Last edited 11 Nov 2021

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Digital engineering

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[edit] Origins

The origins of the term Digital Engineering (DE) are found back in 1975, where DE was discussed in the context of electronic and logic circuit design. The term digital referred to the move from analogue to digital. Future applications were predicted to be “developing digital concepts and systems(Hosseini et al., 2020) and product lifecycle management (PLM) – in the manufacturing context. The aim of DE is creating a seamless line of data through interoperability across heterogeneous systems, integrated information management, facilitating information utilisation and data exchange, during product lifecycle (McMahon et al, 2005).

Digital engineering (DE) is a niche area between production engineering, e.g. design engineering or civil engineering and systems engineering. The system and its elements, relevant processes, equipment, products, parts, functions, services, etc. in the operating environment must outline interfaces between systems and sub-systems and allow connection to larger systems.

The concept of DE is very relevant to construction industry as it is knowledge-intensive, with complex assets/systems, fragmented work settings and a scattered supply chain (Rezgui, Hopfe, & Vorakulpipat, 2010). To address these complexities, DE methods and technologies on construction industry can transform existing assumptions about data, information and knowledge management across the whole asset lifecycle. This is also transforming the way that construction companies approach business processes.

[edit] Initiatives and adaptations across the world

The BIM Overlay to the RIBA Outline Plan of Work, published by the RIBA in 2012 suggested that digital engineering:

‘…refers to the digital interactions between design, construction, manufacturing and engineering, including Building Information Modelling (BIM): the digital modelling of a building or asset through design, construction and use. A core aspect of a CIP (continuous improvement process) will be to improve digital engineering processes.’

In Australia, the Transport for New South Wales (TfNSW) is championing DE and has also led the National DE Working Group with senior membership from governments across Australia, as a federally sponsored group established to lead the way towards a consistent national approach to DE for transport infrastructure.

[edit] Definitions of Digital Engineering (DE) in construction

In a paper by Golizadeh et al., (2018), in which the authors define DE as “integrating multiple digital technologies—integrating digitisation—based on Building Information Modelling (BIM) to harness the full potentials of these applications.”

TfNSW in the lead document on DE – Digital Engineering Standard (TfNSW, 2019) – defines it as “a collaborative way of working, using digital processes that enable more productive methods of planning, constructing, operating and maintaining TfNSW’s assets.” adopted independent of big data, BIM and IoT. In the definition provided in VDAS (Office of Projects Victoria, 2019), DE is “a convergence of emerging technologies such as BIM, GIS and other related systems for deriving better businesses, projects and asset management outcomes.”

[edit] Digital Engineering (DE) and Building Information Modelling (BIM)

The concept of DE has emerged as a more comprehensive approach to working on assets as opposed to Building Information Modelling (BIM) (Office of Projects Victoria, 2019). DE is a holistic concept that seeks to address BIM shortcomings with an emphasis on strategic and business-oriented aspects. Though many see the core elements of BIM and DE concepts as addressing distinct fundamental issues, some define them as similar (Northwood, 2013).

Others refer to DE as a concept broader than BIM. Typically, this revolves around the notion that DE is the outcome of integrating various technologies – including BIM – to improve efficiency. This sentiment is aligned with what some researchers propose: Duc (2018) offers the definition of DE as “the result of the crossover of BIM, Internet of Things (IoT) and big data” and other repots that DE is a broad term which gathers several other related technologies or processes together, such as Computer-Aided Design (CAD), BIM, Geographical Information Systems (GIS) and Data Science, while BIM is the subset of DE for design and construction phases. Such definitions define BIM as a subset of a wider DE ecosystem. Here, discrepancy lies in the way boundaries between DE and BIM are defined.

A more contemporary suite of logic is that DE relies on BIM as its core element (Hampson & Shemery, 2018). It is under this notion that the list of technologies that integrate with BIM create DE. Others remain undecided, or believe that BIM can be the ‘wider ecosystem’, and can handle other relevant data, information, processes (see Golizadeh et al. (2018)). Definitions in this category offer competing lists of technologies to be integrated with BIM in creating DE.

[edit] Concluding remarks

Unlike BIM, DE is seen as a holistic business concept; it encompasses both a business approach and a set of engineering toolsets to apply scientific methods to large datasets for problem solving. These methodologies have roots in various disciplines and domains, where BIM is mostly confined to construction activities. Engineeringsystems’ are thus the enablers of DE, that serve as hubs of product data (Golizadeh et al., 2018), to support collaborative design and production processes; use; traceability and management of information across the extended enterprise; and for all actors involved in the realisation and operations of facilities.

DE is an industry-agnostic term that can help initiate discussions and facilitate knowledge transfer to construction from other industries, such as manufacturing and computer science, where digital technologies have been highly developed, tested and diffused across these sectors. Learning from more mature sectors is a way forward for construction. Moving from a BIM-centric terminology towards DE is a step forward for further digitalising the construction sector and allowing knowledge externalities to contribute to shaping its future, as one step towards the adoption of Industry 4.0 in the construction domain.

[edit] Related articles on Designing Buildings

--Elenip 11:20, 04 Nov 2021 (BST)

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