Digitising the building envelope

Digitising the building envelope
Digital building envelopes have the potential to collect and communicate information to help make buildings more efficient, more sustainable and better places to live and work in the future, says Hendrik Köster.

We need to start thinking of the building envelope not simply as a beautiful skin that helps to keep the rain out but as an essential digital component of smart cities. After all, the building envelope has a 360-degree view and it is the only major part of the building in direct contact with the interior and exterior of a building. This makes it the perfect interface between inside and outside, between the physical and digital worlds.

That was our initial thought at Schüco International. Our second thought was: how can we digitalise all Schüco units without adding to the envelope’s complexity? To find a solution, we created a completely new business area called Schüco Internet of Facades (Schüco IoF). Along with our fabrication partners, we set out on a journey to digitalise the facade one small step at a time.

ID tags enable digital twin

We have already taken our first step with the launch of the Schüco IoF ID. The idea is simple: we’ve created an ID tag that can be attached to every Schüco unit to enable a digital twin of that particular unit to be created. The tag incorporates near-field communication for contactless data retrieval and a QR code for data retrieval using a smart phone camera, all without the need for a power supply, cabling or control unit. This means that the unit remains just as easy to manufacture, but has the added value of digitisation.

“The building envelope has a 360-degree view and it is the only major part of the building in direct contact with the interior and exterior of a building.”

Hendrik Köster, Schüco International

The digital twin enables all information, documents, manuals, certification, photos and videos to be linked to that unit. Without the IoF ID, the most you can say about the unit is that it is a window, door or facade. With the IoF ID, information on the unit’s model number, precise location, the date of its installation, and the date of its acceptance are all available. The digital twin can even include information on how the unit can be recycled at the end of its life.

Tracking unit locations

For installers, a major benefit of the tag is that it allows every unit to be assigned an item number. Using this, a contractor can scan the tag and instantly see where the unit is to be located, according to the building plans. Similarly, for those accepting the installation, the tag allows photos of the unit to be taken and linked to the unit. This means that if, in the future, there is an issue, for example a scratch has been identified, the photo can be used as evidence to show that when it was accepted the unit was scratch-free.

Using the digital twin enables customers to make maintenance service requests. If, for example, a door handle has been damaged, the customer can scan the IoF ID tag to identify the unit. They can then add a picture or video of the damaged part that can be sent directly to the maintenance team.

The tag can also be used for component identification by the maintenance technician. All the technician needs to do is scan the ID to see the handle’s article number, making it simple to order a replacement.

In fact, digital filing enables all installation data, product information and documents relating to the unit to be uploaded and stored so that it is available throughout the unit’s lifetime. What’s more, this information can be viewed and changed from anywhere.

In addition, certain documents can also be set to ‘public’, so that when the customer scans the ID they can also view the manuals and certification.

The next stage of the journey

The successful roll-out of the IoF ID is just the first step in this digital journey. Over the next few years, further steps will follow towards making the facade the backbone of smart buildings and cities.

Further development possibilities of the building envelope fall into two areas: the digitisation of the unit itself; and the networking of all units with other smart areas in and around the building.

The IoF ID focuses on the former, and the recording and processing of dynamic data could be the next step.

Collaboration between Schüco and its partners is an essential part of this journey. Only by working closely with our customers to understand their perspective can we ensure their requirements are integrated in the next development stage of this concept.

I am convinced that with a few more steps we will have the technology to help unleash the power of the digital building envelope.

Hendrik Köster is head of business area, Internet of Façades, at Schüco International

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