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Thinking of designing a building? Forget what you know!

Once we’ve included long-term thinking and non-financial returns in the ROI equation, we also need to consider the changing nature of construction design and materials.

Prefabricated construction, automated technology such as robotics to install these prefabricated construction materials, and additive printing are all construction technologies that can be implemented to make not only construction but also building maintenance easier — driving down short- and long-term costs.

These buildings will be highly accurate, with small tolerances. They will achieve a high quality finish throughout any storey level and will be fully planned and documented very quickly. Because they will be manufactured, not built, there will be reduced weather delays and waste, and carbon generation and site time will be reduced. This safer way to build will require only low or semi-skilled labour for fast onsite assembly/installation.

In future, the ROI on a 3D printed building assembled in ‘next to no time’ could be almost immediate, with its parts integrated into a digital model of the building that makes maintenance a cinch.

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Staying one step ahead

Beyond construction and maintenance, the way we maintain our buildings is also set to undergo a significant evolution, enabled by advent and progression of digital technology.

Like anything that is smart or intelligent, Buildings of the Future have a nervous system. These embedded digital ‘organs’ capture and monitor consumption and usage in order to optimise building performance over the long haul.

It’s a far more fascinating venture that demands an equal amount of learning and unlearning from stakeholders. Thanks to the Internet of Things (IoT) and blockchain, Buildings of the Future are becoming living canvases that, through ongoing and real-time feedback, keep speaking to us about how we can do design better, smarter, safer.

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Predicting versus reacting

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” How often have we heard that before? But the problem with a traditional ‘wait until it breaks’ approach to building is that: one, things always break; and two, it’s always more expensive than you planned. According to the International Facility Management Association, maintenance typically accounts for 35 per cent of a facility’s operational cost.

Within the new building model, this reactive approach to fixing the problem is moving to a more proactive posture of anticipating the problem before it arrives. While a preventative maintenance approach relies on performing regular, prescheduled maintenance checks and repairs, a better way to go about it is by using a predictive maintenance approach based on the actual condition of the equipment. In this way, repairs and maintenance are prioritised according to what the building owner and operator deem important.

The ROI success story speaks for itself, with 70–75 per cent fewer breakdowns, 35–45 per cent reduction in downtime, 20–25 per cent increase in production and a 10 per cent ROI. When supported by analytics, an optimised system can reduce a building’s maintenance and energy costs by up to 20 per cent.

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When analytics and predictive maintenance are coupled, building owners and operators have real-time information that allows them to make decisions quicker and easier. System faults and physical malfunctions are fast detected and dealt with accurately, which sets a positive ripple effect into motion.

Operational costs are reduced, as the overall process becomes more efficient. Instead of playing guessing games, with breakdowns only a matter of time, designers and patrons of future buildings can keep their finger on the pulse of their assets and even see them improve over time.

With this new approach, the asset performance over a life cycle could change from a linear reduction to a saw tooth drop and rise, maintaining a higher valued asset.

A new kind of learning

The analytics around these maintenance systems are robust. Stakeholders will look at everything from maintenance logs to inspection reports, repair invoices to warranty claims, and operator profiles to test results, when building resilient systems.

Analytics will even go a step further and analyse patterns of frequent failures; identify ineffective repair methods; match the best usage of lights and energy to environmental controls that react to weather patterns and occupancy.

These algorithms and ‘machine learning’ will be able to make the ‘smartest’ maintenance choices almost instantly and precise calls will be made around predictive failure almost immediately, which will allow businesses to focus on the more important matter of serving clients and delivering to shareholders.

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Leaping forward

Leapfrog technologies such as blockchain and cryptocurrencies will also have a large impact on facilities management that investors should consider. Facilities will be run smarter and also be able to run themselves due to self-executing contracts that can preschedule, monitor and automate processes that needed manual interventions in the past.

Cryptocurrency can be used to short-circuit the need for time-consuming administration logs of maintenance contracts and tasks. There will be greater transparency in the supply chain records of intelligent buildings thanks to public ledgers that connect the physical to the digital world by housing a digital version of assets, maintenance and costs.

Manual, routine tasks such as rubbish collection will become ‘on demand’ tasks to sensors that can report when the bins are full and need to be collected and emptied; robots may be used to welcome staff, and the entire building will become a living organism that knows occupants’ meeting schedules, the way they use the building and how to optimise the spaces for them.

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