Sam Hart, innovation manager at Construction Scotland Innovation Centre (CSIC) spoke to us about the huge and far reaching growth in digital tools and technology across the timber and construction sectors.
There is a digital transformation taking place across the construction industry everywhere – especially with increased use of offsite manufacture – what key benefits do digital tools bring to providing better quality and energy efficient buildings?
“Ultimately, it is about the quality of product that can be delivered with precision engineering. Using a computer to design a building at an early stage allows you to be much more accurate with the plans, adhering to far stricter tolerances. When that data is transferred to an automated process – whether it is robotics, offsite manufacturing cells, or other machines – they will be produced exactly as prescribed by the computer and put together in a factory setting. It is almost inevitable that on a site, where there may be rain, snow, or wind, you cannot deliver the same levels of quality manually as a computer can in a controlled environment, like a factory.
“In turn, that transfers through to a building’s energy efficiency – greater accuracy during construction means they are inherently more airtight. Insulation, for instance, can be blown into any spaces with precision, rather than shoved into gaps. Automated processes can be monitored in line with a very strict quality assurance regime, which means they perform much better. Buildings will also have a much greater chance of performing as they have been designed to, using digital tools – bridging the performance gap that has long been an issue.
“There is, however, a flipside to that. Trades involved in the construction process need to know the exact specifications and tolerances being worked to – everything they are producing has to fit precisely with that. Communication throughout the supply chain, therefore, becomes absolutely key and has to be factored in to a greater degree than it even normally would be.”
The growth in Virtual Reality/Augmented Reality (AR/VR) and robotics has huge potential in revolutionising the way we design, build and monitor building performance – what projects are CSIC working on?
“The Covid-19 pandemic has obviously limited people’s ability to travel and, for the construction industry that can be challenging – not least from a regulatory and standards perspective. Specifically, one of the issues is that officials from local authorities have been unable to verify that buildings under construction are compliant with current standards.
“We have been working with the University of Strathclyde and Robert Gordon University to address this issue. We are designing a VR and AR system that will allow building standards officials to remotely tour a site as it is being built and make the necessary checks. While this technology has an obvious use at the moment, it could also be employed more routinely in the future – particularly in rural and remote areas, where travelling to sites may take hours.
“That said, not every local authority will have access to, or the means to purchase, VR and AR hardware. So, we are also working on a more rudimentary form of the technology which could allow them to remotely inspect sites through an app on their mobile or tablet for simple checks like whether doors and walls are in the correct place, before moving into more complex areas.”
For the complete feature read the Spring 2021 Issue of Timber Construction