An Integrated Design-to-Manufacturing (DtM) Approach in Construction
The present research investigates the operationalization of robotics in construction. Specifically, it studies the technological integration of BIM and Robotic Manufacturing (RM) tools to operationalize industrial robots in construction systems. The literature review initially found that such integration is achievable through Computational Design (CD) tools. It also found that Off-Site Construction (OSC) is suitable for this technological integration. These findings were studied through the Design Science Research (DSR) methodology, which demonstrated the technological interoperability of the BIM-CD-RM triad in OSC systems. This technological convergence resulted in the Design-to-Manufacturing (DtM) framework, which was validated by a board of 16 evaluators.
The AECOO industry is actively exploring the synergies between construction and robotics, and Computational Design (CD) is gaining attention as a solution to bridge the gap between the two. CD can produce complex geometries, improve design thinking, and enable robotic programming. However, CD tools are inadequate for managing complex construction projects. Therein lies the potential of Building Information Modeling (BIM) to comprehensively manage project data. But in turn, BIM technological interoperability with robotic tools is underdeveloped. These overlapping limitations create a gap between design and manufacturing processes and hinder construction automation.
To address this challenge, the Design-to-Manufacturing (DtM) approach is proposed. It integrates BIM and Robotic Manufacturing (RM) through CD tools in the context of Off-Site Construction (OSC) systems. In this approach, the BIM model is the data source, it is supported and converted through CD tools into a program for a robotic arm, transforming this program into an operation for OSC. In this way, the DtM approach provides an integrated feedback loop between design and manufacturing programming. Such feedback allows robotic manipulations to be adapted reactively to design changes, and vice versa.
Identifying a research problem began with a cyclic systematic literature review involving over 533 publications. This review dyadically addressed the technological interoperability between BIM, CD, RM, and OSC. The dyads studied were categorized as systems in either an interconnected or parallel technological evolution in research. This qualitative categorization was based on the number of articles published, extensive research deployment, and involvement of industrial case studies.
The findings of this categorization are as follows:
Therefore, the three parallel dyads identified were grouped under a research problem: The research gap involving the technological interoperability of BIM, CD, RM, and OSC.
By investigating the technological interoperability between BIM, CD, RM, and OSC, it was possible to demonstrate a new form of a dialogue between design and manufacturing. This dialogue is centralized in a digital BIM model, supported by a collaborative oversight on the Cloud and enabling automated materialization. Its dialect is based on integrated, flexible, dynamic information between thinking and making, and its resonance bridges the gap between construction practitioners and industrial robotics. In the present study, this dialogue was enabled by the DtM framework through the fully integrated data environment it provides for construction projects.
The DtM framework can be deconstructed into four sections: Section λ is for BIM-driven computational design, section ω for algorithms-aided robotic programming, section δ for cloud-based collaboration, and section η for OSC.
The DtM approach is a cyclic process based on the BIM-CD technological integration. For this reason, this framework is represented in a circular form centered on the digital construction project. BIM and CD environments constitute the platform around which the different processes revolve. Open circular layers represent these processes since they are temporally finite. These layers are superimposed from top to bottom and supported by the BIM-CD platform to demonstrate the digital and physical intertwining. Furthermore, they are reversible and allow an integrated feedback loop between design and manufacturing throughout a construction project.
This framework contributes to upgrading current technological routines within the AECOO industry by repurposing existing tools and revealing their integrated potential. The DtM approach supports the following:
In sum, this solution defined the nexus of BIM and CD for using RM in OSC, and demystified the technological interoperability challenges in robotic construction. It also demonstrated the DtM framework’s intrinsic solution: four systems become technologically integrated when combined in a cohesive manner throughout a construction project.
The DtM framework was evaluated with a score of 84% for usefulness, 79% for quality, and 81% for effectiveness by 16 evaluators with professional experience ranging from 3 to 30 or more years. The evaluator’s areas of expertise range from architecture, structural engineering, MEP, software development, BIM, CD, automated systems, manufacturing technologies, and OSC. In addition, they were based in 6 different countries, namely Canada, the USA, Spain, France, India, and the UAE.
In this context, the business benefits of the DtM framework can be perceived through the comments of some evaluators:
BIM and Robotic Manufacturing (RM) have been evolving in parallel in research and industry, and one of the reasons for this is the lack of technological interoperability between these two systems. By bringing these concepts together, this research demonstrates the potential of using BIM-driven computational design to enable industrialized construction. The main result of this research is the proposal of the Design-to-Manufacturing (DtM) framework, which provides a closed-loop data system based on technological integration. Indeed, this system streamlines data processing for construction projects and directly connects design and production. It goes beyond the act of modeling and management, pushing the boundaries of BIM to encompass the act of building. It brings computation to the core of the construction process, opening many avenues to the materialization of non-conventional spatial forms. This impact is part of the digital shift in construction; it challenges conventional modeling and planning processes and enables the second digital turn.