What Is Digital Engineering?
May 24, 2021
Digital engineering is digitizing the traditional ways of managing and delivering projects in order to improve schedule, budget, quality and cost efficiencies. Those gained efficiencies are then supported by the data captured throughout a project’s life cycle. Digital engineering is often confused with building information modeling (BIM). While BIM is an important part of it, there’s actually much more to it than that. Digital engineering represents a variety of technologies that are gaining traction for the operational efficiencies they bring to construction projects.
BIM and beyond
Building information modeling (BIM)
BIM is a virtual 3D modeling process that integrates the data associated with each construction component into the project model, becoming an interactive treasure trove of information that can be used throughout the build and long after it’s been handed off. It allows you to change details, “try on” modified designs and adjust materials during the early modeling phase before the build begins. By detecting potential clashes, you make design alterations to help eliminate their occurrence. Once everything is set, the takeoff can be integrated directly from the BIM model into the estimate for more accurate job costing. The result? All of this helps preserve the original budget while reducing the amount of change orders and pricey rework down the road after work has begun.
Augmented reality (AR)
You could consider this an advanced variation of virtual reality. In AR, you overlay a virtual computer-created image on an actual camera view. So, for example, if you placed a 3D or BIM model on top of an empty job site image, you could show a client what their project would look like when completed in its new location. This takes modeling to a whole other level, showing potential negative interactions with the surrounding environment or where tweaks to the design can be made before designs and takeoffs are finalized.
These aerial devices collect vital data that is too time-consuming, costly or dangerous for humans to obtain. When outfitted with high-resolution cameras or light detection and ranging technology (LiDAR), they can literally give you a new perspective of your job site with their ability to record videos, snap photographs and survey a job site. They can also capture quality control issues and job progress throughout the site. When connected to the cloud, they send that information back to the office in real time for immediate analysis, decision-making or action.
Programming robotic machines via a linked computer can automate once-manual tasks either on an assembly line (think prefabricated materials for a construction project) or at a designated area on a job site. They bring precision and sustained productivity over long periods of time. This is quite useful for repetitive and even physically taxing tasks that would take site crews much longer to complete. There’s no risk of human injury or fatigue that might impede progress. It should not be thought of as necessarily a replacement for human labor, but an enhancement to it.
Where BIM is more about what goes into constructing the physical building, a digital twin is an virtual, interactive model of a physical asset that uses real-time data that shows how people interact with that building and the environment within it. It can also serve as a sort of “copy” of the project to be used for future projects, saving time and money in the process.
Once collected, the valuable data on which digital engineering relies is stored in a common data environment (CDE), a central location where all information associated with a project is collected — everything from its building components to contracts to change orders to site crew schedules.
How the data is used
While these and other technologies that fall under the digital engineering umbrella can operate very well as stand-alone solutions, when used in certain combinations, the data they collect and generate can form a more complete picture of your project performance.
This level of full 360o insight allows you to better manage performance. How? All that now-actionable data that has been collected and stored in the CDE can be used for: quicker, smarter decisions when issues arise and course correction is needed; quality control resolutions when errors, clashes or noncompliant issues are encountered; risk management when potential site or building hazards are discovered and increased collaboration among project team members who can access and interact with a single source of data. Different teams can use this true data at different points along the project’s life cycle, from the design phase right through to post-build operations.
Managing your project performance with InEight Model can help get you started on your digital engineering journey. This industry-specific solution – built by construction professionals for construction professionals – streamlines the entire data capture process to form a single, shared model for all disciplines and stakeholders to refer to throughout the build. Request a demo today and see.