Recognising potential: the power of data and 3D modelling in construction

Ewan Carmichael



Cutting-edge 3D technologies to collect and manage data, coupled with traditional project controls, are transforming the performance of major construction projects. The challenge for all built environment professionals is to set out from day one with a strategy to embrace these new tools.

Implementing innovative LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) and autonomous scanning technologies to collect construction site data is revolutionising how complex projects are managed. But we are only touching on the potential. Fully capitalising on the power of the detailed 3D models allows project teams to visualise capital intensive complex projects with unparalleled clarity. These insights enable managers to control the cost, schedule, risk and quality of their projects like never before.

A technology-centred approach that embraces the power of big data (large data sets analysed to determine patterns) is proving its value in the most complex of projects.

This is central to transformational project delivery throughout the construction sector. A clear shift in thinking is required to break from traditional and manual processes and to invest in the change required to unlock the value of data and digital technology and deliver better outcomes for clients.

Bringing digital twins to the heart of delivery

The concept of the digital twin - a virtual model designed to reflect a physical object - is not new, and they are already transforming both operations and maintenance, providing clear technical benefits and cost savings.

But digital twins can play a role much earlier in the project lifecycle.

Beginning with the earliest computer-aided design (CAD) work in the design stage through to the completed 3D model, the digital design of a facility can become a core tool in project controls and performance management, linking quantities and costs to design and progress data.

While the focus on the digital asset is often limited to engineering, our experience shows leading operators are placing the digital twin at the heart of project delivery in order to drive performance in project controls, which leads to transformative benefits:

  • Detailed digital twins allow scenarios to be modelled, tested and optimised long before cutting steel. Constructability and operability can be studied, and problems detected and resolved
  • Project estimates and schedules can be derived from and tied to the model forming a live connection between design quantities, materials procured, construction effort planned and costs to be paid 
  • Project data is liberated from organisational silos: engineering, construction and logistics information can be accessed by everyone enabling improved collaboration
  • Progress can be monitored in real time using live feeds of contractor and supply-chain information
  • Managing risk and change becomes visual with direct links to the design, quantity, cost and schedule impacts
  • Future projects become more efficient by tapping the digital project delivery experience of completed facilities. 

New technologies bring new benefits: Leveraging insight with LiDAR 

The use of autonomous, fixed or wearable LiDAR devices on construction sites and in fabrication yards allows an efficient and accurate record of progress, capturing information at a rate of up to 600,000 points of data a second. Once converted to a 3D point cloud (a discrete set of data points in space), this can be used to update the project’s digital twin to form a single source of truth for the contractor and project management alike. 

With actual progress measurable in close to real time, project managers have access to a new level of currency and accuracy when measuring their project performance.

This allows issues to be identified and tackled far sooner than the traditional approach would allow. The accuracy of the LiDAR scan is high enough to enable even minor discrepancies from the design to be identified, providing early warning of potential quality issues.   

Similarly, access to a single source of data around quantities and quality means disputes with contractors quickly become a thing of the past as what has been constructed or installed becomes indisputable. 

These scanners drastically reduce the time needed for project management personnel to be physically present on site, offering significant safety, time and cost benefits.

They can be deployed at remote facilities, feeding progress from the other side of the world back to the project team if required, or providing a view of inaccessible or dangerous site locations.   

Projects that have embraced the digital twin and LiDAR progress scanning have learnt the power of easy and efficient access to accurate and detailed project information, empowering management to make timely decisions, deliver efficiently and raise productivity, quality, performance and profit.   

Innovate before it’s too late 

Getting the digital strategy right and planning the investment needed right from the start is the fundamental first step: projects must set out as they mean to go on and embrace these technologies from the outset.

Developing the digital twin with the necessary information in place from the start enables benefits to be maximised for the minimum effort. Contractors must be bought in to the open sharing of information and this new more collaborative approach.   

Lessons may have been learnt on the most complex of projects, but as the cost of LiDAR scanners falls, and the power of the digital twin at the heart of project delivery is recognised, application on more conventional construction or fabrication sites will become increasingly common.   

A shift in thinking is required to break from traditional and manual processes and invest now in change.  

In summary:

  • Cutting edge technologies to collect and manage data have the power to transform the efficiency of project delivery 
  • The creation and use of digital twins should be at the heart of effective project set-up and delivery 
  • Tools such as LiDAR scanning offers a transformational view of project progress and performance, allowing issues to be identified and resolved quickly and efficiently 
  • This data-led approach is not only for the most complex projects but is a vital step for the whole construction sector as it tries to meet the challenges of energy transition. 

For further information contact:

Ewan Carmichael