Case Study: Creating a Digital Platform for Offsite Construction

Changes are happening. Building Information Modelling (BIM) is gaining momentum and Virtual Design and Construction (VDC) is becoming the new norm. The design process has changed dramatically and as a result we now have a structured data model of the entire building that includes all the components needed for fabrication. The task of integrating prefabricated systems into a construction project is becoming increasingly a “digital” management proposition. But how to harness the full potential of new technologies and deliver projects more efficiently?

This was the question asked by many Estonian offsite construction companies. By the way, Estonia is the most successful exporter of wooden houses in Europe and according to Eurostat, only six European countries – Germany, the United Kingdom, Sweden, Finland, Austria and Italy – produce more wooden houses than Estonia.

The Challenge

Off-site construction companies have the upper hand when it comes to digitization. Due to vertical integration they can avoid the pitfalls inherent in the fragmented construction industry. Having control over the entire supply chain opens up the possibility for integrating processes and data flows in one system. This is the challenge we accepted and set out to develop a digital platform to manage the end-to-end process of design, manufacturing and installation of prefabricated buildings.

What we usually see in construction companies is a very scattered landscape of software solutions without a clear process or integration between them. Single-point solutions are a great way to solve specific tasks but if you apply this approach to every process then you quickly lose transparency and cannot track overall project progress or material flow without extensive manual work.

Industrialization of the construction process requires a high level of automation which is nearly impossible to achieve with a heterogeneous software landscape with limited integration possibilities. Our goal was to create a true single source of truth that would connect design with execution.

Integrating BIM with ERP

Enterprise Resource Management (ERP) software is often used in manufacturing companies. However, most ERP systems don’t fully support the project centric construction business and have no way of integrating collaborative BIM software.

In our view the key to overcoming the challenges of digitizing off-site construction is putting BIM at the heart of all business processes. The evolution of BIM and ERP technologies has reached the point where it’s now possible to integrate the two without any additional middleware.

Starting with collaborative BIM-based design we wanted to link the BIM model data with all business processes needed for project execution. The BIM model contains the layout, mark number, size, volume and the bill of material items for each piece. BIM provides the quantities of raw materials, ERP figures out the costs and plans the production based on the time it takes to produce each subassembly and construction element. ERP manages the production and delivery process, inventory, project invoicing, and all financial reporting for the project and the company.

Best of Both Worlds

To solve the problem, we did not want to reinvent the wheel and develop everything from the ground up. We wanted to leverage existing technologies that are scalable, have a proven track record and a visionary future roadmap.

In our case we integrated two industry leading technologies – Autodesk BIM 360 and SAP S/4HANA Enterprise Management. The result is a unique platform (www.intelsys.build) that brings together the best of both worlds – state of the art BIM technology from Autodesk and rock-solid business processes from SAP. The preconfigured solution for off-site construction companies can be implemented in weeks either in public or private cloud.

BIM models can be used to visualize all business processes throughout the entire building lifecycle, from cost estimation to project scheduling, purchasing of materials and services, manufacturing, invoicing and cost controlling. Having real-time business data available in BIM context supports decision-making and improves project delivery.

Changing the Mindset

When it comes to digitizing the off-site construction business then you have to start thinking bigger. You should not focus only on the quick-wins and low hanging fruits but instead look at long-term goals and leverage the vertical integration of off-site construction. It’s no longer just about what specific pain-point this or that app can solve – it’s a question of strategy and choosing the right digital platform for future growth and innovation.