The First Ever ‘Connected Construction Site’ in New Zealand

 |   Ashlea Lynch

New Zealand's first connected construction site

AsBuilt’s collaboration with Microsoft, Spark and Kiwi construction company NZ Strong has resulted in the first ever “connected construction site” in New Zealand. This combines intelligent Internet of Things (IoT) devices, Microsoft Azure cloud and Power BI technology, drone and 3D camera imaging and geolocation to make construction safer, reduce costs, enable real-time decision making and connect all project partners together in one platform covering design and construction to property management.

Surrounded on three sides by the waters of Auckland’s Hauraki Gulf, the Wynyard Quarter is a developer’s dream, right on the edge of the CBD. The whole precinct is a busy hive of restoration and renewal with ageing shipping, fishing and storage facilities rapidly being restored or replaced by hip restaurants, apartments, blue-chip commercial offices and entertainment venues. The impressive new Wynyard 100 development is a six-building mixed-use project at the heart of the action. Building One alone is set to feature seven levels of retail, hospitality, offices and parking with a 154-room Travelodge hotel.

Construction lead NZ Strong is no stranger to high-profile jobs, having led some of the country’s most iconic developments, including Auckland Zoo’s Te Wao Nui and Bug Lab spaces, the Chelsea Sugar Visitor Experience Centre and redevelopment of Lynnmall, New Zealand’s first shopping mall, complete with new below-ground rail station. However, the Wynyard 100 site breaks new ground when it comes to construction.

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Safer working, higher productivity

Co-ordinating such a vast undertaking is understandably difficult, with many different partners and individuals needing to provide design input, manage installation and delivery, monitor conditions during construction and ensure what’s delivered is exactly what was ordered – on time, on budget and with no accidents or downtime.

The construction sector is well-known for its high risk of injury and even fatal accidents. WorkSafe reported 2,746 work-related injuries or illnesses across the New Zealand construction industry in 2018, as well as six fatalities. In the first six months of 2019, 11 Kiwi construction workers were killed.

“Having so many moving parts on site, it can be a real challenge to monitor what’s happening and which people are where at any given moment. This makes communication difficult, which leads to health and safety and compliance issues,” says Chris Hunter, a director at NZ Strong. “Every site manager wants to be able to provide a safe working environment for their team without compromising performance.”

Additional challenges are added by the fact New Zealand’s construction sector is booming, with the number of cranes in Auckland outstripping any city in the US according to figures released by the RLB Crane Index in April 2019. There’s no sign of it slowing down either – new building work is at record levels, rising 6.8 per cent in 2018. As well as ensuring workers’ safety, the pressure is on construction companies to optimise their operations, so they can deliver new buildings faster. Poor communication and responsiveness is also a factor here.

“A lot of time can be wasted waiting for equipment to arrive, working out exactly where something should be installed, fixing errors or filling out paperwork. And in any project, delays cost money. While the material waste generated on building sites is a significant issue, inefficiency is just as big a problem,” Hunter says.


A ”connected construction site” with IoT and Azure cloud

AsBUILT has been working closely with NZ Strong during the design and build phases, developing a plan that will vastly simplify the management of the building throughout the whole of its life, long after construction is complete. Combining Internet of Things (IoT) devices with motion sensors, environmental monitoring capability and a simple platform that enables everyone across the project to collaborate and order plant equipment, they’ve created New Zealand’s first “connected construction site”.

The team’s answer to creating a safer workplace was to create a “digital twin” of the building hosted in the AsBUILT Vault – a platform created using Azure technology and accessible to all the Wynyard 100 team, from design to supply and project management.

“3D cameras provide a live feed of the site mapped on top of the virtual building, incorporating facial and object recognition technology so site managers can see exactly who is working where. On-screen tags immediately flag whether workers aren’t wearing the required safety equipment or are entering hazardous zones, and warn people about potential dangers on their own devices,” explains David Burton, Managing Director of AsBUILT.

This geolocation capability also allows the project team to ensure components are installed in exactly the right location on the 3D map, reducing errors by showing exactly what should go where. Because the whole supply chain is connected to the system, team members can also order plant equipment such as cranes and goods lifts or components whenever they’re required, saving paperwork and downtime.

Meanwhile IoT devices managed by technology partner Spark monitor temperature, humidity and sound on site, allowing NZ Strong to make more informed decisions around safety for its workers and ensure it is compliant with council regulations for inner city construction. Spark New Zealand’s Future of Connectivity Lead, Renee Mateparae, says the digitisation of the construction site will provide near real-time learnings for the project team as the build progresses.

“Spark has delivered a range of environmental sensors including light and sound. This adds to the ecosystem of connected devices on the site and teams up with Microsoft Azure cloud to produce data insights that will qualify the decisions made by the engineers and project managers overseeing the build. At the end of the day this type of insight will help NZ Strong make smarter business decisions to allow for a quicker, safer and more efficient build.”

Chris Hunter agrees. “I can now see all the workers on my site in real time and that helps me manage their safety to a level that I – and the industry – haven’t achieved before. It also provides me real-time insights around productivity on the site that I can feed back to my procurement team and my supply chain, avoiding waste, which is costing clients too much in our industry.”

David Burton says a project of this scale, enabling all stakeholders to connect to one hub of real-time insights, would be impossible without Azure technology.

“It enables vast amounts of data to be captured and stored, and for as many people as required to interface with the AsBUILT platform. Even site records, which used to be done by hand, are now captured automatically with complete spatial accuracy. What’s more, using Power BI, we can draw insights from the data gathered via our sensors to understand where even further improvements can be made and identity where any hold-ups occurred.”


What next for connected construction?

Once Wynyard 100 is built, Burton says the digital twin and smart sensors will continue to provide cost-efficiencies for the owner.

Shirley Strachan, Asia Pacific General Manager of IoT Device Experience at Microsoft, agrees.

“When we think about the ability to bring in IoT that early in the process of a building development, it really sets us up to operationalise and manage that building once it’s completed as well and if there are issues later with the building, to be able to work out where those issues came in and therefore how to mitigate those issues,” she says.

Typically, New Zealand practitioners of Building Information Modelling (BIM) focus on the design phase, ignoring the ongoing operation of the building once the keys are handed over. According to an EBOSS survey, less than a third of industry members used BIM for asset and facilities management in 2018, compared with around nine in ten using it for design.

The Wynyard 100 project is different, with the platform containing information on asset warranties so it can send reminders for building owners to replace worn-out components as they near the end of their lives. Having a digital, geolocated twin of the building will also ensure information from foundation to roof is kept in one place.

“We’ve worked on projects such as hospitals and airports where vital information about pipes or old building structures has been lost over the years, and there’s no one source of truth. This means when major renovations are planned, they basically have to “dig and see”,” says Burton. “In the future, that whole scenario can be avoided with a virtual blueprint in the cloud which is completely accurate in terms of location on the site.”