HOCHTIEF and the digital construction site
Digitalization is fundamentally changing the economy. Not only highly dynamic models, such as Facebook, Amazon and Google are emerging quasi overnight—in traditional industries, there are also huge opportunities for changes and improvements. Digitalization has long since arrived at HOCHTIEF—with exciting challenges and new professional perspectives.
Excavators which dig without drivers. Drilling machines which use geometrical data to find their drilling point themselves. Drones which record construction conditions through spectacular overflights. Spraying robots, which produce whole floor plans—all that is no longer just a vision, but also at HOCHTIEF is regarded as the future. “We are still at the beginning and would like to have broad use on our construction sites,” explains Stephan Tilner, Managing Director of the Group’s new internal technology subsidiary, Nexplore Deutschland. “In future, these technologies will support us far more than they do today and help to change the concept of the Site Manager,” Tilner is convinced. “But now we first of all need to digitalize what we do,” confirmed René Schumann, Managing Director of HOCHTIEF ViCon, the HOCHTIEF company responsible for virtual construction and “Building Information Modeling” (BIM). This means: we translate existing processes into a digital workflow.
The digital workflow as change process
“Up to now, that still happens in a different way,” reported Schumann from practice. “You start to build while the planning process is still ongoing, and this is coordinated within the course of the construction process. This means that costs and deadlines are repeatedly adjusted.” It is self-evident that this is not a simple approach for clients or HOCHTIEF’s experts. “Build digitally first” is consequently the motto at ViCon. The complete structure is to be already digitally recorded in advance in such a way that all participants have a clear, secured and mutual understanding of the entire construction project and improve the working processes through animations and simulations.
Digital 3D models of a construction project become standard—and standard qualification. Certainly a good reason for HOCHTIEF to encourage the appropriate training of its employees with a major education initiative focusing on BIM digitalization.
The construction site as digital chessboard
For instance, the new digital processes also integrate suppliers into the process right from the outset. This involves storing numerical information in the digital delivery note and processing this in a subsequent system, right through to invoicing. This not only saves time compared to previous methods, but also helps to avoid errors during transmission. Furthermore, the digital delivery note is linked with the appropriate 3D model. If a supplier has delivered concrete, the question of what building components this belongs to can be quickly answered.
Stephan Tilner explains the vision behind the digitalization of such workflows: “That is like a chess computer, which plays better than a human being if it has studied sufficient processes.” Our experts therefore now regard the construction area as a large chessboard: Where are the supplier’s vehicles? Where is our equipment and machinery? Are there any risks due to weather? What is the temperature of the concrete? Our experts collect such information on projects and working steps, which they first use to describe existing processes, in order to then automate them. In future, these digital data will be even more intensively evaluated and the processes they are based on optimized with artificial intelligence. “That continues until we have found the process which can no longer be improved,” comments Tilner on the future of the digital construction site.
In future, site managers will hence be able to become involved with the digital language—I don’t want to say they will have to.
Stephan Tilner, Managing Director Nexplore Deutschland
Best already going the extra miles at university
HOCHTIEF is therefore also already consciously training operational project participants to translate processes into a digital language. “In future, site managers or experts from the fields of Geotechnics, Structural Design or Estimating will hence also be able to become involved with the digital language—I don’t want to say they will have to,“ notes Stephan Tilner.
René Schumann recommends that students should already study disciplines which deal with the issue of digitalization. The challenge is: This knowledge is often only conferred as part of the elective subject. “Here, I can only advise people to additionally study these subjects and in social media to follow what new developments there are.” He also directly explains why it is important to go these extra miles: “The approach is not to implement what we have already been doing for decades, but instead to be an innovator and idea generator, who provides more success on our construction sites with new ideas,” says Schumann.
The approach is to be an innovator and idea generator, who provides more success on our construction sites with novel concepts.
René Schumann, Managing Director HOCHTIEF ViCon
Process knowledge is the beginning of all digitalization
If you want to take processes, and structure and organize them better and map them at a digital level with digital algorithms and computer methodology, you also need profound knowledge of processes as well as digital talent. “It is first of all important to actually think in terms of processes. But this is generally not the case for someone who has just studied or received training. You are then still too tied up in your specialist knowledge,” notes Tilner. At HOCHTIEF, young engineers and commercial managers are therefore consciously presented with the opportunity and the task of intensively dealing with these processes at the beginning of their careers.
But it is not just that classic occupations are undergoing a transition—new ones are also emerging. For instance, for Nexplore HOCHTIEF is looking on a worldwide basis for software developers and experts, who will design digital interfaces for new applications, and design innovative solutions together with HOCHTIEF users. And who knows what ideas will become reality.