Digitalisation in timber construction makes planning easier

12.10.2022 Digitalisation brings with it huge potential for planning and processes in timber construction to be structured in a simpler and more efficient manner. The opportunities and challenges this presents have been investigated by researchers in the BIMwood and DeepWood projects.

Timber construction is steadily gaining in importance – not least for ecological reasons. Although, for construction projects, however complex, to be implemented as simply as possible, new digital approaches are needed in the planning phase and in the collaboration between the various players. Researchers from the Institute for Digital Economy in the Construction & Wood Industry IdBH at Bern University of Applied Sciences BFH teamed up with researchers from the Competence Centre Typology & Planning in Architecture (CCTP) at Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts (HSLU), and got to grips with this challenge in two projects: BIMwood and DeepWood. Both projects were supported by Innosuisse, the Swiss Innovation Agency. 

BIMwood: Building Information Modelling in timber construction

The state of the art of technology in prefabricated timber construction is opening the doors to Industry 4.0 in construction. At the same time, on the planning side, Building Information Modelling or BIM is becoming ever more firmly established as a method. With BIM, digital networking takes place; it should improve the quality of planning, accelerate the construction process and support a sustainable life cycle for buildings.

The reality that people experience, though, paints a different picture: the pressure to implement BIM is increasing, but there are still no basic conceptual principles and agreements in place to enable the continuous flow of data between planning and execution. Due to a predominantly analogue understanding of planning, the potential of digital possibilities and new methods is not fully harnessed. The project team came to the conclusion that a new understanding is needed in many areas, especially in the processes, target development, modelling and interfaces. There is also a need for design and planning methods suited to timber construction. It is not yet possible to fully implement the solutions outlined by the BIMwood project team. The required technical solutions and agreements, among other things, are lacking. All players are now called upon to think further along these lines.

Besides the two universities, several business partners were involved in BIMwood: schaerholzbau ag, Pirmin Jung Schweiz AG, GKS Architekten Generalplaner AG, Design to Production GmbH and Wirkungsgrad Ingenieure AG.

DeepWood: Collaboration in a shared model

The DeepWood project took up the challenge of how to achieve collaboration between multiple disciplines simultaneously in a shared model. Based on the idea that this approach allows the ‘noise’ of the interface problems in current BIM projects to be eliminated, new structures for future real-time-based, cross-company and collaborative planning in timber construction were exploratively developed and tested in two Living Labs. In parallel, a performance matrix was developed that provides guidance on how architects and planners can manage the progress of a prefabricated timber construction project in a concerted manner.

The project team found the collaboration in the Living Labs and in the research project challenging. Putting the logic of common architecture and construction software behind them, they built up know-how in modelling on an industry platform. The hope that no interface problems would be encountered did not altogether materialise. They also found it difficult to build up know-how in practice for modelling on the industry platform. Nevertheless, in intensive workshops with experts from around the world and the first users in Switzerland, they were able to identify added values in parameterised planning and the component-based design approach. This allows previously rigid project structures to be dissolved and in-depth variant studies to be carried out in parallel over a longer period of time.

The project has revealed that on the technical side, there is still a need for research. Also, the entry barrier for expert planners is very high; the lock-in effect presented a problem for the research team too; and building up qualified experts for modelling represents a further challenge.

The following partners from the industry were involved in the project: Timbatec Holzbauingenieure Schweiz AG, Dassault Systèmes, Stuber Holz and Helbling PLM Solutions.

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