So recent is the concept of Construction 4.0 that there is still no consensus over its definition – we will there take a comparative approach.
Regarding manufacture, industry or "Industry 1.0" emerged circa 1790 with "mechanisation" thanks to the driving forces of water and steam. Then, along with electrification and assembly chains (1870) came "Industry 2.0", and, circa 1970, electronics, IT and automation paved the way for “Industry 3.0”. “Globalisation" in the 1980s ushered in "Industry 3.5" with reduced costs of communication and container transport. We are now in an age when digital technologies are being embedded in the manufacturing process: setting the stage for “Industry 4.0”.
The concept of Construction 4.0 can be illustrated by a similar or, more precisely, connected, notion, with the most recent development in manufacturing – Industry 4.0: the keywords being convergence, ubiquity and “digitisation”!
Let’s spend a moment considering the various changes that have revolutionised manufacturing to date, to more clearly understand and shed light on the game-changing upheaval common to manufacturing and construction at the turn of the 21st century: digitisation. In this way, we will be able to pinpoint the main characteristics of this Revolution 4.0, for construction – our subject of interest.
What are the characteristic features of the most recent development in manufacturing: Industry 4.0?
Industry 4.0 relies on ubiquitous connectivity, i.e. on ubiquitous computing – the third age in the history of computing – which has followed on from the age of personal computers and, before that, the age of mainframe computers. This is an age of convergence in which a range of different devices communicate discretely through a fabric of disparate networks where collaborative platforms loom large, enabling humans and AI to keep a constant “eye on everything” and to produce a customer-led object, tailored to the customer in real time.
But what are the parallels with the major changes sweeping through the construction sector?
Construction 4.0 is also being driven by ubiquitous connectivity. What is the advantage of such ubiquity? The word comes from the Latin term “ubique" which means “everywhere”. Initially, this referred to a divine ability to be everywhere or several places at once. Hence an ability to respond in real time, multiple sets of local data, management savings as well as “surgical” relevance. The result? The production of one or more objects, assets, that are "bespoke", "on-demand" and managed throughout their life cycle “in vivo”.
"That said, Construction 4.0 goes beyond ubiquitous connectivity and decentralised decision-making in real time. It harnesses a broader spectrum of technologies, the main ones of which appear to be: the Internet of Things, a Cyber-Physical Production System (CPPS), digital twins, 3D printing, cloud computing and, of course, BIM”.
This marks the ‘manufacturisation’, to use a newly coined term, of processes: introducing manufacturing at the start of the supply chain via Design for Manufacturing and Assembly (DFMA) and the massive use of CPPS, a paradigm shift if ever there was one!
Three other processes also form part of the Construction 4.0 trend:
First, transparent cooperation between companies in a collaborative mindset and adaptation of products and services in real time.
Second, the uptake of networked manufacturing systems in smart factories of the future and customised manufacturing, as alternatives to the traditional linear production processes, will take place through multidisciplinary prefabrication and DFMA. This will make it possible to build the manufacturing phase into the start of the supply chain to meet increasingly complex design requests.
Third, "increased use of ubiquitous connectivity systems, embedded sensors and smart CPPS systems (where computing components collaborate to control physical entities) will allow each component of the building to have its own value chain, with customised integration between the different stakeholders involved in its implementation. This will set the stage for multi-level interconnection between humans, between machines, as well as between humans and machines to enable decentralised decision-making amid greater integration »
The essential role of data and suitable platforms
« For Construction 4.0, data and its management are key considerations. In addition to the data and information generated by the design and implementation of construction projects, a significant amount of data will be generated by sensors and other CPPS systems.
The volume, variety and need for velocity of such data will require the use of suitable platforms for interpreting and managing it, but also and above all, connecting it to existing business platforms.
The aim is to connect the building site with smart factories as well as with a smarter use and design of connected assets ».
What are the benefits of this revolution?
Construction 4.0 is a paradigm shift based on a vast network of exchanges and interactivity between the factory and project object, the asset, as well as the many connected objects which, from manufacture to operation, will support, monitor and inform the human and digital users about the status of the object. In this world of multidirectional exchanges where acting means to respond at the right time, to the right extent, at minimal cost, the role of collaborative platforms will be instrumental.
Accordingly, during the asset’s management and maintenance stages, BIM and the Internet of Things, associated with other CPPS sensors, will make it possible to monitor the building’s performances and implement an effective preventive maintenance management system.
By and large, this will lead to "time, resource and energy savings", better compliance with sustainability criteria, enhanced quality and durability of buildings, better working conditions for staff (health and safety) as well as better quality of life for the assets’ users”
Thanks to greater use of BIM and collaborative platforms like Kairnial during the different stages in the service life of projects, objects and assets, a “smart” asset will be produced that is profitable, long-lasting and in line with the requirements of customers – operators or users – throughout its life cycle.