future growth.
I was lucky enough to be a member of the DCW steering group and part of two talks on the first day: one on innovation and automation, and the other on digital skills.
Two different subjects, however two intrinsically linked.
The automation and innovation panel was an interesting session, with academics and a space architect (yes a space architect!) part of the conversation.
The conversation centred around 3d printing, drones and automating construction and was enjoyed by the audience and panel. There are some exciting technologies out there already available to us that we need to grasp with both hands.
The one consideration that the panel and audience came back to was the need to nurture and embed the philosophy of innovation at a young age, and how the behaviours needed within an organisation to become an incubator for new ideas. Too often individuals see themselves as fixers not innovators, this culture needs to change.
This lead nicely to my second session around skills in the digital era.
The skills session started by showcasing the 007 hotel that a group of school children had put together as part of A Class of Your Owns DEC (Design, Engineer, construct) work.
Its great to see not only how these kids (who were all 16) embraced the challenge, were proud of their output and were excited about the future they had in our industry. Their ability to talk about revit modelling as a pretty basic thing shows how the next generation embrace technology so easily. It truly is exciting that if given the opportunity what generation z can offer our industry.
I wrote previously about the digital revolution and the skills that the industry will require, what we must always remember is that what we have are digital tools that simplifies the process. The collaborative nature and behaviours are needed more than ever to make them work in a sustainable manner.
A few simple requests from the panel on how to improve things – shout about the good that the industry does and adopt a school.
One sentiment from the audience was to not think that employing coders will answer all the issue facing our industry. Whether it’s a coder learning the skills of an engineer or an engineer learning code, the importance is how well rounded the individual is, one skill set requires the other to truly unlock the industries potential.
Over 70 businesses were exhibiting their products and/or services. Through a series of interactive and immersive demos, attendees were able to experience some of the latest technologies such as: virtual reality, robotics, wearables, hardware, UAV and scanning.
On observation the 70 exhibitors could be simplified to four common technologies, that being Augmented & virtual reality, BIM (no surprise there), and common data platforms to simplify the running and management of projects.
One of the first products you came across as you entered the building, and I’m sure if you were there tried out, was the Soluis Dome.
This immersive dome, like most of the virtual reality products, can be used in a number of ways. In this case, using an xbox controller, we were able to walk around the interior of a number of rooms in a hotel which had been designed. Here, we were able to gain a real sense of the space – far superior to any produced images, walkthroughs, of designs. It was a great advert for immersive technology as a way to engage with your client and stakeholders to show them the final product. Excitingly there was some talk that this technology could one day be open sourced and available to all.
At the Inition stand, I experienced for the first time virtual reality with a head-mounted display.
I was informed that this could be particularly effective for training purposes, as it allows you to ‘be’ in a dangerous environment without risking your safety. Here’s a video of me ‘walking the plank’.
It was an odd experience especially when I was told to step off the plank and couldn’t! Even though I knew that I was in a virtual world my body reacted as if there was some peril in stepping off the plank! If you watch the video closely you’ll see the hesitation and slight twitch in my leg as I try my best to jump!
BIM has been the hot topic in construction in technological terms for a while now and it was featured in a large number of stands. Perhaps the one I found most exciting was 3D Repo – a muti-award winning open source system for large-scale collaborative BIM management in the cloud. This was one of the stands that got me most excited because it will be from the day their beta is launched later this year open source.
Making BIM available to the industry like this is a huge step forward, it will help move the conversation away from which software to use to more important things around maximising the functionality and user interface of the tool.
An open sourced mixed environment of purpose-specific systems communicating effectively using information models, commonly agreed processes and methods and shared terminology is the way we can truly fulfil the requirements of the industry.
Another stand-out from the day was Hal Robotics, the London-based robot control specialists, who are focusing on novel applications of robotics in creative and constructive industries. One member of the group explained how they are working towards collaborative robotics for both on and off-site construction. One example he gave was that the robots may be able to assemble bricks into a wall. Many at the conference feel that the automation of construction through this technology is a more disruptive and far more likely successful on site solution when compared to 3d printing.
The talks throughout the day were all very informative, and extremely compelling. They looked ahead to see what’s to come – one exciting piece of wearable technology is the upcoming Daqiri helmet (pictured), the use of drones in construction, and cited the 3D printed bridge which is planned to be constructed in Amsterdam.
DCW strove to move the conversation past BIM and consider digital construction far more broadly. The intent was there, the content was there but often the conversation did drift back to BIM.
There was some disappointment in how many people attended the event, some overlapping with other events most notably the ICE’s BIM conference didn’t help however for a new event and a slight conference fatigue for the month it went well and was enjoyed by most people I’ve spoken to.
I am excited about the potential for DCW in 2016. With time to plan and a strong message to put forward by looking beyond BIM the 16/17th of November are already in my diary and I hope to see many more of our industry in attendance next year.