A digital engineering approach for sustainable housing


With the spotlight on the UK after the historic COP26, Ian Risk, Chief Technology Officer at Modeling & Simulation Center, believes that digital engineering must be at the heart of building design if the industry is to succeed in achieving net zero goals while facing the housing crisis

The construction and homebuilding industry has a reputation for lagging behind other sectors when it comes to carbon neutrality. Currently, construction contributes 40% of the UK’s carbon emissions – with ambitious net zero targets to reach and a housing crisis to solve, we need to work smarter and harder to find a solution applicable to everyone. sector.

There are a number of initiatives already, bringing together some of the biggest names in the industry to tackle our most pressing challenges as the industry seeks to ‘build back better’. From the Advanced Industrialized Methods for the Construction of Homes (AIMCH) project to the Construction Leadership Council’s CO2nstructZero strategy, these examine how modern construction methods can be optimized to meet housing demand in a more affordable and better way. respectful of the environment.

However, while it’s great to see progress, there is another way. Digital engineering has the potential to tackle reducing carbon emissions before a single brick is laid.

Multi-objective optimization

Digital engineering enables builders and contractors to assess the entire lifespan of buildings at the design stage, enabling them to solve problems before they arise. This can include evaluating materials and supply chains for sustainability gains; or how to make the most of brownfields for large-scale developments. These are all essential when it comes to sustainability in housing.

The digital transformation of engineering capabilities has the potential to be a game-changer for home builders. At CFMS, we help developers create better solutions and pioneer new product development by facilitating a better understanding of how a product will perform throughout its lifecycle. We do this by using a “digital test bed” – a virtual replica of systems and processes – to investigate opportunities and determine the best option, before physical development.

Through the development of this multi-objective optimization strategy, we can help developers balance the competing environmental, economic and societal factors that fuel a successful sustainable housing ecosystem.

The approach uses sophisticated digital modeling and simulation techniques to identify the best options before the excavators start and any physical work begins, saving time and money, in addition to reducing the operational and intrinsic carbon footprint throughout the development and throughout the life of the buildings.

For example, life cycle modeling can be used to assess specific aspects of a material or component, such as corrosion. We take a look at how these factors change over time and how these changes will affect performance. This allows the developer to stipulate specific design requirements, creating more durable products and minimizing maintenance costs for the lifetime. Specific modeling approaches can also be used to assess how developments behave under “stress” – such as major or unforeseen environmental events – and then make recommendations to optimize this performance.

From a sustainability perspective, planning must evolve and be carried out in a holistic manner to achieve growing environmental goals. Digital engineering can help here to establish how energy and transport resources can be shared within a development for the benefit of all.

Another major challenge for any large construction project is to quickly identify an optimized solution that meets the different needs of architects, engineers, builders, regulators and occupants. Multi-objective optimization allows us to explore a range of different complex design options in sufficient detail to meet the demands of these stakeholders. By taking a digital approach, this once time consuming and expensive task can be handled quickly.

As the digital engineering system is automated, the solutions presented are neither biased nor hampered by human prejudices. Providing information with full traceability also helps developers to clearly understand why specific design choices are optimal, while also linking to design requirements and specifications.

Beyond BIM

Although investments in research and development for the construction sector have increased thanks to initiatives such as the Construction Innovation Hub, the sector could do more to innovate digitally, especially in design and sustainability.

This has drawn attention to concepts such as Design for Manufacture and Assembly (DfMA), modularization, and offsite mass production to improve productivity, quality and U-values. While this is a positive step forward, there still seems to be a reluctance to use design as a vehicle to optimize the housing system as a whole. Studying and assessing the sustainability of major developments and supply chain requirements, as well as understanding the impact of major societal or environmental changes, can have a major impact on long-term cost and the sustainability of a project and the potential return for investors and stakeholders.

The industry is working valiantly to find solutions to the challenges society faces, but it must think outside the box. Working with think tanks, universities and policy makers, in addition to competitors, will be key to developing and adopting large-scale deployment of digital solutions for housing construction.

Digital engineering is a proven approach that has been successfully implemented in a number of industries, from aerospace to manufacturing, delivering significant reductions in the carbon footprint of product development and infrastructure. If the construction industry is to achieve ambitious carbon targets, the way forward needs to be streamlined. Now is the time for home builders to embrace this evolution of BIM, as we look to net zero in 2050.

Ian Risk

Chief Technology Officer

Modeling & Simulation Center

+44 (0) 117 906 1100

[email protected]


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