News & Insights

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BIM

04
Jan

By Sam Dudley

THE FUTURE OF TECHNOLOGY IN THE CONSTRUCTION WORLD

Innovation is key for all industries and businesses. However, the construction industry has typically relied on an ageing yet experienced workforce with a preference for doing things the same way but with slight modifications and improvements rather than a fundamental shift in the underlying approach. It is difficult to challenge (and invest in challenging) age-old practices but experience tells us that doing things just because that is how things were always done is not always the best.

In October 2016, the Farmer Review of the UK Construction Labour Model (the Farmer Report) mentioned the shortcomings within the construction industry’s labour model. More specifically, it was the difficulties that came with moving with modern times. Though the Farmer Report had its origins in housing, it was quick to point out that the ‘lack of interest in or incentive to consider modernisation in the industry’ was (at the time) widespread throughout the construction industry. Whilst it is true that infrastructure and commercial property projects have suffered from a shortage of digital skills due to previous underinvestment, some may also be of the view that smart technologies have in the past, been slow on the uptake, being labelled by clients and main contractors as merely ‘too difficult’ to implement. As a result of what some would term a survivalist business model, there currently still exists an absence of alignment between the construction industry and client interests’ incentives and the means with which to invest in electronic data management systems for example. This apparent lack of interest in investing in technological data solutions, however, may just serve to prolong the inevitable need for technological progression.

April 2020 saw a necessitated productivity standstill on many construction sites. The consequences of this and the corresponding significant decline in productivity, is unlikely to be felt until some months later. The cash-flow dependency of our industry will mean that the impact will be more severe for those caught in the middle, typically impacting those toward the bottom of the supply or contractual chain.

DIGITISATION: TO INVEST OR NOT TO INVEST?

Often there is and has been a tentativeness toward new technologies from a cost perspective, particularly with data management. Equally a lack of knowledge in terms of how and where best to implement the new data management technology can be another impeding factor. Adopting new data management technology can bring with it considerable risk, both financially and potentially reputationally, especially when things do not go according to plan. Where firms have heavily invested in new data management technologies and systems, they have not always been adopted en masse, for a myriad of reasons. Subsequently it can leave a large hole in a firm’s balance sheet, particularly if the intended extensive uptake does not materialise. Sometimes too, the risk might be too great for the firm and the fear of little or no return may hamper the implementation of digitisation of projects.

COLLABORATION

Earlier in that year, in March 2016, the Infrastructure and Projects Authority had issued its strategy (the Construction Strategy) for 2016-20, one of its objectives being to embed and increase the use of digital technology, including the concept of Business Information Modelling (BIM) Level 2. Its plan was in part to ‘improve the delivery, efficiency and performance of economic and social infrastructure projects in the public, private and regulated sectors’ through utilising a collaborative approach.

Collaboration was and is a key theme throughout the Farmer Report, the Construction Strategy and indeed within the construction industry as a whole. Without cross-collaboration from government and other necessary factions working in tandem together, naturally there will be limited rapid technological progress within the construction industry.

BIM Level 3, being the next stage of progress beyond BIM Level 2, promises to bring with it a more fully integrated and collaborative process, the idea being to have a sole shared project model. It would be designed to tackle the inherent risks of encountering conflicting information, which with this new process, would be minimised. Not only that, having a centralised forum for all project related issues would increase efficiency, thereby most likely saving on most project costs. Embarking on such a trajectory has the potential to see improvements in construction, operation and maintenance issues for projects, thus enabling cities to be better connected by using these ‘smarter’ modern ways of working.

 

“Improve the delivery, efficiency and performance of economic and social infrastructure projects in the public, private and regulated sectors”

 

CONSTRUCTION 4.0

Construction 4.0 is a concept that encompasses both BIM Levels 2 and 3, amongst others, and intends to feature more automation, better data and telemetry from site equipment in order to support contractors as well as robots, all to ensure a smoother, error free and faster construction process. Part of the scepticism that surrounds Construction 4.0 is whether it has made enough progress to date. Many firms unsurprisingly, will need to progress or will have progressed with their technological advancements at their own pace, with some being limited by their respective available funds. Recognition, however, does need to be given to advancements that have been made in the digitisation of the supply chain and associated processes such as workflows and approvals. The stumbling block nonetheless stems from the fact that each project is unique and the problems it can face are perhaps bespoke, based on buildings that are one-off designs.

As part of the digitisation movement, digital skills are now permeating through into engineering and construction projects more and more so, with the advent of roles such as Digitisation Director. Roles like these, along with attitudes towards technology in general are making the world see that technological advancement is bringing with it a reduction in wastage and duplication, along with an assurance on quality, as well as time and budget savings.

THE FUTURE . . .

The question that now remains is how technological advancements will fare in a post-coronavirus world. One thing that was recently witnessed, literally overnight, was that almost everyone was forced into internet interactions. Some firms had previously made little use of such technology but currently there is virtually no other option. It also demonstrates what happens, nationally and internationally, when changes are necessitated due to unforeseen circumstances. The current situation does not however imply that technological advancements will be forced upon every firm. Indeed, working capital will be another hurdle for many firms and unfortunately a high proportion of firms may not even survive the economic downturn that has begun. Virtual working however makes sense on several levels, not least because it saves costs for the firm not needing a permanent office base, but it equally gives employees back time in their day by not having to commute to and from work every day. Technological progression will likely still fare rather strongly in a postcoronavirus world, as most of the work required can be done remotely. At most, it may be a matter of setting up a small number of elements physically first, then the monitoring and development of the subsequent work can continue remotely.

Obviously, the construction industry will not be able to escape the physical element of having to construct the building but a lot of the work leading up to it can easily be done remotely i.e. drawings, meetings etc. As has been witnessed time and time again, technological solutions have been proven to be beneficial in numerous ways. Cast that against the fact that arguably not all of the work that is currently produced, is useful, because of inefficiencies in data collation or inaccuracies. Though this has the potential to improve following a well thought out digitisation process.

Finally, it is worth postulating, that whilst it is clear that such technological advancements will require great effort nationally (and of course globally), progress will be made even if it will be somewhat painful and not without teething issues. Then again, since when was something that was worth achieving, ever without its difficulties…

 

#BIM #BIM2 #FarmerReport #BIM3 #construction4.0 #constructiontech

Sam Dudley, Senior Quantity Surveyor – sam.dudley@aquilaforensics.com


 

INVESTIGATORY SERVICES

Aquila Forensics specialises in the investigation and analysis of construction projects. Our understanding of the financial and programming impacts of change upon construction have been developed from years of expert witness and site-based practical experience. This combines to provide tangible and pragmatic solutions grounded in the realities of the industry.