Construction Digitization: Reducing the Life-Cycle

August 17, 2023

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Construction digitization has the potential to enhance and streamline the construction process as a whole, but businesses must be willing to make the shift.

The construction life-cycle, from ideation to completion, has always been a marathon. But it faces significant hurdles, resulting in notably lower productivity compared to other fields like manufacturing. One main issue is that it is among the least digital sectors globally, largely due to its longstanding reluctance to change and/or government regulations (Abioye et al. 2021). This lack of digital integration makes project management challenging and cumbersome. Moreover, this digital gap contributes to cost overruns, project delays, compromised quality, bad decision-making, and issues with productivity and safety. Given the current challenges, it is crucial for the construction sector to adopt digital technologies swiftly.

Construction Digitization: Reducing the Life-Cycle

Why Digitalize the Construction Industry?

Digitalizing products and processes can revolutionize how companies function. By incorporating digital technologies, businesses can collaborate better, have more control over their operations, and make decisions based on data. This will alter how businesses handle operations, design, and partnership interactions. The emergence of smart buildings and infrastructures equipped with the Internet of Things (IoT) will offer more data and pave the way for efficient operations and new ways of doing business, like outcome-focused contracts.

Using technologies like building-information modeling (BIM), for example, companies can now develop detailed 3D models of projects early on, changing the risk factors and decision-making steps in construction. (Mckinsey, 2020).

The Game-Changing Role of Construction Digitization

Incorporating technology is not merely an option—it is imperative. How is technology revolutionizing the construction industry? The answer lies in the integration of pioneering tools and software that streamline operations and supercharge efficiency.

Pioneering Digital Technologies

Let’s dive into the specifics of the myriad digital technologies marking their mark:

  • 3D Printing: Additive manufacturing has the potential to decrease manpower requirements and costs. It reduces material wastage and facilitates on-situ repair in areas of limited human access.
  • ANN: Emulates human brain functions to recognize patterns in processes, especially effective in analyzing vast volumes of data, saving both time and labor cost.
  • Augmented Reality: Merges real-world and virtual images to offer a real-time experience. It aids in fieldwork inspection and defect detection, bolstering productivity, safety, and efficiency.
  • Autonomous Vehicles/Robotic System: This technology automates and streamlines repetitive or complex tasks on the construction site, enhancing efficiency and safety. It complements 3D printing technology.
  • Barcode Technology: Aids in data acquisition automation, cost and schedule tracking. It also enhances the speed, reliability, and accuracy of data. When integrated with GIS, it monitors construction progress effectively.
  • Building Information Modelings (BIM): This facilitates an object-oriented physical representation of a building, assisting with visualization, coordination among project stakeholders, and construction document production. BIM-enabled collaboration significantly saves time, cost, and reduces errors.

(For a comprehensive list of all technologies, refer to the extended list below.)

Real-life Transformation: Building Information Modeling (BIM)

Building Information Modeling (BIM) is the process of creating and managing information for a built asset. Based on an intelligent model and enabled by a cloud platform, BIM integrates structured, multi-disciplinary data to produce a digital representation of an asset across its lifecycle, from planning and design to construction and operations.”

When seeking exemplars of digital transformation in construction, BIM emerges as the poster child. Beyond a building information module, it represents a complete project information model. This tool is morphing how projects are visualized, planned, and executed, making it invaluable for reducing construction costs and the construction life-cycle.

BIM’s potential has grown over the years, evolving into a comprehensive project management tool. However, its full integration has been a challenge. By employing BIM at the start of a project, companies can streamline the design phase and improve coordination with suppliers. This could redefine risks in projects and challenge traditional construction models. A 2017 survey highlighted contractors’ increasing inclination towards BIM, predicting a 50% rise in its use (Mckinsey, 2017).

Other market reports find that accelerating the adoption of BIM in the Australian built environment sector could improve productivity by between 6 and 9% and adopting BIM for every participant in construction projects would increase 6 to 16% by 2025. This form of digitization is expected to produce an economic benefit equivalent to AUD 5 billion added to Australia’s Gross Domestic product. Many Australian construction companies have started to invest in BIM processes and platforms. (Leviäkangas et al, 2017)

Advantages of Digital Construction in Life-Cycle Reduction

Digital technologies have reshaped the way the construction industry operates, bringing about significant cost savings and enhanced efficiencies. Drawing from McMeel D. & Gonzalez V. A. (2019), we can appreciate several points:

Cost Reduction Engineering (CRE)

Digital technologies play a central role in CRE, which primarily focuses on reducing the cost of constructed facilities. A reduction in these costs makes facilities more affordable, widening accessibility for a larger segment of the population. Key contributors to project costs include rework and design deviations. Digital innovations can reduce these factors. Tools like multimedia, virtual and augmented reality (VR/AR), and BIM 3D/4D/5D visual imaging work to eliminate design errors. Such visual tools are instrumental in identifying deviations between the constructed and planned project, with deviations contributing significantly to total project costs.

Safety Management

Safety remains paramount in construction. Hazards on construction sites can impact worker productivity, completion timelines, project quality, and budget. Several digital tools, including RTLS, PWS, CBR, ANN, and Game Technology, are employed to enhance safety training, spot potential hazards, and prevent accidents.

