Think of digital engineering as a value chain in which data is provided at multiple points of input. Modeling at the outset in the value chain makes it easier than circling back later and completing this step.
Low carbon design practices — especially those targeting embodied carbon — are most effective as well as most cost-efficient when enacted in the early stages of a project.
Modeling technologies require all participants in the value chain to integrate their data into smart models. A unified approach and agreement on a modeling platform will get everybody tracking the right data. The importance of upfront agreement cannot be overstated.
Developing new best practices will require people to adopt new habits. This will undoubtedly be the most difficult challenge as ingrained habits are hard to break. New processes can be implemented based on technology that can be coded properly, as long as individuals all along the supply chain agree on the new technology frameworks and everybody tracks the correct data. With everybody in the value chain providing data, modeling at the outset will create an efficient value chain, eliminating the need for later corrections.
With suppliers providing integrated data into smart models, we can reach agreed-upon industry standards for quantifying and classifying carbon impacts of new energy sources as well as all activities related to producing energy. The process of value engineering would start by looking at the highest-impact and lowest-cost options for reducing carbon, all driven by easily understood standards showing the marginal costs of carbon throughout the supply chain.
For example, concrete production, a well-known highly carbon-intense input into the construction supply chain, could be mitigated with replacement materials such as Cemfree, a new concrete material that is already being utilised in some motorway projects as a replacement for ordinary Portland cement (OPC), a material whose production emits an estimated 8%-10% of the world’s greenhouse gases. Cemfree is composed of granulated blast-furnace slag mixed with a 5% alkali activator, resulting in a 77% reduction in carbon emissions.
Integrating BIM models with carbon data would create a dashboard look at the carbon impacts of utilising a full range of materials in the supply chain beyond concrete. Quick estimates based on iterative models would point to the areas most ripe for quick improvements. With continual improvements to engineering design models, outcomes begin to improve, creating step change improvements in how we think about carbon in the full range of projects.
In summary, the whole life cycle of engineering design decisions would be impacted. We cannot do this in isolation. The entire supply chain, from raw materials production, component manufacturing, transportation and logistics, engineering design, construction, operations and maintenance to the end game of disposal and recycling at the end of design life would be impacted with an all-new emphasis on digital engineering.