To build the housing that’s needed in Ontario and properly plan for the future growth of our province, we must raise the level of our game on many fronts, but especially when it comes to the use of technology.

For starters, we must digitize and standardize the development approvals process to speed up the build of new homes. Second, we must also embrace digital twinning as a way of increasing productivity, building better housing and infrastructure, and mapping out transportation and road networks.

Technology is the way forward and we need to adopt the latest and greatest digital tools to chart a bright future.

Sadly, we are not at the forefront of innovation. That has been shown repeatedly in international rankings and must change. We are 10 to 20 years behind other leading world jurisdictions in digitization.

Canada ranks 34th out of 35 Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development countries in the length of time it takes to secure approval for a general construction project. The World Bank, meanwhile, ranked Canada 64th out of 190 countries in terms of construction permitting.

It takes far too long to get a housing project approved in the GTA. A recent study by Altus Group showed the approval timeline in Toronto was 32 months in 2022, up from 21 months in 2020. Embarrassingly, we also have the lowest housing supply amongst all the G7 countries.

At RESCON’s annual general meeting recently, we heard from Paul Smetanin, President of the Canadian Centre for Economic Analysis, who explained the benefits of digital twinning technology.

Essentially, digital twins enable the design community to create a replica of a building in a virtual form, allowing professionals to study changes in behaviour and building interaction when plans are revamped. 

Information about the structure being built is collected using laser scanners, sensors and other Internet of Things devices and used with building information modelling (BIM). Using the technology, stakeholders can view in real time the status and condition of the assets under construction. They can experiment digitally to improve a structure, and better balance labour and costs.

The technology can also be used to improve growth planning on a macro scale. By providing a digital representation of a real-world scenario, digital twinning can help address housing and infrastructure needs of communities and enables planners and designers to improve on the products.

The digital twinning market is expected to grow in the coming years. The market was $3.1B in 2020 and, according to figures presented at our AGM, is anticipated to be more than $48B by 2026.

Digital twinning is being increasingly used in the automotive, healthcare, systems engineering and aerospace industries. Cities like Singapore, Shanghai, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, and Phoenix have all embraced regional digital twinning to plan their cities, transportation networks, and electricity grids.

With immigration rates rising and substantial population growth anticipated over the next 20 years, digital twinning has taken on increased importance as we are going to have to figure out ways to build better and quicker. It will have significant implications for the housing industry in Ontario.

A $1.32M One Ontario pilot is under way in Simcoe County to explore solutions using digital twins to address economic, environmental, and social challenges such as sustainability and affordable housing.

AECO Innovation Lab is partnering with four Canadian universities on the novel venture to look at how digital twinning technology can help with visualizing land and building investments, predicting affordable housing needs, developing sustainable cities, and aiding in municipal operations.

The project was made possible by the Mitacs Accelerate Grants Program and will build on earlier research done on building information modeling, or BIM, at a lab at the University of Toronto that was sponsored by RESCON. We are now hoping that the Ontario government will come to the table and support the One Ontario platform and match the funding so it can be rolled out in other regions.

We must build more housing, but limited resources and outdated processes at the municipal approvals level act as a bottleneck in the ability of the private sector to deliver much-needed supply.   

Building 1.5M homes over 10 years is a daunting task and will mean that the residential construction industry will have to substantially increase production. To accomplish the task, we must avail ourselves of the most advanced systems possible and move faster and with greater determination than in the past.

While the challenge is daunting and complex, technology such as digital twinning can give us a leg up.