Our world is becoming increasingly digital – and this also applies to the construction industry, which is undergoing a transformation the like of which has never been seen before. We talk to Markus Lentzler, Managing Director Architecture and Construction at ECE, about the significance of these changes and their impact on the industry itself as well as the related labor market.
Markus, people are more likely to associate the construction industry with heavy machinery than digital applications at first glance. What kind of impact is digitalization having on the construction industry and what changes has it brought?
In fact, many aspects of digital technology have a massive influence on the construction industry and are bringing changes. The biggest change is the digitalization of the project process. Using digital technologies such as building information modeling (BIM), processes can be mapped out more efficiently and more cost-effectively with fewer errors. All planning documents are listed in a digital process landscape, meaning that everyone can always access the current status and read all the information about a project, processes, and products. Previously, people in the construction industry still worked according to the old “brick by brick” principle. Now we are on the way to becoming an industry with common processes and Standards.
What other changes are there?
The second aspect of digitalization concerns materials. With digital applications and material coding, today we can optimize the supply chain and receive only as much steel, concrete, or wood as we need in deliveries. This is much more sustainable than before. There used to be a large amount of wasted material due to incorrectly ordered quantities and unused materials. Thirdly, machines are becoming increasingly more digital and more intelligent. Great progress has been made on this front through the use of measurement and sensor technology in technical building equipment. Units such as ventilation systems are more energy-efficient or can even send a report when maintenance is required.
An industry in transition
How far away is the industry from greater digitalization?
There are statistics that clearly illustrate the current situation: 93% of players in the construction industry say that digitizing our processes is necessary, but less than 6% actually do so. We still have a long path ahead. However, the goal is obvious. By digitizing processes, we aim to become more efficient in a way that will ultimately drive series construction. Both things help us to simplify processes and to optimize costs. At ECE, we are working intensively on improving processes – and we are already using the BIM method. However, the industry as a whole needs to develop an understanding of new digital methods. Only then can we move forward together.
How has cooperation in the construction industry changed in recent years – with and without digitalization?
The industry is currently undergoing a major upheaval. In the last ten to fifteen years, capacity utilization has risen steadily to 80 per cent at present. This is due to a continuing shortage of skilled workers: there are simply not enough skilled workers and civil engineers in the younger generations. People never used to find the construction industry appealing because it was always surrounded by memories of arguments and conflict. Following the separation of planning and construction in Germany, there was never an emphasis on cooperation. However, in order to continue handling all orders in the future, we need to work together more effectively and with a greater sense of partnership. Many players in the industry have been trying to do this for a long time, for instance by creating preferred partnership models. The trend toward closer and better cooperation is now progressing to an intensive level. Here, too, digitalization can help us.