The construction industry, although innovative and professional, has a history of delays and over-budget projects. However, its reputation for being inefficient may be changing thanks to digitalization. 

“Digitalization will enable us to take lean construction to a new level in all parts of a construction project, from architect to maintenance, not just in parts of the process,”says Kajsa Simu, Lean Manager at NCC, one of Sweden’s biggest construction companies, and researcher at Luleå University of Technology.

Speaking at TECHNIA’s seminar on digitalization in construction, Simu said, “Our industry is fragmented, with many players working in silos, sub-optimizing and looking shortsightedly to their own gains.

“Lean construction is an operations strategy. For it to work, everyone taking part in the building process must have the customers’ satisfaction as their goal,” she said.

Lagging Behind

Lean manufacturing was invented by carmaker Toyota as a way to increase quality while lowering costs. Methods include waste minimization, continuous improvement, flexibility, production flow, and visual control. All kinds of industries use lean methods, but the construction industry lags behind.

“Visual control over the process is extremely important. Carmakers can overview the whole production flow. In construction, many specialists take part in different stages of the production, and the fragmentation obstructs the visual control,” says Simu.

How Does Digitalization Make a Difference?

“You can get a virtual view of the product and the whole process. All stakeholders can have access to it. You can simulate alternatives and find the best way to do the job from beginning to end.”

Changing Attitudes

NCC aims to improve their lean construction, and digitalization is now a top priority, with a special focus on information structures and models that facilitate communication between all involved.

“Another challenge is, of course, attitudes to change. Lean affects everyone’s way of working, and it is necessary to understand that lean means creating value in the process by looking at the flow and not the separate parts of the process,” Simu said.