"Digital transformation of the construction industry only succeeds with common standards"

Ines Prokop (l.) and Markus Gallenberger (r.) talk about current topics in the construction industry.

On the way to achieving the ambitious climate targets, it will be important for the construction industry to exploit the potential of digitalization. In this interview, Ines Prokop, Managing Director of BVBS, and Markus Gallenberger, CEO of FRILO, SCIA and DC-Software, discuss the influence of the design phase on sustainable construction, why the Structural Analysis Format (SAF) is good for the BIM working method and why structural engineers benefit from the newly formed Nemetschek Engineering.

Good afternoon Ms. Prokop, good afternoon Mr. Gallenberger. The construction sector was responsible for around 40% of global CO2 emissions in 2021. Sustainability and resource conservation will have to strongly shape the future of construction in order to achieve the ambitious climate targets. What strategies can be used to reduce the impact of construction measures on the climate and the environment?

Prokop: Achieving the agreed climate protection targets by 2050 is an enormous challenge for the construction industry. Basically, a paradigm shift has to be made. On the one hand, we need to optimize the way we deal with existing buildings by preserving and using existing structures for as long as possible. On the other hand, the goal must be to build durable new buildings while releasing significantly less CO₂. Both can only be achieved with the support of digital methods.

Gallenberger: Sustainable and efficient construction can be implemented wherever the life cycle of a building is considered holistically. This cycle begins with the production of the building materials to be used, encompasses planning and the actual construction process, but also the operation, renovation and deconstruction of a building. Digital solutions are what make this holistic approach possible in the first place. That is why sustainable construction and digitization go hand in hand and complement each other.

You’re already hinting at the enormous potential inherent in digitization in particular. What concepts are bringing this potential to light?

Gallenberger: The concept of Building Lifecycle Intelligence is designed to collect data on a building from planning through construction to operation and organize it in a central location for all project participants. Information from each lifecycle phase is compiled in an open, networked ecosystem so that all changes to the building can be tracked. Data loss and sources of error that typically occur during interdisciplinary information exchange can be minimized thanks to open protocols and standards. The digital twin is of central and growing importance on the path to greater efficiency.

The term “digital twin” sounds promising. What exactly is behind it?

Gallenberger: The digital twin is a virtual copy of a real building that constantly evolves in unison with the physical original. In this way, the construction of a building can be simulated as early as the planning phase. Aspects of sustainability can be taken into account before construction begins, as can planned renovations or changes in building use. Because a projection into the future is possible, planning, construction, operation and deconstruction can be more sustainable.

Ms. Prokop, you are the Managing Director of the Federal Association for Construction Software in Germany. What role does BVBS play in promoting digitization in the construction industry?

Prokop: The Bundesverband Bausoftware was founded in 1993 and has always pursued the goal of improving the performance and innovative strength of the construction industry through the use of construction software. BVBS is the only association whose members represent the entire value chain of the construction industry with their digital solutions. Due to this broad spectrum, we act as a point of contact for politicians as well as for all stakeholders in the construction industry.

How does the BVBS specifically promote digital transformation?

Prokop: In order to drive digitization forward, BVBS has been developing interfaces and carrying out certifications for the data exchange of software applications, for example, for years. We have found that the certifications and the associated standardizations have led to an enormous increase in quality. Added to this are the expert advice and professional exchange for which we create platforms.

Let’s come back to the life cycle of a building. To what extent does the planning phase in particular shape this cycle?

Gallenberger: From an economic and ecological perspective, the planning phase is decisive because it lays the foundation for efficient construction. In the planning phase, a consistent model is created that is accessed by the project participants as a central data reference at every stage of the life cycle. Through active control, the greatest influence on life cycle costs, technical feasibility and the longevity of a structure can be exerted in the planning phase.

Prokop: Digital methods give us the opportunity to optimize the building structure or even the use of materials at a very early planning stage. This allows a CO₂ analysis to be carried out and an assessment to be made of which material reduces the CO₂ footprint and where. Thanks to such software-supported comparative studies, planners can enter into dialog with building owners at an early stage in order to achieve the building turnaround together.

Ms. Prokop, the members of the BVBS also include some providers of software systems for structural calculations. What contribution can software-supported structural design make to sustainable and resource-efficient construction?

Prokop: Software-supported structural design is an essential component in the material-efficient development of sustainable structures. In a solid structure, over 50 % of the CO₂ emissions generated by the construction process are attributable to the supporting structure. This means that there is enormous potential for CO₂ savings in the design of load-bearing structures. In the past decades, we have forgotten how to build in a resource-efficient way because we had to do it quickly. Climate targets and rising prices for building materials such as steel and reinforced concrete are now forcing structural engineers to use raw materials more sensibly again. Software for structural design is a basic prerequisite as a tool for finding the right balance between material efficiency and sustainability on the one hand and an economical construction process on the other.

Now, not only the structural engineers but also the architects are involved in the planning phase. In order to make planning as efficient as possible, it makes sense to optimize the cooperation between these players. How can this be achieved in the future?

Gallenberger: Architects, structural engineers and testing structural engineers all work with special software solutions that are tailored to their respective needs. In order to bring the disciplines together, digital, software-supported solutions can be used to create an environment in which the intelligent exchange of data between architects and structural engineers is largely automated. Used correctly, the various trades can work together more efficiently, precisely and flexibly in accordance with the guiding principle of the BIM working method – especially if the solutions support OPEN BIM.