Mark Buckle, Tilbury Douglas: taking the clean sheet approach to digital transformation

Mark Buckle, technical director at Tilbury Douglas
One year into his new role as technical director, Mark Buckle talks to Denise Chevin about forthcoming launch of Tilbury Douglas Connect and why LiDAR is the key to efficiency.

Ripping up your digital systems and starting afresh is an opportunity being grasped with open arms by Mark Buckle, technical director at Tilbury Douglas. The company is now taking a very different approach to digitalisation, bringing all its apps under one umbrella interface that will enable anyone from a school governor to a site manager to enter the system and interpret project data. It’s an ambitious goal that will slash times from winning projects to getting boots on site.

Here he talks through the company’s plans.

Take us through Tilbury Douglas’s digital strategy

About 18 months ago, we decided to start again. Most businesses, when they go on a digital journey, have to look at working with legacy systems and get them all to join up in some way. We’re not shackled by any of the legacy. We’ve taken everything to the latest cloud systems, invested in the latest mobiles and this has given us the freedom to look at the industry slightly differently to everybody else.

What we’re seeing is how the dominance of a couple of big main suppliers in the digital area has made people enter the digital journey in ways that wouldn’t be entirely logical if they weren’t having to fit around the dominant players.

“We’ve asked what’s the best for our particular digital challenge. We’ve taken a ‘hub and spoke’ approach and we’re using apps and modules.”

Mark Buckle

We’ve taken a ‘hub and spoke’ approach and we’re using apps and modules. Within the industry, normally people will go with the big, established software brands like Autodesk, Revit or Bentley, and then everything that plugs into that. We’ve asked what’s the best for our particular digital challenge. For example, with 5D cost planning, we look for what’s the best in the industry and what’s the best app that does that, regardless of whether it only talks to Autodesk, Bentley or anything else. Sometimes the solution is not in construction, but other sectors such as aviation design.

We use our own repository and database as a communication tool between the modules. We’ve decided to be the translator. All of this will come into fruition later in the year, with Tilbury Douglas Connect, which is the series of modules. If we then want to update an aspect, we can just change the module.

Can you give us an example?

COBie is a very good example of that. It’s very limited in what data can actually be incorporated into it. So we’ve had to come up with a COBie+ solution to enable all the information that we wanted to hold. For example, it will not only hold our part numbers, but the supply chain’s manufacturing information as well. 

Asite is our business partner to provide the common data environment and central platform for managing information, from tender stage to handover. We’re working with Asite on developing the integrated system, including dashboards, and potentially integrating it with our new finance system and our planning system.

What is the end goal?

The user interface is one app: we want everyone from the very tech savvy project manager to the less tech-focused to be able to access it.

And we want clients to be able to access information about their projects too. So, whether they’re a head teacher or head of estates department, they will be able to interpret data on their project. They will be able to walk through the model themselves in an easy format.

We’ll start off from RIBA Stage 2 or Stage 3 design all the way to handover. And all our sequences and work flows are designed around one user interface. We plan to launch the whole system, Tilbury Douglas Connect, later this year. This will not be a separate commercial product, but purely for internal use and for our clients.

You’ve evidently invested an enormous amount of money and time: do you have any outcome targets as a ROI?

Yes. We’re aiming to cut the time from winning a project to getting on site by 92%. We believe it’s achievable. I’m not saying we can do it today, but these are the targets we’re aiming for. We expect it to start off small and then it will exponentially go up over about five years.

“I see huge potential for LiDAR scanning. It allows the site, say, to be scanned overnight to determine the progress, and if the scan shows that the ductwork hasn’t been installed, for example, it can flag that up.”

Mark Buckle
Apart from the software, overall how else is Tilbury Douglas looking to harness new technologies?

Like our competitors, we’re looking at all kinds of things – 3D printing, brick laying machines, robotics, Boston Dynamics’ robot dog Spot. But there’s a lot of technology at the moment that is more of a one-off. There’s also a lot of focus on new-build projects whereas, obviously, quite a considerable part of the industry is about refurbishment.

