Home Research & Education Braunschweig University of Technology presents the “Digital Construction Site”

Braunschweig University of Technology presents the “Digital Construction Site”

Homes, roads, bridges – construction is always underway. But mostly with construction techniques that have remained unchanged for decades. Digital solutions rarely make it onto the construction site and are limited to selected areas of application and pilot projects. Yet the construction industry is facing the challenge of meeting the increasing demand for construction with fewer resources and emissions. With the project “The Digital Construction Site – Construction Industry 4.0 as the key to a digital and sustainable construction industry”, TU Braunschweig aims to research digital production technologies and their impact on planning and production processes under real construction site conditions and provide impetus for construction practice.

To this end, a unique research infrastructure consisting of various digitally controlled large-scale devices – with robotic units, a mobile robot, an automated concrete mixing plant, object tracking and immersive systems (including an LED wall with virtual reality technology) – is being built on Beethovenstraße on the East Campus of TU Braunschweig. The centrepiece of the facility is the approximately six-metre-high “3D printing unit”, which will be used to produce large-format, individualized, resource- and CO2-efficient components additively, i.e. in several superimposed layers.

“Additive manufacturing technologies and 3D concrete printing in particular are key technologies for the transformation of the construction industry, as they combine economic, ecological and social aspects of construction production,” emphasizes Professor Patrick Schwerdtner from the Institute of Construction Management and Construction Operations (IBB), one of the initiators of the digital construction site and project manager for the planning and procurement phase.

On the one hand, dispensing with the formwork eliminates a cost-intensive work step, while on the other, the additive manufacturing process enables material to be saved, as the concrete can only be applied where it is actually needed for construction. Furthermore, occupational safety is improved as the components are produced automatically and no longer by hand under sometimes difficult local conditions and in problematic weather conditions.

Innovative networking of digital technologies

TU Braunschweig is already researching 3D concrete printing and other additive manufacturing technologies together with TU Munich in the Collaborative Research Center TRR 277 “Additive Manufacturing in Construction” (AMC). Professor Harald Kloft, spokesperson for the Collaborative Research Center, sees enormous potential in the digital construction site for transferring the findings from basic research into application. Here, the scientists want to test the results of the AMC on a 1:1 construction scale and under real conditions. In doing so, they want to bring together different digital technologies on site and network them in the spirit of Industry 4.0. This will make it possible in future to work on the construction site using data throughout – from planning to production and assembly, explains Norman Hack, Professor of Digital Construction at the Institute of Structural Design (ITE). Ideally, a digital process chain is created that increases the degree of automation. The advantage: construction can be more resource-efficient, long transportation routes are eliminated and construction time is shortened thanks to interlinked processes. In addition, the data-based exchange of information avoids errors in communication.

Visual collaboration model

The interface for all those involved in the production process is the “Digital Engineering Center”: this control center will bundle all information from the “digital construction site” – stored and managed in a three-dimensional “BIM model” (also for “conventional” construction processes outside of additive manufacturing). The scientists also want to use the Building Information Modeling (BIM) methodology as a visual collaboration tool.

“Here we can link three-dimensional representations with schedules, among other things, in order to look at processes in a time frame, collect and analyze data,” explains Professor Schwerdtner.

The “Digital Engineering Center” will also function as a virtual reality laboratory in which, for example, digital components can be projected into real space.

New ways of quality control

The digitally controlled concrete mixing plant for 3D printing (Mobile Digital Concrete Plant) also combines processes that were previously usually carried out separately into a digitally integrated process. In this way, material production can be controlled by mixing the raw materials, pumping the concrete and determining the properties of the fresh concrete and the flowability to ensure the printed geometry of the structure and the bonding of the individual layers, explains Dirk Lowke, Professor of Building Materials.

The researchers led by Professor Markus Gerke from the Institute of Geodesy and Photogrammetry (IGP) also want to use automatic 3D surveying sensors and methods for the accompanying and final quality assurance. This will enable them to check the actual and target geometry and detect damage, among other things. The use of special tracking systems is also planned for recording the entire structure for comparison with the planning data. At the same time, the scientists also want to measure the weather conditions and wind to investigate the effects of real construction site conditions.

Involvement of the construction industry

In the future, a construction site similar to the one at TU Braunschweig could become a reality.

“With our project, we want to show possibilities for a future construction site infrastructure,” says Professor Schwerdtner. “In view of the versatility of construction projects and construction methods, there will certainly be a multitude of possible concepts. With our research, we want to provide significant impetus that can be built on.”

The involvement of regional and national industry is planned to accompany the project and in subsequent research projects.

Professor Schwerdtner also sees this as a clear offer: “At the ‘Digital Construction Site’, we are combining basic research and application-oriented research. Planning offices and construction companies should gain knowledge of possible future technologies at an early stage and also integrate these considerations into their corporate strategy, as the transformation process takes a certain amount of time.”

Project data

The project “The Digital Construction Site – Construction Industry 4.0 as the Key to a Digital and Sustainable Construction Industry” was initiated by five professors at TU Braunschweig. In addition to the Institute of Construction Economics and Construction Management (Professor Patrick Schwerdtner), the Institute of Structural Design (Professor Harald Kloft, Professor Norman Hack), the Institute of Building Materials, Concrete Structures and Fire Protection (Professor Dirk Lowke) and the Institute of Geodesy and Photogrammetry (Professor Markus Gerke) are involved in the project. The research infrastructure is being funded with around 3.8 million euros from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), including an own contribution of ten percent. The Lower Saxony Ministry of Science and Culture (MWK) is implementing the development funding as part of the “Innovation through universities and research institutions” directive.

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