Lyons O'Neill

Digital transformation across engineering and construction

Over the last decade, many have been quick to brand the engineering and construction (E&C) industry as a more traditional sector, and therefore underestimate the potential for digital tools to revolutionise productivity.

At Lyons O’Neill we’ve seen firsthand the power of digitalisation: optimising project design, accelerating timelines and improving compliance with regulation. The need to attract new, highly-skilled talent to the industry, coupled with a boom in AI over the past year, has reignited interest in digital innovation among executives and we’re welcoming it with open arms.

Reaching a level of innovation similar to those in healthcare, manufacturing and energy, however, requires executives to be well-informed on how tech can optimise their output, and genuinely open to experimenting with the many innovative tools hitting the market.

How is AI and digital transformation driving the E&C industry forwards?

Modelling: The use of virtual environments and 3D printing to engineer structures before building them is allowing engineers to bridge the gap between form and function when it comes to design, and limit the re-working required in the process. Building Information Modelling (BIM), one of the most popular VDC tools, allows stakeholders to collaborate on an up-to-date 3D digital model throughout the planning, design and management process. BIM allows teams to uncover any issues before construction begins, streamline communication from day one, and therefore massively improve the overall quality of construction.

At Lyons O’Neill, we leveraged modelling tools to great effect during our work on the Double Curved Timber Ceiling we helped bring to life for the AELTC indoor tennis courts.  The geometry for the facing panels, the ribs and their half-lapped connections were been created using Grasshopper parametric software for Rhino. These parts were then exported in a way that they could be CNC’d on a flatbed router. Computational design enabled us to freely adapt the design as the coordination with other disciplines developed, by intelligently updating each of our output drawings, without having to change each drawing individually.

Improving project sustainability: Structural engineers have a vital role to play in improving the sustainability of our built environment. Generative AI tools will quickly play a bigger and bigger role in this regard. GenAI, for example, can be used to analyse vast amounts of data and factor in the long-term impact of key factors such as building materials, energy consumption patterns and weather conditions on building design. In addition, advanced technologies can be used to create new materials with optimised properties and smaller carbon footprints, as well as allowign us to build automation systems within buildings, minimising energy wastage and maximising carbon-neutrality.

Data and project management: As the E&C industry typically involves fragmented projects which require a number of different specialists at any given stage, managing data is no mean feat. Following the introduction of the Building Safety Act, many firms have found it invaluable to use a common data environment (CDE). CDE’s allow for an accurate and accessible common thread of information detailing all of the processes and materials used in a project. When all collaborators on a building project have access to this digital trail, it improves documentation and issue management, significantly reducing the number of back and forths required between collaborators. In this way, digitalisation will soon be a necessity when it comes to compliance, with firms increasingly being required to backlog actions to ensure that practices are kept in line.

Shifting attitudes to protect the future of the industry 

Despite having clear advantages for both the efficiency and quality of projects, digital transformation comes with a number of challenges. Not only does increased use of technology breed concerns from stakeholders about cyber risk, data security and accountability; digital tools also face limitations when users are not properly trained on how to maximise their benefits.

However, E&C leaders can either partner with digital innovation and tackle these challenges head on, or lose out to those who are already doing so. Shifting our mindsets to see digital investment as a necessity, and focusing on training employees to get the most out of digital tools, should therefore be a top priority in 2024.

A digitally-driven future promises to benefit not only those in the E&C industry, but the population more widely, as construction becomes more efficient and crucially, more sustainable.