Transparent buildings

Startup in St. Gallen stirs up industry

 

20.5.2021 | Author: Dieter Boller | Images: Sunrise, Builcon

Mixed-reality applications make it possible to considerably ramp up productivity on construction sites and in facility management. The Swiss startup Builcon shows how it’s done – and is setting new standards in the construction industry with augmented reality, building information modeling and 5G.

Lucas Däscher greets us in the 5G Joint Innovation Center (JIC) in Opfikon, run by Sunrise and Huawei, where he is bringing his latest innovation in visualizing building technology to life for potential customers and business partners. 

Däscher is the Founder and Managing Director of Builcon, a St. Gallen-based startup that specializes in sophisticated networked buildings. «In all of our projects, we strive for the highest possible level of comfort and a sensible use of resources», he says. Mr. Däscher has won over architects, developers and investors with his ideas. Aside from his main business – planning construction projects – he regularly likes to take the time to get together with his team, pause for a moment, reflect and pursue innovative projects. «Many small companies are simply chopping wood», says Däscher. «We also take the time to sharpen the axe.»

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Digital helper for facility management

One of these sessions spawned the idea of augmented reality (AR) for facility management, based on the principle of the «transparent building». With a combination of building information modeling (BIM) data and mixed-reality glasses that enable interactive 3D projections in the immediate environment, facility management should be simplified considerably. The person wearing the glasses can see – essentially through the walls – where the pipes, cable routes and ducts run. The BMI model of the building is stored on a server and can be accessed in real time thanks to 5G. «The glasses use AR to import the sensor data into the facility manager’s field of vision in real time», Däscher explains. To name an example, they can see the location of a defective heating valve in the ceiling and open the nearest ceiling panel to access the source of the problem without much prior knowledge. 

 

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Without this technology, the technical facility manager would first need to dig out the physical plans that are filed away in a binder somewhere. Or they might even have to request the documents from the installer from way back when. If that doesn’t work, they would have to start searching for the source of the problem manually, one ceiling panel at a time.
 

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After directly localizing the fault with the mixed-reality glasses, the next step lies in fixing the problem as quickly as possible. In a single gesture, the facility manager can connect with the manufacturer of the product. The expert can directly see what the technical facility manager sees in a video call and adopt the same perspective on the source of the problem. In many cases, these are familiar problems that an expert can identify at first glance, says Däscher. «The specialist gives the in-house technician instructions on how to fix the problem in two or three simple steps. If a part is defective, they can order the material right away with a simple gesture.» 

 

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Greater efficiency and lower costs

Even without specialist knowledge, the use of augmented reality makes it possible to quickly forge ahead to the source of the problem in a targeted manner, with remote assistance saving the costs associated with deploying experts. According to Däscher’s estimates, deployments without AR can easily cost five times as much. 

For companies in construction, increasing efficiency is particularly appealing, says the qualified electrical engineer. «When it comes to digitization, there is still a lot of room for improvement.» In contrast, other industries have a much higher degree of automation. 

 

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Däscher points out how important it is to incorporate building management into the planning process at an early stage. «The construction phase of a building, which takes about two years, is followed by a 98-year operating phase.» While the investment costs amount to about 20% of the total costs, the operating costs of a building add up to around 80%, he claims. In other words: Optimizing the operating costs is key. «Investors should pay attention to this», Däscher emphasizes. Unfortunately, this mentality is still relatively rare. Many investors prioritize short-term profits, focusing on the construction phase.


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«Innovation always emerges through experience»

5G and IoT are prerequisites for innovative applications like the one developed by Builcon. There is generally no connectivity on construction sites, and the roofs and basements of completed buildings are no exception either. If you rely on 5G or another appropriate wireless standard for isolated interior rooms, you can count on excellent data transmission. Anytime and anywhere. 

With Sunrise and UPC, Builcon can trust in partners who have devoted themselves to promoting pioneering projects in the areas of 5G and IoT. «It’s great that Sunrise and UPC are willing to advance new digitization projects within the framework of the Joint Innovation Center (JIC).» One can feel the open and casual culture at the telecommunications company, according to Däscher. «This collaboration is inspiring for both sides.»
 

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«Together with Sunrise and UPC, we came up with the idea of offering live experiences of our AR technology at the JIC», says Däscher. It gives Builcon a great platform. A playground. «Of course, it’s a highlight for us to be allowed to showcase our product at the Joint Innovation Center», he says. After all, innovation always emerges through experience. «If you restrict yourself to developing your ideas on paper, you will never be able to incorporate all aspects.» The young entrepreneur is an advocate of moving on to prototyping early on. One of the many advantages of this approach is that it allows you to get feedback from potential customers and ecosystem partners in the initial stages. «You find out straight away whether or not an idea has potential.»
 

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Around 20% to 30% of construction companies are currently taking advantage of the benefits of BIM. A growing trend. Däscher believes that this number will move towards 100% over the coming years. «At the latest following the generational shift, the digital mentality will be firmly rooted in the minds of everyone involved.»
 


Sunrise and UPC enable digital innovation

Telecommunications form an important component of smart buildings. The number of built-in sensors is growing. More and more BIM applications are integrating information on heating, ventilation, climate, sanitary facilities, electronics and data networks. Sensor data and digital building twins serve as the foundation of mixed-reality applications. And technology standards such as 5G and IoT are prerequisites for the breakthrough of pioneering projects. 

High bandwidths for large quantities of data and fast data transmission in real time considerably boost the development of augmented and virtual reality applications in construction. This benefits both the construction phase as well as the operating phase (facility management). If connectivity is viewed as a holistic, strategic function, comparable to planning water or electrical connections, it is possible to avoid a «proliferation of access technology» and expensive retrofitting. 

Sunrise and UPC help the property industry provide the necessary connectivity and support innovative companies such as Builcon in connecting the digital and the real world. 

 

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