To increase efficiency, sustainability, quality and safety, the digitalisation of construction processes is essential. Aware of the major challenge this represents for the sector and its entire eco-system (customers, architects, design offices, suppliers, subcontractors, operators), Bouygues Construction has embarked on a race towards innovation and digital transformation. The proof in 3 points!
#1 – 5G tested directly on construction equipment
In the first half of 2021, Bouygues Construction’s R&D teams – who have already been working for several years on the digitisation of Group production sites – have reached a new milestone thanks to Bouygues Telecom’s 5G. Speed of execution, improved team safety, synchronisation of information in real time and remotely… 5G trials on site equipment have brought us a little closer to the era of the “augmented operator”, and confirmed the interest and relevance of this new mobile network for the construction industry. Among the first findings: 5G will, for example, make it easier to transmit information synchronously to site employees (weather alerts, delivery delays, changes to plans, availability of materials, positioning of equipment on the site, etc.). Another result concerns crane operation – these machines that currently require the presence of a crane operator in the cab even when they are stationary. Because of its stability and high output, 5G emerged as a possible choice for data transmission between a crane and a remote ground control station. A major development that should:
- Enhance safety and enable better operation assistance (safety alerts, warnings if a labourer is near the point of impact of the package or load, faster location of equipment, etc.).
- Improve work conditions, especially accessibility for crane operators.
- Pave the way for the automation of certain tasks and consequently for the optimisation of crane use schedules.
Jérôme Cornu, Communication manager for the Bouygues Telecom 5G programme
“There are two types of 5G. The first is the one that we use today (NSA – non-standalone access). It has a 4G core network and 5G frequencies. Its interest is capacity: it is capable of processing large amounts of data much faster. By 2023, the 4G core network will be replaced by a 5G core network. And this will be the case for all operators. This 100% 5G network will allow two major improvements: the reduction of latency (response time between the moment when an information is transmitted and the moment when it is received), and the capacity to connect a very large number of objects per km2 – millions. This will considerably improve the responsiveness of connected devices and consequently operating performance. In practice, 5G is a catalyst for innovation! It will make it possible increase speed and make very large quantities of data accessible in real time. This will multiply the capacity of future innovations: artificial intelligence will be able to communicate easily with digital twins, which will themselves be able to communicate with operators on site. Everything is linked, and the experiments conducted by Bouygues Construction are enabling us to predict and to prepare the construction industry for these future benefits. ”
#2 – Creation of a research Chair dedicated to digital twins
Since this summer, ESTP has been associated with Egis, Bouygues Construction, Schneider Electric, BRGM, SNCF Réseau and Arts et Métiers. This is an unprecedented alliance of stakeholders – leaders in their respective markets – positioned at different stages across the entire value chain of construction projects and infrastructure life-cycles. What is the aim?
- To make progress together on topics that are located at the interface of our respective activities, thanks to a shared vision on digital twins.
- To use the challenges of digital transformation, particularly in research activities, as a vector for performance in the construction sector and a contribution to environmental issues.
- To accelerate the digitisation of the sector by removing critical technological barriers and providing keys to optimisation, for more sustainable and resilient infrastructures.
What is the value of the digital twin for the construction industry?
The evolution of the construction industry requires the optimisation of engineering approaches, operational processes and the infrastructure life-cycle. In response to these new demands, the digital twin is a solution that can centralise, structure and secure the data of a project, uniting key players in a collaborative process and supporting the development of services adapted to the needs of end-users. In practice, by combining simulation, artificial intelligence and data, the digital twin could simulate the behaviour of projects in a dynamic way that mirrors reality, which would allow structures to be managed in real time, encouraging relational interactions between systems and objects, and optimising the impact of the construction and operation of structures on their environment.
An explanation by Laure Ducoulombier, who heads up the Bouygues Construction R&D Design Lab Division
Collective work to create a digital twin that communicates to everyone
“This new Chair should make it possible to lay the foundations of the digital twin for the sector: up to what size of project can this type of model, which is updated in real time, be cost-efficient? It is appropriate for all project types? How can it be used on a public works site? We are at the very beginning and there are so many questions! Researcher/industrialist, each one brings his or her stone to the building. Non-academic players are financing the research that will be carried out by ESTP and Les Arts et Métiers. This ability to work in a multi-player environment is perfectly suited to the construction sector, where many individuals are present at different points in the value chain. This is the challenge of digital transformation: getting everyone to work together in the most efficient way possible. ”
Achieving digital continuity
“Digital transformation aims to use tools that are shared between all the stakeholders. By being present throughout the value chain, these tools ensure that no information is lost when moving from one stage to another. Better still, they enable the creation of digital continuity using all the information accumulated during a project. This is necessary in order to anticipate the phases (design, manufacturing, maintenance, etc.) and to control the entire chain perfectly. On the other hand, this digital continuity is very difficult to achieve in the construction sector because the players are not generally the same across the whole value chain, and they do not all work with the same digital tools – when they use them. In this sense, this Chair is an opportunity to work with several stakeholders who represent the different stages of the chain, to think together about the most efficient way to create digital continuity among us, to define the type of methodology that would allow the sharing of a digital model from one stage of the chain to another. But also, to reflect on a major challenge for the construction sector: moving from digital mock-up to digital twin (a true copy of a physical structure that allows you to know in real time everything that is happening on a site). ”
Moving from digital mock-up to digital twin
“The digital twin will provide an accurate prediction of how a structure will behave. For example: a digital twin can report that there is a failure on one of the boilers in a building. Thanks to this, the team will be able to quickly simulate the impact of this failure on the temperature in the building (room by room) and decide on the best way to act. Is it appropriate to turn up the other heating elements while waiting for this boiler to be repaired? Will the resulting overheating zones be acceptable? Can the unheated space really be restored to a comfortable room temperature with the chosen solution? The digital twin will be able to predict the consequences of each action. In the event of a delay in the delivery of an element of the logistics chain to a site, it will be possible to understand the impact of this delay on the site schedule and how to reorganise it efficiently. Of course, this reflection and foresight already exist today, but they do not offer such precise control as that which will be obtained with a digital twin.
Moreover, these are only examples of what we could do. There are many more, including those of which we are not even aware yet. This is why researchers at the University of Cambridge are helping us to understand the value of digital twins in the construction industry, what the best use cases are, what the interest is in such a tool for our clients and how we can use it. ”
#3 – Collaboration with international academic researchers and the biggest international companies
Last May, Bouygues Construction joined the Cambridge Service Alliance (CSA): a unique international partnership between the University of Cambridge and some of the largest international companies. The objective: to discuss the challenges of digital transformation – especially the research dedicated to digital twins – and respond to a mutual ambition to find customer-orientated approaches to the future needs of the construction sector.
“The members of the CSA are made up of companies from all sectors”, explains Laure Ducoulombier, who heads up the R&D Design Lab Division at Bouygues Construction. It’s a great opportunity to discuss with people who are more advanced than us in the area of digital twins and who have already got ideas about the value they can bring. ”
This is another partnership for Bouygues Construction – already working closely with the academic world (LIEN vers article précédent) – which will also enrich the current work with Dassault Systèmes. As a reminder, the partnership that has united these two international industry leaders since the spring – and for three additional years – aims to develop a digital project management platform (3DExperience). This new generation of collaborative platform will simplify and rationalise the management of construction projects, as well as interactions with developers, architects, sub-contractors, suppliers, clients and contractors, throughout the project’s life cycle. This will increase the productivity, compliance and predictability of the construction process for the benefit of Bouygues Construction’s customers. A major undertaking that is well worth the effort!