Digitalisation at Implenia

Man, machinery and materials in harmony

Construction projects becoming more challenging

The construction industry is changing. Digitalisation is transforming what has hitherto been a very traditional trade. The challenges involved in construction projects have becoming increasingly daunting in recent years. Greater customer needs and global competition are intensifying time and cost pressures. Unique building designs require increasingly complex project organisations and present ever more difficult technical challenges in all phases of the work. These changing conditions demand new, integrated solutions and approaches. Digitalisation offers great potential here, right along the entire value chain. Implenia firmly believes that digitalisation is the way forward, and it is working to create a transparent, flexible system to manage the whole construction process.

Dynamic, complex systems

“Everybody’s talking about digitalisation. In our private lives we’ve all been communicating via apps for a long time now, and using digital taxi services like Uber to get around. The construction industry is also very interested in digitalisation, and it is opening up new opportunities for us,” explains Jörg Kaiser, Head of Implenia’s Technical Center. His core team is responsible for the development and implementation of Implenia’s digitalisation strategy. The Group believes there is great potential to optimise the operational value chain in particular. Digital information and tools can make construction processes more efficient and effective.

“By integrating and analysing detailed data we can draw conclusions quickly, intervene proactively and get the work done more efficiently,” says Jörg Kaiser. This is all based on a transparent, solution-oriented way of working, which generates clear competitive advantages in a market characterised by low margins. Implenia is, therefore, continuously building up the relevant capabilities.

“Digitisation reaches deep into the DNA of the usual ways of working.”

Ulf Hoppenstedt, Project Manager for Werk1 in Winterthur

Customer-focused construction along the whole value chain

“Our aim is to help the operational business units optimise their day-to-day work,” explains Jörg Kaiser. To do this his team focuses on networking methodologies, innovations and employees. This networking is driven by the philosophy of “Lean Management”: all activities are harmonised with each other as effectively as possible so resources can be used efficiently and processes improved. By defining processes precisely, setting clear responsibilities and establishing simple organisational methods, mistakes can be identified early on and high-quality building projects can be executed with a high degree of customer focus. In Basel, Implenia built two tower blocks on a Lean-based timetable in 2016. “The work done by the different companies and trades was coordinated in detail in advance,” explains Fabian Heidolf, the responsible project manager. “That helped us to execute the job efficiently on a tight schedule.”

Project managers used Implenia Management System 2.0, known for short as IMS 2.0, to plan the different processes. “The system models the entire cycle of a construction project,” explains Darius Khodawandi, Head of Operational Excellence. “Everything is transparently mapped, from market observation, through the various stages of execution, to the final warranty inspection.” This digital map thus serves as a guide and a management tool.

Alongside its adoption of this highly effective methodology, Implenia is also making use of innovations such as Building Information Modelling (BIM). “BIM is based on the use of virtual 3D models that replicate the physical outcome of a construction job,” explains Alar Jost, Head of BIM at Implenia. These models are enhanced by information generated during the planning, construction and operational processes. “Ideally, you also add details of timings and costs to produce what we call a 4D or even 5D model,” Jost continues. BIM improves decision-making, quality assurance and communication between all the different people involved in a project. The Technical Center serves as the organisational umbrella within the Group, but input to and from the operational organisation takes place at the level of the specific specialist area. The goal is to embed digitalisation in the places where people actually work with it. Ultimately everyone benefits, including on-site construction workers. “BIM helps us identify danger areas in the preparatory stage, so we can take further measures to improve health and safety for our employees,” says Jost.

Success based on operational requirements

If these new approaches are to have the desired effect, they have to relate closely to specific project needs. Implenia recently formed a dedicated Digitalisation Unit to help bring digitalisation even closer to the operational business. The unit combines IT and engineering expertise. The Head of the new competence centre, Martin Beth, tries to ensure his services are focused rigorously on the end-user: “The units need to formulate their requirements and needs.” Only then can Beth and his team develop purposeful, practical methods and tools that will actually be used. “Our employees at the coal face set the goals, and our internal specialists provide advice and realise these goals,” says Beth. But what does this mean in concrete terms? Beth quickly comes up with an example. “One of our BIM coordinators in Zurich produced a model for a residential development based on details provided by the construction manager. With the help of the model and the information it contained, the foreman found it much easier to order the materials he needed. He had no doubts about the benefits: his orders were more accurate and took less time.

That’s exactly how we want to push digitalisation forward at Implenia. Concrete gains relevant to the specific project,” Beth declares.

