We have the technology, we can make construction better, stronger, faster

Added: 29/04/16 Author: Mark Tomlin

In any industry, the development of new technology can help to make significant performance gains.

This is particularly true in the case of manufacturing. Just think of how car construction has been transformed by new processes and innovations, where bodywork was once hand-shaped over the course of many hours, the use of robots and modern factory equipment has seen this reduced to mere minutes.

What’s more, as a country, the UK is something of a late-adopter of new technologies, especially when compared to leaders in the field such as Japan, whose position as one of the most advanced manufacturers in the world shows the benefits that new processes can bring, and the gains that can be made if our country follows suit.

What if we could make similar gains within construction? We’ve already made some changes which have seen efficiency (and safety) improve, but there’s definitely more that can be done.

Now, I’m not saying that we should adopt all of the processes used in manufacturing, after all, where the creation of products relies on being able to consistently produce items to the exact same specifications time and time again, construction projects feature a lot more variation, requiring the kind of judgement built up by decades of experience in the field.

There are, however, still plenty of things that we can take on board, particularly if we’re going to keep attracting new, tech-savvy recruits into the industry.

Given that computer-literacy is no longer considered an optional skill, particularly among the ‘millennial’ generation, we can expect the use of more high-tech methods to become commonplace in the near future. In turn, by adopting these new processes we may well attract new talent at a greater rate, as the idea of working in an innovative, modern sector is certainly an attractive one, helping to combat the skills shortage.

As an industry, construction can sometimes seem a little set in its ways, with a lot of the methods used being the same as 20 or even 50 years ago, a degree of stagnation which would be unacceptable in other fields.

That said, there’s a careful balancing act that we need to maintain if we don’t want to risk losing some of the traditional skills that give a building its character, with techniques such as thatching and brick-laying giving our country its unique architecture.

It’s worth keeping in mind, however, that these two concepts currently work together in harmony, with technology often easing the burden on workers, allowing them to focus on applying their skills on site.

Take BIM as an example, since its introduction it has grown in popularity for larger projects, and is now so widely acknowledged that the Government put a requirement in place that all centrally procured public sector projects must implement BIM Level 2 from the 4th of April this year.

What’s more, policy documents published ahead of the March budget outlined the Government’s commitment to develop and roll out BIM Level 3, showing that this is far from a flash in the pan.

Cloud computing is also being heralded as a means of improving efficiency. Virtually unheard of ten years ago, the idea of sharing data between networked computers is now commonplace, and can offer a number of advantages at all levels of construction.

By allowing workers on site to pull up any documents and information they need from a central location on their laptop, tablet or phone, this can be a real timesaver, especially compared to the alternative of calling another busy worker and having them send you what you need.

Then there’s the real cutting edge, with the creation of materials such as self-healing and water-absorbing concrete, which could help to reduce repair bills while also solving our drainage needs.

These are clearly steps in the right direction, now we need to stay on that course if we’re going to not only keep up with the rest of the world, but make construction a leader in productivity and technology, which would certainly go some way towards meeting the UK’s increasing demand for residential and commercial properties.