Data Capture for Whole Lifecycle Compliance Checking

Improving compliance in construction through digitisation.

Last updated: 15th March 2021

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Summary

The built environment is governed by compliance regulations, requirements and guidance. They are a vital part of construction that give the industry peace of mind about a building's safety and performance. Currently they are heavily reliant on manual processes being carried out at single points in the life of the building. Imagine if compliance checking could happen continuously and through its entire lifecycle? A team at Cardiff University has come up with a solution in the form of three new prototypes that feed into a digital platform, making the compliance process easy, accessible, and always-on - and with the potential to scale and transfer information between different projects.

Innovation type: Digital
Organisation type: Research centre

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Project pioneers

Dr Tom Beach led a team at Cardiff University to redefine and automate regulatory compliance in the construction industry, improving the process throughout the lifecycle of any building.

The problem

The current landscape of requirements, regulations and standards compliance is complex and operates mostly on manual processes. This has led to a lack of consistency, transparency, efficiency and accountability in the process. It means the process is not considered to be as effective or as efficient as it could be. Other areas of the industry are benefitting from digital and technological innovation, yet compliance, which is so fundamental to the overall performance and safety of a building, is being left behind.

Vision

Automated tools and innovative methods of data-capture will make compliance a more cost and time efficient process. Inspections can happen at the touch of a button, and with greater confidence that the data captured was accurate and of high quality. Inspections can also happen repeatedly and even continuously, tracking the compliance of a building through its lifecycle rather than just at completion. This will ensure errors or faults are corrected as they occur rather than belatedly or, worse, not at all. Importantly, this greater automation can improve the way data is shared across the industry and help create a blueprint for future building design and compliance.

Key Insight

The Digital Compliance (D-COM) research network, set up through the Centre for Digital Built Britain), reported an industry appetite for the digitisation and automation of regulation and requirement checking. D-COM recommended that there should be an increase in automated capture of data from assets using calibrated instruments. Cardiff University saw an opportunity to research and test where the need was greatest and how they could help solve this.

First step

The team at Cardiff University, led by Dr Tom Beach, started by reviewing the entire documentation for the approved UK compliance regulations to give them a full picture of the assessments currently being made. It identified 69 regulations that compliance processes check against. The team then undertook research with industry experts to identify which compliance areas would be most important to automate first. They identified four which were:

  1. monitoring building CO2 emissions against targets
  2. validating the building fabric against standards
  3. assessing fire escape route compliance
  4. checking compliance of fire warning signage The funding from the Transforming Construction Challenge meant the team could go on to develop prototype tools and software to address these areas.

Barrier

It is always a challenge to change ingrained processes until there is enough proof for automation. The issue here wasn't a reluctance to embrace change, but instead the lack of a viable alternative to business-as-usual. Without a solution to modernise the complex process of compliance, the industry continues to rely on manual practices. This project was all about finding and testing that solution.

Digital Innovation

The team at Cardiff University developed three digital prototypes to automate compliance practices. These were in response to those deemed as 'most desired' from research among industry experts. Firstly they developed an AI-based image recognition tool for compliance checking of fire warning signs and fire doors. Hundreds of images have been used used to train the compliance tool to identify if a fire sign has been correctly placed and installed, as well as detecting damage to fire doors. Using the software only requires a small amount of training, meaning regular inspections can be carried out onsite and then fed into the compliance platform for automated assessment. The prototype currently looks at two aspects of fire signage and fire doors, but could be scale up and applied to many more. Secondly, the team has developed a LIDAR Measurement scanner and app that can run geometric checks around building evacuation, verifying the distance between simultaneous escape routes and the directions of alternative escape routes. The software automatically highlights if an escape route is the correct width or angle, compared to current regulations. This makes it easy for an assessor to check if its compliant or not. It can also assess whether there is adequate stair exits for the number of storeys or the type of building it is. Lastly, the team has developed a thermography prototype which uses a combination of single shot images from a thermal camera and continuous infrared sensor technology to measure thermal transmittance (U-Values). By reading surface temperature and reflective temperature and combining it with air humidity, temperature and wind speed, the tool can accurately assess the thermal state of a building structure and show whether there is any energy leakage. Assessing a buildings U-Values against UK Building Regulations will allow the owners to more quickly identify an area that is underperforming and intervene sooner to prevent avoidable CO2 emissions. 

Whole life innovation

As well as solving specific compliance assessment needs, these data-driven tools and technology support continual assessment of a building's compliance against requirements throughout its whole lifecycle. Rarely seen in practice, this more accurate, always-available approach to compliance checking will enable systematic management of a building's performance (or underperformance) beyond its construction completion. Going forward, the project will continue to look at how other off-the-shelf data collection technologies can be used to improve the automated compliance checking of built assets. And in improving the speed, quality and accuracy of assessing a building's compliance will of course increase its safety and performance for occupants.

Collaborators

Cardiff University is part of the ICURe programme with SETsquared, which is designed to move ideas and innovation out of universities and into the marketplace, where they will have the greatest impact. Cardiff University has also teamed up with Construction Innovation Hub to develop a digital ecosystem to help construction firms navigate the complex regulatory landscape with greater ease and certainty.

  • Cardiff University
  • Construction Innovation Hub
  • SETsquared

Lead support

Transforming Construction Network Plus actively supported the research team, preparing and developing its research outputs.

Long Term Vision

Compliance inspections have been in need of automation. The tools developed here will improve confidence in the data captured, increase the frequency that inspections can be carried out and make the process more cost and time-efficient. By tracking the compliance of a building through its lifecycle rather than just at completion, errors or faults can be corrected as they occur. The data can also be shared across the industry to help create a blueprint for future building design and compliance, making buildings ultimately more safe for people and more efficient for the environment.

Human Stories

The automation and reliability of these tools will mean property managers can be easily trained to carry out accurate and frequent inspections themselves, and more frequent inspections means ultimately more safe buildings for those that live in them.

Powerful Processes

Research among industry experts identified three areas for innovation - fire signage and safety checking; building evacuation routes; and thermal transmittance. Three prototypes have been developed by the Cardiff University team with a view to testing and scaling them for widespread commercialisation. They are:

  1. An AI-based image recognition compliance tool to identify if fire signs have been correctly placed and installed, and to detect damage to fire doors.
  2. A LIDAR Measurement scanner and app that can run geometric checks to check for compliance around building evacuation.
  3. A thermography prototype which combines single shot images from a thermal camera with infrared sensor technology to measure thermal transmittance (U-Values) and highlight energy leakage.

Fascinating Facts

There are 69 building regulations that compliance processes check against.

Benefits

Safety
This project will improve the health and safety of building occupants by allowing building owners to operate more rigorous safety inspections on their buildings, without the large cost implications they currently represent.

Time
These tool save time by increasing the number of inspections that can be done by any stakeholder, at any given time, in any given buildings by simply automating the processes of collecting and analysing inspection data. In cases where fully automated assessments are not possible, on site data could be collected and assessed remotely, limiting travel and other time-consuming activities.