4TU.14UAS Digitalization in the Built Environment Event

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On April 1, the first 4TU/14UAS Research Day on "Digitalization in the Built Environment," which was co-organized by 4TU.Bouw and the Lectorenplatform Gebouwde Omgeving (NL-GO) and hosted by the Saxion University of Applied Science.

Since 2018, three Dutch Technical Universities and the 14 HBO/UAS institutes have been working with the industry to develop a Construction Industry Digitalization Agenda for the Netherlands. During this process, possibilities were investigated under the auspices of BTIC (Bouw en Techniek Innovatiecentrum) in collaboration with governmental organizations and applied science institutes (TO2). This led to interesting discussions about industry ambitions, funding opportunities, ongoing research as well as R&D projects and student exchanges. Whilst these successful activities expanded organically, the research day has served as a springboard for establishing a more comprehensive collaboration between TUs and UASs.

During the event, 4TU and 14UAS announced their collaboration in this area and 4TU.Bouw and NL-GO exchanged handshakes in order to advance the subject further and facilitate knowledge generation and dissemination. It is envisaged that by doing so, the Netherlands' transition agendas will be accelerated. Enabling greater coordination between the institutes and the opportunities creates values for education and research projects, as well as the development of – digitalization, energy transition, circular economy, and other (often mutually influenced and linked) change - agendas.

The event started with a panel discussion on the value and challenges of a strong cooperation between 4TU and 14UAS. Senior and junior researchers from both sides debated and discussed how digitalization can facilitate sustainable developments in the building and construction sector. It was agreed that digitalization is a challenge as well as an enabler. Panelists highlighted examples of how digital processes and tools can serve to reduce emissions, resource consumption and costs across the value chain, whilst also increasing productivity.

Two research presentation sessions were held on building and infrastructure projects, data management, visualization, data models, simulation, and digital twins, as well as organizational and management aspects. During the sessions, it became evident that digitalization is vital for more than only documenting the built environment. It has been discussed what digitalization means for the built environment in terms of infrastructure, buildings, and transportation, and the strong (integration) link to the transition agenda(s). It asserted that we need to intensify our efforts to generate digital twins of the built environment very soon in order to guide and govern the transition agendas toward carbon reduction and the circular built environment.

Session 1 has particularly focused on data modelling, interoperability and Semantic Web, and decision support systems.

Digitalization has the potential to increase efficiency throughout the value chain of the built environment. Researchers indicated that having access to digital twins of infrastructure assets benefits the renovation, maintenance and construction planning of infrastructural projects. In an interesting case, a mobile laser scanner has been used to capture the geometric representation of the Railway Catenary Arches to create a digital twin.

Because of the multidisciplinary nature of the architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) sector, an intensely well-managed and flawless flow of information between all stakeholders is required during the project phases. Although the involvement of people with cognitive skills is still necessary for validating these requirements, it is error-prone and contributes to flaws in a project's information flow. It has been demonstrated that Semantic Web Technologies can significantly improve the efficiency of data exchange in the industry.

To meet the Paris Climate Agreement targets, the housing renovation process must be significantly scaled up. It has been demonstrated that digitalization can significantly accelerate renovation rates by providing required information for large-scale tenders and industrialized constructions via a data platform for managing the physical characteristics of existing dwellings for performing calculations and analyses. It has also been stated that data privacy and standardization must still be addressed because the required data belongs to different knowledge domains, is dispersed across multiple data sources, and is owned by various organizations.

Session 2 featured presentations on interesting applications of digitalization and digital twins in asset management and maintenance, performance gap evaluations and education.

Cables and pipelines are the energy infrastructure of cities and will become more relevant in light of the energy transition. Tangentially construction project teams apply trial trench digging and the Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) to localize cables and pipelines which heavily relies on expert skills and expertise.

A systematic decision-support method for onsite utility localization practices aids practice in making sound decisions on the type of utility surveying method to be employed.

Traditional heating experiments to determine the as-built heat loss coefficient (HLC), such as a co-heating test, cannot be used on a large scale to determine the energetic performance gap of a building as they are costly and intrusive. Onboard monitoring systems, such as smart meters, combined with data analysis techniques enable the determination of the HLC on a larger scale.

Emerging technologies like image processing and artificial intelligence can assist engineers in collecting, annotating, and categorizing field data for a more efficient evaluation of ageing structures. In an interesting study, AI-based image processing methods were used to aid in structural monitoring and defect detection for more efficient building maintenance. When compared to standard engineering inspections, the technique is more cost-effective.

Currently, construction training is largely based on the tacit knowledge of individual instructors who develop training strategies/content based solely on their personal experiences. As a result, there is a lack of uniformity, consistency, and standardization in construction training. The concept of the Digital Twin (DT) emerged in recent years as a result of efforts to create a virtual replica of the real world using advanced digital and sensing technologies. DT can be viewed as an unprecedented opportunity to create reality-inspired, open-world, scalable, and adaptable virtual learning platforms.

The event concluded with a plenary debate on how the event should be organized in the near future, how to increase the visibility of this platform, and how to make this a regular annual assembly of significance.