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Understanding and realising the value of digital construction

What do we mean by the term ‘digital’? Rather than simply just a piece of IT or software, digital is the combination of processes, technology, people and information working together to achieve efficiency. Utilising digital construction means to achieve efficiency through the application of those four elements. Those efficiencies don’t just manifest in an optimised construction programme, but branch out to encompass quality, cost, safety and carbon.

Digital construction is a broad area, but this article focuses on the use of common data environments (CDE) to share a single source of the truth, and setting out on site with data not drawings, including the use of intelligent machine control; some people might call this 'construction from 3D model data’.


Image caption: Digital screen inside the cab of an intelligent excavator


Digital screen inside the cab of an intelligent excavator

Digital screens inside the cabs of intelligent plant at the Komatsu production factory, Durham. The design model is downloaded to the system allowing the operative to visualise the design via the onboard screens and operate the machine exactly to the design. The machine control features help to improve accuracy - auto-stop control, auto grade assist, auto tilt control, minimum distance control and bucket angle hold all mean the operator can safely rely on the system without worrying about digging too deep or damaging the surface.


Digital transformation is revolutionising the construction industry and redirecting the project delivery process onto a more sustainable path to the future.


Recently, our operational board of directors visited the Komatsu production factory in Durham, to see and hear first-hand how a leading global plant manufacturer – and one of our largest plant suppliers – are developing and delivering innovative solutions for the construction industry. In particular, how intelligent plant is optimising operations, adding value and improving efficiency in project delivery.


Image caption: JN Bentley operational board at Komatsu factory visit


JN Bentley operational board at Komatsu factory visit

When we talk about digital construction in JN Bentley/MMB, we’re talking about how we can use digital tools and processes to support the actual construction of our projects. One aspect of this that benefits from digital transformation is getting design information out to sites.


Traditionally, we would issue printed drawings with a drawing register and possibly PDF copies too. Instead, by utilising a Common Data Environment (CDE) such as BIM360, all the graphical design data is stored in one place, accessible through the web so everyone involved is working from the same information. Revision information and transmittals are automatically logged, and any technical queries are logged as design issues and assigned to a member of the team, with a deadline to resolve and full audit trail. The site team are able to carry out take-offs directly from the design without requiring specialist CAD software (or getting the scale ruler out!). As-built data can be uploaded back onto the CDE and mark-ups can be digitally integrated with the design, significantly streamlining the completions process. This improves collaboration which is crucial for managing time-constrained or complex capital projects.


Using these digital tools to communicate design data is helpful, but what if there was a way of not needing the drawings at all? Our design process is digitally mature, with designs produced in 3D BIM models, from which the 2D drawings are derived from. Digital construction allows us to obtain setting out points directly from the model, increasing time and resource efficiency. Survey instruments can be connected to the CDE through the cloud and design models accessed through those, allowing engineers to fully visualise the design in 3D out on site and to have full ownership of the setting out points . The as-built data that has been surveyed is then uploaded back on to the CDE as the work is completed.


Another tool that is being utilised across sites, especially large earthworks projects, is Intelligent Machine Control (IMC).


Image caption: Intelligent machine control (IMC)

Intelligent machine control (IMC)

IMC refers to plant and machinery fitted with GNSS receivers and other sensors, allowing the exact location of the blade /bucket to be known against a design model imported into the machine’s system. The operator sees the design on screen and is able to work to complex surfaces without the need for traditional setting out.


Key benefits of IMC include:

  • Improved quality and accuracy

  • Reduced requirements for Site Engineers (reduced people-plant interface)

  • Removal of waiting time for Plant Operators who require setting out points from Site Engineers

  • Removal of over digging risk

  • Reduced fuel use and carbon

  • Known below ground services can also be inputted and a no-dig buffer zone set to assist in reducing service strikes

On our sites, we encourage teams to complete a digital delivery plan to identify how elements of digital construction might benefit the project and how these can be successfully implemented.

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Read more on how we’re embracing digital, including digital construction, in our latest Annual Review (page 36) – read it here.


Follow us on LinkedIn and Twitter to keep up to date with the latest news from across the business.

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