Maria Vasi, Structures Office Manager, Leviatan Design: “How will this new digital twin dimension help us? It helps reduce operating costs and energy consumption, which usually covers around 90% of the total cost of buildings, in both the investment and operating phases, according to current estimates.”
Digitisation is reshaping activities in every sector of the economy, both locally and globally, as players in different sectors adopt and integrate the latest technologies. In this context, Leviatan Design has decided to invest significantly in recent years to implement innovations such as process automation, mobile communication, and data processing technology, as well as state-of-the-art equipment such as 3D scanners, drones, and Microsoft HoloLens in the construction sector.
Technologies have been slow to penetrate the construction sector, and perhaps much later than in others. Even if digitisation in this economic sector has had a much slower pace than in other industries – given the rather high inertia, but also the high complexity of operations in the field – the accelerated development of IT applications is certainly the main source of support in the approach and transformation of the design and execution process in the construction sector”, explained Maria Vasi, structures office manager at Leviatan Design, during a videoconference covering “The most innovative companies in Romania 2021 – How do we accelerate innovation in Romania?”, organized in partnership with BAT and Leviatan Design.
Leviatan Design is a provider of integrated civil engineering and construction solutions from concept to completion. It is one of the first companies in the field to say a loud “yes” to technological progress and to start implementing the latest innovations in its own processes. “In the last three years we have implemented state-of-the-art technologies that have involved the allocation of financial resources of between €500,000 and €1 million, representing technology, software and the training side. Investment in technology and automation tools is one of our priorities.” Thus, the company has digitized all design processes and implemented platforms and solutions that have streamlined both the design process and the follow-up of works.
These include process automation, big data, mobile communication, and data processing technology, as well as equipment such as HoloLens or 3D scanners.
“Adapting to the new technological paradigm was possible because we guided our work according to the new IT tools and adopting the concepts of the BIM (Building Information Modelling) work methodology – which is a collaborative way of working based on which we also set about creating all the work steps in the design and work tracking process.” Specifically, Leviatan Design uses a common data environment for sharing and storing information that all team members need at any given time. At the same time, with this common data environment the company shares documents related to design processes. “This integrated and digital way of working that we have already had in place for several years has become very useful and highly appreciated by all our specialists during the lockdown and beyond. This validation of the way of working, as well as the evolution of the general perception of digitalization in our company, has allowed even at change management level a much greater acceptance by colleagues.”
Technology in the field
Concepts such as virtual reality, augmented reality and mixed reality are increasingly making their way into everyday business life, and Leviatan Design uses the concept of mixed reality in an integrated way with the collaborative working environment. “What does it mean in practice? The 3D model is loaded into the HoloLens hardware software, the user puts the headset on (the goggles), and the holograms of the 3D model are projected onto the lenses of the glasses. Depending on the specialty and where the glasses are used – they can be used both in the design office for coordination, but also on the job site at the construction site – you can see the details of the project, architecture, structure, compartmentalization, design.”
As a result, the beneficiary can have a much clearer vision of what the project will look like on completion and provide feedback to the design teams at an early stage of the project. The innovation mindset has paid off for the company, says Maria Vasi, as Leviatan Design has experienced a strong evolution in a short time following the adoption of the most sophisticated technologies in the field. “This helped set a new vision at the company, namely we started an internal R&D project with a team of programmers to establish an improved, customized level dedicated to our needs for automation and data interlinking in order to refocus the design effort from process to creativity. At this point in the design activity a lot of time is spent on modelling, concept, all the information needed to design and realize the product required by the customer, and this long time automatically shortens the creative process.”
Another technology adopted by Leviatan Design is 3D laser scanning, which will help any engineer, architect or specialist involved, as billions of points of the terrain, the building environment or any element can be scanned. All this generates a virtual surface that can be imported into BIM design programmes. This gives an accurate picture of the whole and makes the process more efficient. “What is the purpose of implementing all these technologies? By implementing collaborative working, mixed reality and 3D scanning technologies, we are laying the groundwork for integrating the concept of ‘digital twin’ into the design process. This will make it possible for the project as executed to be made available to the client to make full use of facility management software.
Consequently, by integrating the 3D model in the field with the designed 3D model we complete this digital twin dimension of the BIM standard”. For context, the concept of a digital twin is a virtual model of a process, product, or service, which can involve sensors providing real-time data and integrate elements such as IoT, artificial intelligence and software analytics. The data collected contributes to the creation of the virtual model and helps visualize the final product. “What does creating this digital twin dimension help us with? It helps to reduce operating costs and energy consumption, which will typically make up around 90% of the total cost of buildings, both in the investment and operating phases, according to current estimates. (…) We aim to achieve the goal of delivering smart and intelligently designed buildings and projects that meet current sustainability standards and future carbon-neutral building standards.”
The Innovation Process
Maria Vasi has also contributed to the videoconference debate, which discussed Romania’s position as an “emerging innovator” in the European Innovation Scoreboard 2021, the EU’s innovation scoreboard. She believes that this position is also linked to the nature of the innovation process, which is a lengthy one. “The innovation process to be implemented within a company involves and requires a lot of time, major investments, additional resource and time allocations, and the journey from idea to implementation does not happen overnight, it does not happen automatically, and this could be one of the reasons why the pace of innovation in the construction sector is slow.
Even optimizing a simple workflow is a long process before it adds value, but for us as a construction company this process has become almost indispensable, partly because of the challenges posed by the pandemic and partly because digitization is the future, and we cannot digitize without the innovation process.”
Another important topic in terms of innovation and innovation mechanisms is the actual usage of technology, where people are the ones who need to be open to using the latest technologies. “Throughout the implementation of these technologies we have found that most specialists are open to adopting new technologies when they see the benefits, if they ease certain steps in the process, if they automate certain steps.
Therefore, we have set up a very well-developed process of analysing ideas, studying the best technologies, checking the implementation steps, and determining them according to the needs of the company and the results we want.” At the same time, Leviatan Design has implemented a “lessons learned” section in the process, which means that at the end of each project the specialists who participated are encouraged to identify the problems that have arisen, propose and come up with solutions for improvement, so that the process is continuously improved, and the specialists are encouraged to identify what else can be automated in the company’s work.
Speaking of ways and means of encouraging innovation in the construction sector, Maria Vasi recommended setting up working groups to bring all stakeholders together, from the public sector to the private sector and academia. “We can recommend setting up working groups that include companies with practical working experience, emerging technology companies and representatives of industries that have an operational role in construction. At the same time, it would be very important that decision-makers from regulatory institutions and representatives of universities should also participate in these working groups. These groups could set up pilot projects with clear objectives, which could then be tested locally, and the conclusions and lessons learned from these projects could lead to a much faster improvement and implementation of digitization in construction.”