"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.

Prokop: That is why we as BVBS have been advocating OPEN BIM and good, lossless data exchange formats for years. Via common project platforms, so-called Common Data Environments, all project participants have access to the same model, which leads to more transparency and improves the cooperation of the planners.

Ms. Prokop, as an observer of the industry, how do you assess the current state of development of BIM?

Prokop: BIM is a very important element for the digitalization of the construction industry. Collaborative working in the planning process in particular has taken a positive development in recent years. Large architecture and engineering firms in particular are now using BIM as standard. BIM is also now well established in training. In order to take the next step, it is important to build up BIM knowledge, especially among construction administrations and public building owners, and to create the appropriate software and hardware prerequisites to digitize the entire process in the medium term.

Mr. Gallenberger, what concrete solutions does FRILO offer to help promote BIM as the working method of the future?

Gallenberger: The BIM-Connector was developed by FRILO to optimize the collaboration between architects and structural engineers. The OPEN BIM process allows CAD models to be reliably transferred to the FRILO solution, where the model can be cleaned up accordingly for the structural calculations. Structural engineers therefore no longer have to reconstruct the modeled building in small steps in the structural analysis software, but can import the model directly. Because the structural engineer can start analyzing the model immediately, the integration of the BIM Connector represents an enormous relief, especially in time-intensive project phases.

Does SCIA also have such a solution in its portfolio?

Gallenberger: SCIA AutoConverter can be used to automatically convert a 3D structural model from any CAD software into an accurate analysis model. In the process, changes to the structural and analysis models can be tracked and managed by both architects and engineers. The solution maximizes data reuse and minimizes manual handling throughout the process. Time-consuming and sometimes tedious redesign tasks are eliminated.

Ms. Prokop, in addition to IFC, project participants can also use the Structural Analysis Format, or SAF for short, as a data exchange format during the planning phase. What is SAF and how does it differ from other exchange formats?

Prokop: SAF is a comparatively young, provider-neutral data exchange format that simplifies and promotes the direct, loss-free exchange of analysis models in structural design. Thanks to the absence of data losses during transfer, time-consuming remodeling on the part of the structural engineer is no longer necessary. The format is based on Excel and is therefore particularly user-friendly, practical and intuitive because civil engineers are familiar with Excel. Another advantage is that SAF generates significantly smaller amounts of data than, for example, IFC.

SAF can therefore contribute to advancing BIM in structural design. But which hurdles have to be overcome to increase the acceptance of SAF?

Prokop: First of all, it must be noted that the circle of software providers that can import and export SAF has expanded significantly in the last two years. Nevertheless, many users are still hesitant. This is certainly related to the fact that bridge construction as an important application area has not been sufficiently considered so far. This must change. In order to get more users excited about the exchange format and to improve user-friendliness, we are also planning to establish a working group in which we would like to bring together software providers and software users. Experience has shown that the best solutions are created when developers and users are in an exchange. In the medium term, SAF is also to be certified in order to create more trust in the exchange format among the user community.

Mr. Gallenberger, why is SAF especially beneficial for FRILO and SCIA users?

Gallenberger: Since the format is specifically tailored to the needs of structural engineers, both SCIA and FRILO users benefit in their structural analysis. The high degree of interoperability provides a smooth data exchange between both software systems. Some direct interfaces have already been implemented. For example, the transfer of building data from the FRILO building model GEO to SCIA Engineer for earthquake verification is based on SAF. Other useful interfaces will follow soon to promote the lossless data exchange between both solutions and to consider all facets of structural design.

SCIA and FRILO will intensify their joint cooperation this year. How did this decision come about?

Gallenberger: The cooperation of FRILO and SCIA has been a concern of ours for some time in order to be able to support our customers even better in their projects. Both companies belong to the Nemetschek Group. It is therefore obvious that obvious synergies should be used in the best possible way. Ongoing discussions with our customers reinforce our belief that the coordinated cooperation is worth intensifying.

With what medium- and long-term objective was the cooperation intensified?

Gallenberger: The aim of the cooperation is to provide our customers with a comprehensive overall package of structural representation and calculation options that is unparalleled on the market. For this reason, we recently founded the Nemetschek Engineering, which as it stands today consists of SCIA, FRILO and DC-Software. The close relationships in the areas of software development, service and product management will expand existing interfaces between the three software solutions and create new, beneficial transfer opportunities.

How will the users of the programs benefit?

Gallenberger: SCIA and FRILO in particular already complement each other perfectly. While users can clearly display complex 3D models with SCIA Engineer, FRILO convinces with simple, time-efficient static calculations of individual components. In combination, both solutions thus cover a large part of real-world use cases and provide customers with maximum flexibility. Thus, structural engineers have an accurate solution at hand for every challenge in their daily work. If further direct interfaces are developed in the future in the sense of interoperability and automate the loss-free exchange of data, users of both solutions will benefit from completely new, extremely practical synergy effects.

Ms. Prokop, what are your hopes and expectations for the collaboration between the two software houses?

Prokop: I am always pleased when different companies intensify their cooperation, because the digital transformation of the construction industry can only succeed with common standards and optimized interfaces. There is no one program on the market that solves all the demands and challenges of the construction industry. In this respect, I hope that the close cooperation will result in an optimal exchange of data between the solutions and consequently satisfied users.

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About the person

Ines Prokop has been Managing Director of Bundesverband Bausoftware e.V. since May 2020. Since 1993, BVBS has been pursuing the goal of improving the performance and innovative strength of the construction industry through the use of construction software. In order to increase the quality of the digital transformation, BVBS has been conducting certifications for the data exchange of software applications for years.

Markus Gallenberger took over as CEO at FRILO Software GmbH in December 2018. Since April 2022, he has also held the office of CEO at the Belgian software company SCIA. Both software houses belong to the Nemetschek Group and offer calculation programs for structural tasks and structural design.