Simulation in construction management: deliver projects within schedule and budget

Yellow construction crane and cement walls

The construction industry is one of the largest global sectors, employing approximately 7% of the world's working-age population. According to the McKinsey Global Institute, it is also one of the largest contributors to the world economy, with an annual expenditure of $10 trillion on construction-related goods and services.

Construction projects are often complex and have a good portion of uncertainty. Nevertheless, project managers need to ensure the construction process runs smoothly, safely, and within schedule and budget.

Simulation modeling, as the process of imitating or replicating the behavior of a real system through computerized models, helps make complex construction projects easier and cost less. It provides a risk-free space for experimenting, testing, and analyzing. It also improves decision-making and project performance. On top of that, the results are easy to verify and communicate.

In this blog post, we’ll cover the most common simulation applications in construction management, namely:

  1. risk management in project planning & scheduling
  2. resource allocation
  3. using simulation with BIM and CAD

Throughout the text, you will find case studies that illustrate each of the abovementioned simulation application areas.

Risk management within construction planning & scheduling

One of the primary benefits of simulation in construction management is its ability to enhance project planning. Traditional planning approaches often struggle to account for uncertainties, unforeseen events, and the complex interdependencies of construction processes.

Simulation modeling lifecycle
Simulation modeling lifecycle

Simulation overcomes these challenges by considering various factors such as weather conditions, material availability, and resource constraints. It enables construction managers to create realistic project plans and schedules, optimizing critical path analysis and anticipating potential delays.

New simulation-based construction scheduling approach

A capital construction project management company developed a new scheduling method using AnyLogic simulation software. Usually, underground construction projects are managed via Gantt charts, which schedule events that are known in advance. But uncertainties are inevitable in any project. For example, managers may know about potential problems but be unaware of when they will strike.

As a result of using simulation modeling, the engineering team created a project schedule for the entire construction period, a monthly schedule with a daily work plan, and a cyclogram with a 3-minute step to inform management decisions.

Drilling machine working underground
Underground construction work

Adjusting to sudden schedule and cost changes in a complex earthmoving project

Sometimes a project doesn’t go as planned, and sudden changes have to be made. But how will these changes impact the time to complete the project and the total cost?

Just after signing the contract for a construction site preparation project, the client and local authorities placed new, more restrictive constraints on the operation. Consolidated Contractor Company, the largest construction company in the Middle East, had to turn to simulation to assess the impact of the new constraints and justify the claim for an extension of time.

Based on the results of the construction simulation model, the client agreed to extend the total duration of the earthworks operation by an additional 50% on top of the original schedule duration. This essentially saved the project an estimated additional cost equivalent to 18% of the original total contract value.

Analyzing risks for drilling rig construction

By analyzing the impacts of risks and uncertainties beforehand, construction professionals can proactively develop strategies to minimize their effects, increasing project resilience and success.

A new oil and gas drilling rig’s construction requires a significant investment of more than a billion dollars. The process has lots of interdependencies and is therefore failure-prone.

Transocean, a Swiss offshore drilling company, decided to simulate the whole drilling rig construction process in detail. With simulation, it could test different scenarios, prepare for potential risks, and explore the impact of equipment, process, or policy changes on capital and operational expenses.

Well construction process flowchart

Resource allocation in construction done properly

Efficient use of resources, including labor, machinery, equipment, and materials, is crucial for construction project success. Simulation models help construction managers analyze resource utilization, identify bottlenecks, and make informed decisions regarding resource allocation. By optimizing resource allocation, construction managers can improve project productivity, reduce costs, and minimize wastage.

Identifying bottlenecks, minimizing standstills, and avoiding financial loss

In order to minimize the possible loss in a construction project, SimPlan, a German business simulation service provider, and Ruhr University Bochum created a simulation model that helped identify bottlenecks.

Subway tunnel under construction
Tunnel building for a subway. Source: Wehrhahn Line project in Düsseldorf

With a simulation of a tunnel construction, the company reduced weak spots in the on-site processes and external logistics and planned the required back-up stock. It minimized unnecessary standstills and performance losses, which shortened the duration of the tunneling project and optimized its budget.

A diagram describing process classification used in tunneling
Process classification used in mechanized tunneling

Reducing downtime in tunnel building logistics

Another project on mechanized tunneling was done by Ruhr University Bochum. This tunnel-building process requires a large number of machine components and logistics elements (a tunnel boring machine, external logistics, etc.). Simulation was used to consider all these elements and successfully reduce downtime by nearly 40% and construction time by 13%.

Simulation, BIM, and CAD

In general, the integration of simulation with Building Information Modeling (BIM) has further enhanced its capabilities in construction management. BIM provides a rich source of data and information on construction projects, enabling the creation of more accurate and detailed simulation models.

AnyLogic, in particular, provides opportunities for verification and testing. You can import your CAD drawings into the software, create a simulation model based on this layout, and test the efficiency of your future building. Check if pedestrians, machinery, or other elements will be able to move around freely without creating bottlenecks. When you’ve finished testing, get back to your initial BIM model, use the insights to make changes to it, and continue working towards the project’s actual and successful implementation.

Testing the feasibility and performance of a future airport rental car facility

Los Angeles International Airport had just the task. The management was planning a large, consolidated rental car facility with four decks. Before starting the construction process, they wanted to test how the facility would perform in different scenarios, including during peak hours. The resulting data allowed the stakeholders to determine whether construction operations were feasible and whether to agree on the project.

Key takeaways on construction modeling and optimization

In construction management, simulation proves to be a valuable tool that allows construction professionals to:

  • replicate real-world scenarios
  • enhance project planning and predict outcomes
  • optimize resource allocation and manage risks
  • reduce project time and cut costs
  • test the efficiency of buildings before construction.

By leveraging simulation, the construction industry can drive efficiency, improve decision-making, and achieve successful project delivery, be it for building a café, a shopping mall, an airport, or something else.

Let us know if you’re wondering whether simulation modeling is a good fit for your construction project. Our team will be happy to help. And don’t forget to subscribe to our monthly newsletter to stay up-to-date with AnyLogic blog posts and our Model of the Month.

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