Widespread use of advanced digital tools such as Building Information Modelling (BIM) and digital twins for the production and submission of important design and as-built drawings on major multi-residential apartment complexes in New South Wales may be up to ten years away, the latest research suggests.

And ignorance about critical new legislation which is now in force remains alarmingly high.

(image source: Office of the Building Commissioner)

Commissioned by the Office of the Building Commissioner, the Industry Report on Digitisation of Design and Construction of Class 2 Buildings in New South Wales was prepared by Western Sydney University’s Centre for Smart Modern Construction.

The report aims to:

  • Shed light on current practices and capabilities within the Class 2 (multi-residential apartment) building sector in terms of the preparation and submission of important development approval documents and as-built drawings through various digital means.
  • Identify drivers of digital technology uptake for the purpose of preparing and submitting such documents along with potential barriers to greater uptake; and
  • Identify sentiments about the likely readiness for widespread adoption of digital technologies for this purpose going forward.

Overall, the report found that many designers and builders remain at a relatively unsophisticated state in terms of their digital technology adoption and capability.

Across the 542 practitioners who completed a quantitative survey as part of the research, more than half of all builders and nearly half of all designers currently prepare and submit important documents using either two-dimensional CAD files or PDF files which have been converted from a CAD platform.

Less than one third had reached a ‘smart’ capacity equivalent to the use of BIM models.

Source: Industry Report on Digitalisation of Design and Construction of Class 2 Buildings in New South Wales, Western Sydney University

Source: Industry Report on Digitalisation of Design and Construction of Class 2 Buildings in New South Wales, Western Sydney University

Going forward, the survey found that comprehensive levels of digital maturity which involve regular submission of BIM models and/or digital twins are unlikely to be achieved until beyond 2030 (see chart below).

Whilst most designers and builders surveyed now feel they have the ability to submit PDF files converted from CAD or 2D CAD files, only half believed they could reach the stage of submitting BIM models by 2022 whilst only one quarter expect to be submitting digital twins by this time.

Accordingly, the report concludes that a more realistic short-term objective would be to strive for widespread submittal of 3D CAD information by this time.

With 70 percent of respondents expressing confidence in their ability to deliver on this, the report pointed out that such a goal would require only 30 percent of firms to stretch beyond their anticipated timeframes and abilities in this area.

As for widespread submission of BIM files and digital twins, it says greater effort will be needed over a longer timeframe in order for this to happen.

Moreover, the report cautioned that the aggregate figures above obscure discrepancies whereby some players lag others in digital capability and maturity.

In particular, builders generally lag designers in digital uptake whilst many smaller players are well behind their medium and larger counterparts.

It cautions that particular effort is needed to improve the digital capabilities of these two cohorts.

The latest research comes as part of the NSW Government’s efforts to improve the quality and safety of construction in buildings which are classified being as Class 2 buildings under the National Construction Code (multi-storey apartment complexes).

This in turn comes in response to the discovery of widespread use of flammable cladding on such buildings along with cracking and major structural defects at the Opal and Mascot Tower complexes.

It also comes in response to a national agreement for each state and territory to implement the recommendations of the Building Confidence report which was prepared for the Building Ministers Forum (now called the Building Ministers Meeting) in 2018.

One part of the government’s ‘six pillars’ strategy in response to this involves greater uptake of digitisation and digital platforms. As part of this, the NSW portal is evolving to become a platform which consolidates all information across the building lifecycle from design and approval through to construction and operation into a single digital location. This will create a ‘single source of truth’ which contains all of a building’s certificates on a common platform. These records will go with the building forever and be made available to future owners, owners corporations and maintenance contractors.

For this to happen, however, designers and builders will need the capability to work with and manage digital documents.

According to the report, there are several drivers of and barriers to greater technology uptake.

Drivers include greater accuracy and trustworthiness, improved quality and standards, greater ability to deliver on time, budget and quality, better communication and complex design fabrication.

Barriers include costs associated with purchasing both software and hardware, inadequate design fees, costs of IT specialists, issues of ownership and liability and a lack of a single suite of software.

The survey also revealed a lack of awareness about the Design and Building Practitioners Act 2020 among some practitioners.

Having come into force in July, this forms a key part of NSW government plans to ensure the competency and accountability of those who perform critical work on Class 2 buildings.

Under this new legislation:

  • A new registration scheme has been created for design and building practitioners along whilst a separate new registration scheme has been created for professional engineers.
  • Specific aspects of the design of Class 2 buildings which are important for quality and safety need to be declared by registered design practitioners to comply with the NCC and relevant standards prior to the commencement of building work.
  • A registered builder must declare that the building has been constructed according to the approved design.
  • ‘Declared designs’ must be lodged on the NSW Planning Portal.

Whilst many practitioners are aware of the changes, a large number are not.

All up, five percent of designers and almost one in five builders have never heard of the Act. A further 31 percent of designers and 41 percent of builders know only a little about it.

This indicates that further work is needed to educate the sector about the legislation, the report said.

NSW Building Commissioner David Chandler OAM welcomed the report’s release.

Chandler said the importance of digital capabilities should not be under-estimated.

“To successfully navigate this new landscape, construction professionals are expected to refine their formal qualifications and become digital ready,” Chandler said.

“Furthermore, digital capabilities will be fundamental to fully grasp the construction 4.0 opportunities that are now evolving in the construction sector.”

The research was conducted through a worldwide literature review, a survey of designers and builders and a series of qualitative interviews involving building designers, builders and software providers.

Of the 542 practitioners who completed the quantitative survey, 347 were designers whilst 195 were builders.

All were involved in Class 2 building design and/or construction.