A year has passed since the government BIM level 2 mandate came into force and the UK is seeing world leading development being done in the area of BIM. Yet since the level 2 Mandate, Brexit fears have exacerbated the skills gap faced by the industry, as well as impacted on the costs of materials. These circumstances have caused the construction industry to rally for change.
Mark Farmer, with his review of the construction industry announced that we must Modernise or Die. The Construction Leadership Council (CLC) presented a vision for the industry, stating that the industry cannot deliver the homes and infrastructure needed in the UK by continuing to do things the way it always has. More recently the government whitepaper, Fixing our broken housing market references modern methods of construction as a way to boost productivity and build homes faster.
Construction is now seeing innovations and initiatives to drive change in the areas of Pre-manufacture, Information & Technology, Sustainability, the Circular Economy and New Construction Methods.
The answer to modernising construction is in digital technology not just BIM
There are many exciting initiatives happening in all spheres of the construction sector. Many of them driven by a need to overcome a skills or cost challenge. It is also recognised that the construction industry needs to increase output, whilst also meeting sustainability objectives.
Much of the innovation we are seeing is driven by new technologies. For example, the Construction Products Association document, The Future for Construction Product Manufacturers, explores the digitisation of construction processes. Diane Montgomery of the CPA states that “Construction is changing and a real opportunity is presenting itself.”
The adoption of smart construction and the barriers to them are also considered in a CLC report: Roadmapping to improve productivity
It is true to say that digital technology is an enabler and BIM is certainly leading the way, yet there are other advances. We are seeing the adoption of immersive technology for tasks such as design reviews. A recent article by BIM+ shows how game engines are being increasingly used by architects and contractors. Augmented reality allows digital information to be overlaid onto a view of the real world, for tasks such as clash detection on site. And a recent study predicted the use of virtual reality and augmented reality among CAD users will increase 140% over the next five years.
Robots are set to complete labour-intensive jobs on site
The construction industry is also exploring ways in which to use robotics in day to day construction. Already spray concrete robots are in use on Crossrail and Skanska are implementing robotic construction units to carry out tasks on site, including cutting, drilling and fixing. Balfour Beatty are looking to invest and develop autonomous robots and bring them into some of the labour-intensive or dangerous tasks on site. On a more basic level drones being used by Building Control, monitoring through Aerial Inspections, providing time and cost saving benefits.
Material innovation could change how we construct
Construction materials are becoming more and more sophisticated, with qualities such as flaw-tolerance, shape memory, self-healing, even perspiring! Materials are available that fight against anti-biotic resistance. Biomimicry is a rapidly developing discipline and graphene – the strongest, thinnest, lightest, conductive material ever discovered could provide endless opportunities in the field of construction.
Innovative materials can also mean innovative re-use of materials, such as the starter home made from coffee cups. Another advancement is 3D printing, and the recent completion of the first 3d printed concrete house shows that 3D technology in the construction market is a reality.
Conclusion – Construction is moving into an exciting new era of innovation
Construction is far from a muddy boots and shovel industry. We are moving into an exciting new era of innovation and technology.
This innovation is being driven by a need to address the challenges the industry currently faces. Taking a different approach could help the industry deliver capacity in the midst of a skills crisis. Arcadis suggests that Brexit could lead to a reduction of 215,000 people working in UK construction. This equates to a 14% reduction in the workforce, increasing the current skills gap significantly. With innovation delivering capacity, housing being a prime example, objectives could still be achievable.
Technology-lead trends such as BIM, Smart Factories, The Circular Economy and Virtual Supply Chains provide an opportunity in the short term for the manufacturer to innovate and gain a lead over competitors. For example by providing such innovations as the ability of a product to signal when maintenance or replacement is required, virtual supply chains or new funding methods. But very soon these trends will not be exception and companies who have failed to use innovation could find themselves left behind. There are plenty of examples of industry leaders left behind by technological change – Kodak, Nokia, Compaq, Blockbuster.
Key issues currently facing construction include labour availability and increasing material costs. The industry is being challenged to increase speed of output, achieve sustainability, whilst minimising costs, all during a skilled labour shortage.
The purpose of this report is to present actual information about innovation requirements in the construction supply chain. The report presents information in the areas of Pre-manufacture; Information & Technology; Sustainability and the Circular Economy; as well as new methods of construction.
This research is due for release early April 2017 at a cost of £350 + VAT.