In Aintree Hospital in Liverpool, we’re using HoloLens and we’re using augmented reality on sites. We see lots of potential for LiDAR, which we’re using to scan sites and we’ve got a couple of suppliers where we’re using LiDAR to scan their work and then value it by computer. Of course, we’re doing that in parallel with the conventional methodology at the moment, but the results are exciting.

What about offsite manufacture or anything similar?

We’re also looking at how can we embed digital and modern methods of construction into our workplace, but in a way that reduces wastage. We, our architects and structural engineers will spend three months doing the design. We then give it to specialists and then they spend 10 weeks redesigning it to get into a position where it can be used for their automated factory line.

We’re focusing on how our systems can give them the information they need. Again, it’s going back to the dominance of certain suppliers, who have computer programmes for manufacturing that are different to construction.

How are you solving that?

We’re not going to get a very large software supplier to change their ways, although we do try to exert influence on things through the UK BIM Alliance, and various other initiatives. So, we’ve put a ‘translator’ in the middle to allow the incompatible systems to talk to each other.

Do you see more automation coming to site?

In my opinion, the implementation of robotics and automation on site won’t happen to a great extent. Setting up the technology on a small or medium project to do robotics or automation can take actually longer than it does for somebody to just go and do it.

But I see huge potential for LiDAR scanning. It allows the site, say, to be scanned overnight to determine the progress, and if the scan shows that the ductwork hasn’t been installed, for example, it can flag that up. It can also give you value as well: because it can recognise objects, you can get an instantaneous valuation of your project, because you know the cost of every object and identify if objects have been installed to tolerance.

Whether it is Spot, the robot dog from Boston Dynamics, being deployed to walk around sites to do LiDAR scanning, or our staff using wearable scanning devices walking round sites, there is opportunity for our digital systems to create some amazing possibilities.

I also think we will see a lot more joining forces of supply chains and we’ll see a lot more product supply as a solution rather than individual components. This can only be achieved if we can provide the volumes they need to solve the interface challenges and common quality issues. “How many times does this happen across different buildings?” has always been a resource-intensive question and has limited industrialised construction outside of the cookie cutter approach.

Anything else exciting you on the horizon?

The one thing I’m quite excited about that is coming very quickly is the restructuring of the web. Some people call it Web 3, or the Semantic Web.

This is where data will be the key commodity and applications will be more web-based, meaning that you’ll be able to go onto the web and use a product on a pay-as-you-go basis rather than desktop applications.

The two benefits together mean that we will start to see the disruptive and innovative ‘uber-technologies’ come into construction. I can see that being incredible for our industry, such as our Connect visualisation partners where we can go from BIM to digital-based reality at the click of a button while in a meeting with clients.

Mark Buckle CV

Buckle was promoted a year ago from divisional director for the South East to the new post, which was created to concentrate on the development, use and implementation of modern methods of construction and Design for Manufacture and Assembly across the business. Buckle’s role also includes overall responsibility for digital construction, design and Tilbury Douglas’s sustainability strategy – PPP (People, Planet, Performance). He now heads a team of 16 and growing, with all affiliated work streams reporting into a single point of contact.

Before joining Tilbury Douglas just over four and half years ago, he was at Mace for two years, and prior to that worked at Lendlease in several senior positions for 13 years. During these periods, he was no stranger to pioneering innovative approaches. As project director for Lendlease on the Sunshine Coast University Hospital in Brisbane in Australia in 2011, he pushed the boundaries of BIM – using what was known at the time as ‘3D BIM’ where project information was genuinely shared across all the parties on the project.

During his spell at Mace, he was the project director for No 8 East Village, a new tower block in Stratford, London, that pioneered the ‘jump factory’ approach to high-rise residential. The six-storey ‘jump factory’, built around the tower, created an indoor construction site – improving noise, reducing safety risks and preventing environmental delays. By harnessing offsite fabrication, each floor was constructed in just one week – and harnessed 4D and 5D BIM to programme the project almost minute by minute.

Don’t miss out on BIM and digital construction news: sign up to receive the BIMplus newsletter.

Story for BIM+? Get in touch via email: [email protected]

Latest articles in Analysis