Automation and Online Business Solutions

The worldwide web and the internet have revolutionized business operations. E-commerce platforms offer construction projects cost-effective support, allowing for seamless information flow and communication. These platforms bring about cost savings through reduced transaction costs, staffing requirements, and decreased inventory levels. Automation tools, such as BIM, wireless tech, and cloud computing, minimize the need for physical data storage solutions, translating to reduced IT staffing and overhead costs. Reduced manual intervention brings about labor-hour savings and reduced construction costs. Integration of technologies like AR in BIM exemplifies this trend, minimizing manual intervention, and optimizing construction timelines.

Beyond Digital Transformation

The construction industry is at a pivotal moment. Traditional practices, such as using drones, robots, and GPS, have brought only minor improvements. For a long time, the value of a construction company lay in its ability to perfect this age-old process rather than innovate it.

The real potential lies in overhauling the construction approach entirely. Instead of merely digitizing current practices (replacing analog tasks with digital ones), the industry should focus on digitalization. This means shifting the core of the business model from task execution to managing information about the construction. This new model allows the building process to adapt and evolve, opening doors to entirely new methods of construction.

For instance, construction could be reorganized based on a building’s digital model, rather than the physical structure. Or, by relocating the noisy parts of the building process to factories, construction could happen at night, causing less disruption. This is achievable through the use of prefabrication and unitized building. These construction processes have a greater focus on the digitalized model of the finished product rather than the construction itself.

Sometimes, community expectations can act as a catalyst. Take the case of Hickory in Melbourne in 2017 (Greenwood et al., 2019). The company proposed nighttime construction through unitised building – “the assembling of modular units that snapped together onsite”. After successfully demonstrating its feasibility, this approach might become the new standard, effectively sidelining traditional building methods. This building was completed in 4 weeks.

Addressing such complex disruptions is no easy task. These disruptions arise from the interplay of multiple technological and societal factors. They are unpredictable and can have a rapid and sweeping impact on industries.

Taking the construction industry as a case study, while many companies have dabbled in Building Information Models (BIM) to boost productivity, the real game-changer is when BIM becomes central to the business model. By doing so, construction firms can ensure not just improved onsite efficiency but a complete transformation of the building process.

Benefits and Barriers to Technology Adoption

The adoption of new technologies in construction promises reduced costs, competitive edge, superior quality, and heightened productivity. However, challenges persist. Economic strains, high upfront construction costs, and focus on initial costs over lifecycle costs have been identified as predominant barriers. Research from Malaysia has underscored various barriers to technology adoption, including financial, technological, process-related, organizational, psychological, and governmental barriers. Economic health dictates a company’s capacity to innovate, making financial stability crucial for adopting advanced technologies.


The construction industry has long been burdened with an extended life-cycle, often plagued by inefficiencies, costly delays, and adherence to traditional practices. At its core, the reluctance to embrace digital change has been a significant barrier, leaving the sector trailing in productivity as apposed to fields such as manufacturing. However, the tide is slowly turning. As this detailed article states, the integration of digitisation, epitomized by technologies like Building Information Modeling (BIM), promises to change the construction industry. From enhancing project visualization, reducing material wastage, to reimagining how construction tasks are conceptualized and executed, the potential of digital technologies is vast and transformative. BIM, especially, emerges as the centre of this digital transformation, offering comprehensive project management tools that drastically reduce costs and timeframes. Yet, while the advantages are manifold, challenges in adoption persist, underscored by financial, psychological, and governmental barriers. This means not just digitizing but truly digitalizing, thereby focusing on the wealth of information these technologies bring. As the industry surges forward, streamlined processes, facilitated by digital tools, are set to redefine the construction life-cycle, making it more efficient, cost-effective, and agile.

List of digital technologies:

  • 3D Printing
    • Description: Additive manufacturing with potential to decrease manpower requirements and costs, reduce material wastage, enable on situ repair in areas of limited human access and resource availability.
  • ANN (Artificial Neural Network)
    • Description: Emulate human brain functions to recognize patterns in processes; most helpful in analyzing big volumes of data, saving time and labor cost.
  • Augmented Reality
    • Description: Combination of real-world images and virtual images to provide real-time experience to users. Facilitate fieldwork inspection and defect detection, enhances productivity, safety, and efficiency.
  • Autonomous Vehicle / Robotic System
    • Description: Automate and facilitate assembling repetitive or complex tasks on construction site; increases efficiency, safety, and reduce labor cost due to minimal human intervention; enable remote operations; leverage 3D printing technology.
  • Barcode Technology
    • Description: Automate acquisition of data, cost and schedule tracking, and improve speed, reliability, and accuracy of data, can be integrated with GIS for construction progress monitoring.
  • BIM (Building Information Modeling)
    • Description: Facilitate object-oriented physical representation of building, assist with the visualization of real-world objects, coordination among project actors, and production of construction documents to delivery. BIM-enabled collaboration saves rework time, cost, and error throughout the entire life cycle of the building, especially, pre-planning phase.
  • CBR (Case-Based Reasoning)
    • Description: Uses knowledge retrieved from previous situation to solve new problems; enhance estimation of construction cost and duration at pre-planning stage.
  • Cloud Computing
    • Description: Provide virtual, low cost access to information leveraged by Internet; effective material management; enables subscription to required software services without buying individual hardware; assists managing maintenance cost and human capital.
  • Computer, Software Applications
    • Description: Storage depot for project information and data processing; software applications integrated with BIM enable minimizing total life cycle cost of the project.
  • Context Aware Mobile Computing
    • Description: Improve construction logistics through wireless access to context-specific data, information and services.



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