The use of virtual models supports a fundamental change in the working practice of the construction industry. It changes the primary information carrier (drawings) from simple manually created depictions of the building under construction to visually realistic digital representations that also reflect the behaviour and properties of the building and its surroundings. Today it is practicable and sensible to create complete virtual models of buildings or infrastructures before they are created in real life. Leading architects, engineers and contractors already benefit from it today and create virtual models that thoroughly mirror the performance of the final facility and its construction process.
However, the potential of the virtual models in construction has not yet been fully utilised. One way to take more advantage of the virtual models is by digitally linking them with the physical components in the construction process and thereby improving the information handling. The present PhD project has examined the potential of establishing such a digital link between virtual models and physical components in construction. This is done by integrating knowledge of civil engineering, software engineering and business development in an iterative and user needs centred system development process.
The analysis of future business perspectives presents an extensive number of new working processes that can assist in solving major challenges in the construction industry. Three of the most promising of these business perspectives were selected for further investigation through system analysis, development and evaluation. They include combining virtual models with automatic object identification by means of radio frequency identification (RFID) in 1) quality management of buildings under construction, in 2) project progress management, and 3) in operation and maintenance.
Experiments and implementations in real life projects showed that mobile technology and passive RFID technology delineate an efficient and practically implementable ways to establish the digital links in construction and are ready for use. Among other things it is demonstrated how the digital link can be used with advantage for documentation of the quality of accomplished work, real-time update of production status in the virtual models, and on-site inspection work in facility management.
The prototype developments and implementations also showed that a lot of development work is still required before the full potential can be realised in form of improved quality, cost and reliability of the construction projects where the technology is adapted. The major barriers identified were related to the working culture, changing industry practices and development of new ontologies. Based on the experiences gained in this PhD project, some of the important future challenges are also to show the benefits of using modern information and communication technology to practitioners in the construction industry and to communicate this knowledge among all the stakeholders. Therefore, future implementations must be driven through strong leadership and a solid methodical approach to change the current practice.