As well as specialist support, change also brings a need for education and training. Digitalisation is not being met with joy by all employees. It worries some. Ulf Hoppenstedt, Project Manager of Werk 1 in Winterthur, knows about such reservations: “Digitalisation reaches deep into the DNA of the usual ways of working.” But it’s always interesting to observe how initial scepticism turns into great enthusiasm after only a short time. “This only happens, though, if people see the concrete benefits,” says Hoppenstedt.

Linking up everyone along all the phases of value creation

“At Werk 1, we were already seeing specific benefits during the architectural competition when we were first developing the project,” the project manager continues. It was the first time the project team had used BIM models in this early phase. “A continuous BIM process brings us clear benefits at the planning stage, but also during the execution process,” Hoppenstedt believes. By linking up everyone involved – from the planning phase, to the work preparation phase, to completion and the guarantee period – project goals become easier to achieve, information loss is minimised and operational excellence can be increased. If this networking is to function properly, however, clients, operators, contractors, suppliers and subcontractors all have to commit to BIM.

“This is why the Technical Center organises regular training courses and workshops for suppliers and sub-contractors,” explains Jörg Kaiser. Implenia’s BIM professionals also supported the architects during the design competition for Werk 1. “A win-win situation for everyone involved,” believes Project Manager Hoppenstedt. Because the digitalisation of construction processes also brings benefits to customers: their projects can be portrayed in a very tangible form and planning quality is improved, while costs and deadlines for both the planning and execution phases can be shown more transparently.

“What we’re learning in this pilot project will help us use the tool on future jobs.”

Wolfgang Fentzloff, Head of Technical Services, Tunnelling Germany

Growing thanks to market requirementsn

It’s hardly surprising, therefore, that more and more clients stipulate the use of BIM in their contracts. In Germany, the Federal Ministry for Transport and Digital Infrastructure has said that BIM will be compulsory for its infrastructure projects from 2020. Implenia is already carrying out a pilot project where the customer has prescribed the use of BIM: the Albvorland Tunnel between Stuttgart and Ulm. Initially, the project was developed using a traditional planning process; but then the client decided that the western portal of the tunnel should be built using BIM models. “It’s been great for us,” says Wolfgang Fentzloff, Head of Technical Services at Tunnelling Germany. “It’s the first infrastructure project we’ve had where we can use 5D BIM. We’ve been able to compare traditional and digital planning processes, which has helped us pinpoint the advantages of this new way of working.” Some crucial points have arisen that will be important to remember in future deployments of BIM. 4D and 5D simulations are currently being used in the execution phase, he tells us, and it turns out that applying the cost and time planning can be challenging during operational implementation. “What we’re learning in the pilot project will help us use the tool on future jobs,” Fentzloff says.

Networking people, machinery and materials

Digitalisation will turn Implenia from a locally organised analogue con­struction firm into a global, digitally networked company. Standalone, unlinked systems will be brought together and harmonised. “The goal is to link people, machinery and materials with each other as effectively as possible,” explains Jörg Kaiser.

“We want to connect people, machinery and materials.”

Jörg Kaiser, Head of Technical Center

Integrating cross-functional data in real time creates added value for Implenia, he says. Support functions, methods, tools, qualities and technologies are networked to create more value.

Digital control of machinery is a good example of how this works in practice. The use of excavators with 3D machine control allows precise modelling of site terrain. “Digital control makes it easier to accomplish complex excavation geometries,” adds Alar Jost, Head of BIM. Evaluation of digital machinery data also enables more efficient management of the equipment fleet. Sustainability criteria and risks can be simulated and reviewed early in the project planning phase. This comprehensive integration of subsystems also increases transparency in the spirit of the Group’s “One Company” philosophy.

Jörg Kaiser is adamant that the ultimate goal of the digitalised construction site can only be achieved if everyone pulls together: “Digital’s influence on the construction industry is only going to grow; anyone who fails to keep adapting and evolving will find it very difficult to survive in a hard-fought market.” This is why Implenia is investing in technologies and especially in training its employees. The Group’s BIM-community is growing fast, and taking its expertise into the line organisation. Implenia already began to see an increase in project acquisitions in 2016 thanks to its use of model-based technologies. It will be extending its digital capabilities still further in 2017 and be in an even better position to meet the challenges that lie ahead. “We’ve entered the 21st century in construction and we want to continue to help shape what comes next,” Jörg Kaiser concludes.