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By Willow Aliento
February 18, 2019
What if there was a digital tool available that could help the industry better track and validate building products? Emerging tech firm BuildFit Party Ltd. has set out to develop that technology and make it available in the coming months.
Acting CEO and Director Peter Mulherin tells Jobsite the initiative aims to use compliance as a lever to increase the overall sustainability of building products and the construction projects they are used in.
The BuildFit platform is being developed in collaboration with RMIT University researchers and CSIRO’s Data61 unit. ProductWise, Mersys, ICN and Egans have also contributed, in addition to other organisations across design, construction, manufacturing and supply.
The company is utilising circularity, an advanced sustainability approach that aims to both minimise waste in product design, use and end-of-life. It also tries to ensure resources used in products are recovered and re-used.
The rules-based BuildFit system will use automation and machine learning to assist specifiers, designers, builders and other stakeholders to check the compliance, certification and sustainability credentials of products. All information submitted by product manufacturers or suppliers making compliance or sustainability-relating claims will be automatically cross-checked by the system with the relevant third parties.
Mulherin emphasises the importance of validation and third-party certification. For a start, self-certified products are essentially only carrying a subjective assessment of whether they are fit-for-purpose.
If they are third-party certified, then the performance of the product actually has an impact on the brand and reputation of the certifying body—meaning the benefit from verifying certifications themselves.
It will also distinguish between testing facilities that carry NATA certification or other reputable third-party credentials; lack of that certification can indicate a lack of genuine, objective scientific independence.
Mulherin says this process will likely mean locally-made products have an advantage. Local manufacturers and suppliers are more aware of the relevant standards and certifications and will often find them easier to satisfy.
Overall, he says it will also create a level playing field for products, where third-party certification of conformance and compliance becomes the industry benchmark.
In turn, users can prove suppliers and manufacturers there is a demand for these products by showing their preference.
Other information the system will capture includes the type of disclosures that will assist companies that have a reporting obligation under the Modern Slavery Legislation, which comes into effect this year. It will also help users to look specifically for products and suppliers that assist with meeting goals around Indigenous procurement, which may be required under company Reconciliation Action Plans, Corporate Social Responsibility Policies or by some government contracts.
In terms of procurement with sustainability as a metric, BuildFit will enable users to understand what information is available about a product’s environmental impact.
By remaining agnostic in terms of what certification or verified data a manufacturer or supplier can provide, green procurement strategies may be simplified. This could be done by reducing the time spent searching for certifications or environmental product declarations.
Mulherin says the tool is also built to be technology neutral, so it can plug into any project management, procurement, BIM, or any other relevant technology system. It will also be possible to integrate the information from the tool within a BIM model where 4D, 5D or 6D BIM is being used.
The information about a product, where it came from, what standards it meets, and how the constituent resources can be recovered at end-of-life can all be fed into the BIM model.
Mulherin notes this helps future-proof a project. It ensures that if there is a recall, or if a product becomes obsolete due to a change in standards or regulations, a BIM model maintained into a building’s operational phase can show exactly where that specific item has been installed quickly and accurately.
The whole impetus to develop BuildFit was a convergence of concerns around the need to improve the environmental sustainability of the built environment and to improve the level of compliance, Mulherin says.
Currently, these two areas are often addressed separately. However, he sees they are clearly linked.
While achieving compliance costs the Australian construction industry around $8 billion a year, examples like Opal Tower, Lacrosse and Infinity Cables have shown the massive spend still does not equate to achieving the desired result. Better information and tools are obviously needed.
The company’s strategy has also been informed by Mulherin’s extensive background in industrial design, manufacturing construction and Defence procurement and manufacturing.
The LEAN principles utilised in Defence are the same as the approach BuildFit is taking to circularity—efficiency through designing out waste from the start and ensuring resources have pathways for recovery when a specific product reaches end-of-use.
Mulherin says that “every human activity needs to be examined” in terms of its impact on the planet and its resources. Most products and activities involve “externalities” like social impacts or environmental impacts that are not priced or factored into end costs under current business models.
“We need to ask, what are the real costs of this product?”
BuildFit aims to be part of creating incentives for change in terms of understanding the real price and real impact of the products that collectively comprise a building.
“This is like a traffic light system at a product level.”
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