Zhang investigating BIM technology to automate building code compliance-checking, modular construction

Building information modeling, a technology for generating digital representations of physical places and the process of building them, can make the process of checking for compliance with local building codes more efficient during a construction project. Although automated compliance checking (ACC) is a major goal of building information modeling (BIM) and building IT advancement, Jiansong “Jason” Zhang says the construction industry is still far from full automation in ACC.

Jiansong “Jason” ZhangZhang, assistant professor in Purdue Polytechnic’s School of Construction Management Technology, received a grant from the National Science Foundation’s Partnership for Innovation program. The goal of the research partnership program is to investigate automating building code compliance-checking and modular construction through interoperable building information modeling technology.

“The architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) industry has been implementing building information modeling (BIM) technology for years,” said Zhang. “However, current offerings restrict data exchange between platforms. This creates inefficient siloes during the building design and construction process that annually cost the capital facilities industry $15.8 billion as estimated by NIST.”

Zhang’s project is on the track to provide the first commercial BIM system that puts interoperability at its core, helping to significantly mitigate these industry losses, using a new data-driven software development (DSD) technology.

“Two major obstacles standing in the way are the lack of a formal digital representation of construction regulations and the lack of a method to automatically extract and transform information from construction regulatory documents into this computer-interpretable digital representation,” said Zhang.

To address these two research gaps, Zhang leveraged natural language processing (NLP), machine learning, automated reasoning, and BIM information processing to develop a series of methods and algorithms to accomplish four goals:

  1. Automatically extract building code requirements from the regulatory texts and transform them into logic rules.
  2. Automatically extract building design information from BIM files and transform them into logic facts.
  3. Automatically reason about the logic facts with the logic rules to check their compliance using logic programming.
  4. Automatically generate compliance reports and make suggestions for fixing noncompliance cases.

“By applying this technology to building code compliance-checking and construction automation, the health and welfare of the American public will be advanced through better quality and more efficiently built facilities,” said Zhang. “To help develop a more globally competitive American STEM workforce, the results of this project will be incorporated into existing undergraduate and graduate courses and a 'construction ready' training program.”

At the core of the research partnership are researchers from several schools and departments from the Polytechnic Institute, including the School of Construction Management Technology, the School of Engineering Technology, the Department of Computer and Information Technology, and the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

In addition to Zhang’s research in BIM interoperability, ACC, and DSD technology, the partnership represents an example of interdisciplinary cooperation, with faculty providing their unique expertise. Contributors include Yunfeng Chen, assistant professor in the School of Construction Management Technology (mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems); Luciana Debs, assistant professor in the School of Construction Management Technology (building design management, active learning pedagogy); Byung-Cheol Min, associate professor in the Department of Computer and Information Technology (robotic systems); Richard Voyles, Daniel C. Lewis Professor in the in the School of Engineering Technology (robots and sensor) and Brad Benhart, associate professor of practice in the School of Construction Management Technology (building design and construction processes). Nora El-Gohary (ACC technology) is from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

“The research team partnered with leading industry companies, non-profit organization, and government agency to build a vibrant research community on this theme. My active engagement with the Realizing the Digital Enterprise Research Impact Area (RIA) at our Polytechnic Institute, and our School of Construction Management Technology’s strong industry network connections helped tremendously in building this partnership.” said Zhang.

Zhang said this innovation will ultimately enhance the understanding and application of BIM technology to help the building and construction industry achieve improved efficiency and reduced time, cost, and human-induced errors. The R&D results will also transfer well to the civil infrastructure domain, such as with bridge structures and roadways.

Zhang’s results of all methods/algorithms developments and experiments were published in a number of peer-reviewed conference publications and peer-reviewed journal publications.

Wong Chong contributing modular construction focus to Zhang’s BIM research

Oscar Wong Chong, a doctoral student, is working with Zhang to investigate using BIM technology to automate building code compliance-checking and modular construction. Wong Chong’s focus is on modular construction.

“The construction industry is one of the driving forces in the economy of a nation and it allows a sustainable urban growth of our society,” said Wong Chong. “For example, as the population increase, we need more facilities, such as hospitals, schools and houses, to satisfy the human needs and support daily living.

“Despite its importance, construction is a high-risk and inefficient industry. The productivity of this industry has been low for decades compared to other non-farming industries, such as the manufacturing industry. On top of that, the labor shortage experienced by the construction sector is making this situation worse. With the recent rise of offsite construction, such as modular construction, and automation in construction, these technologies are expected to make a positive impact in terms of productivity and efficiency.

“Offsite construction is a method that resembles building blocks, such as LEGO, where the construction elements or pieces are made in a factory and then assembled on the jobsite. This method fits perfectly with robotic automation because robots excel at performing repetitive tasks in a controlled environment. Also, robots can perform mundane or dangerous tasks, saving human workers from potential injuries and allowing them to perform more high-level planning tasks. However, implement robotic automation for construction requires robotics expertise and it is difficult to evaluate if a robotic system is adequate or not for the job. This problem leads to ad-hoc implementation of robotic systems, which is tedious, costly, and time consuming.”

Wong Chong’s research provides a way to evaluate the feasibility of robotics for construction in a systematic and automatic way. To determine if a robotic system is adequate, he says four elements are needed:

  • First, the specifications of the robotic system. Examples of specifications include the payload and the reach. The payload tells us the heaviest object a robot can carry and the reach indicates how far the robot can reach within its workspace.
  • Second, a reliable and precise 3D model of the building, also known as Building Information Modeling (BIM), that contains the most relevant information of the building at a sufficient level of detail.
  • Third, a logic-based approach to analyze, derive, and filter information from the above two elements.
  • Lastly, a simulation approach to analyze and evaluate the performance of the robotic system in the construction process of building components.

Wong Chong’s research provides a method and corresponding instrument to construction stakeholders to make informed decision about a robotic automation strategy to use for offsite construction in order to harness the full benefits of robotics more effectively. And this, in turn, can contribute to the overall productivity of the industry and relieve some of the strains imposed by the labor shortage.

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