As a construction professional and British citizen, I genuinely could not have been any prouder and humbled to have opened UK Construction Week Virtual last week.
2020 is the year of disruptions, and we are all looking for this “New Normal”, and while this newfound regularity may have opened new opportunities, as we are now broadcasting to a much wider audience than previous in-person events, and indeed we have to thank technology for that. For us construction professionals, this pandemic has put our industry further under pressure, however, it has also taught us something extremely important. The pandemic has shown the world how vital the construction industry is. The world cannot function without it. This new extraordinary experience has given us the prospect to turn our industry around and transform it into one of the most productive industries in our society.
How are we going to do it? I think you can guess what I am about to say, of course by leveraging technology! The panel discussion with leading construction experts across the UK with representatives from Skanska UK, Bryden Wood, and Innovate UK, focused on our top 5 innovations for greater efficiency, sustainability and quality in construction. Here are my top 5.
Wearables and Mobile Technologies
Our construction sites already included a long list of PPEs, now with the additional masks, rigorous H&S measures ensuring physical distancing is maintained. Now more than ever wearables and mobile technologies can support us with contact tracing, location tracking and ensure smooth operations. The same devices, smartphones which are often prohibited on construction sites, often seen as a distraction, are now seen as the only feasible survival solution to ensure that we maintain the construction industry.
With all offices and project teams now in their own homes, it is now more important than ever to keep all stakeholders up-to-date. The need for shared data, repositories, and digital connectivity is now a must to ensure project success. 360° camera and a smartphone or tablet in the field are taking speed enabling to access job site from the comfort of our homes.
2020 has seen social distancing becoming part of our newly acquired vocabulary, and for us in the construction industry, Digital Twin is certainly the newly acquired term.
Only a year ago a handful of people and companies were talking about the potential that Digital Twins can bring to our industry, I am sure you all agree as industry professionals that a bit like the pandemic came to our life in a somehow forceful way, the explosion of this new terminology across the globe with a proliferation of articles, institution, publications and solution offering has been certainly dominating our industry landscape.
There is substantial debate happening across the world, what is a Digital Twin and what is not. I am not going to pick one definition over another as BIM came to our life 15 years ago, we may never actually agree on one. The way I see it, like many technology advancements, Digital Twins are the next level of the evolutionary stage, bringing an extensive list of opportunities but also challenges to our industry.
But Digital Twins are not lonely souls, they require a ‘connection’ with their physical counterparts thus become living assets, and certainly, one way to creating this connection is using IoT devices.
IoT and BIG Data analytics
A couple of weeks ago I was part of the Shadow Summit, and heard this quote from Aamir Paul, country president of U.S. for Schneider Electric – “You cannot build in 2020 without an IoT strategy“. I totally agree with that quote.
IoT sensor data cannot only help us to bring to life our Digital Twins, but they can also bring a wealth of prospects, providing the ability to share information across platforms through a unified framework, to facilitate real-time communications between various connected and disconnected environments. IoT technology is now playing a part in enforcing social-distancing measures and enable remote access to industrial equipment, helping industrial companies keep workers safe.
Whereas scientific studies on IoT in the construction industry are relatively new, collecting the sensor data is an analytics challenge, but it comes with the unique opportunity to access information in new innovative ways, derive faster and more informed decision making. The knowledge can be used to improve planning, create more accurate budget estimates and ensuring a better understanding of timelines and costs.
But what would be our data without visualisation? Visualisation is the new holy grail of construction.
VR-AR and MR
For someone who started on a big heavy and often uncomfortable drawing board, the ability to visualise your designs in a such a realistic way is just exceptional. Something I would have not expected when I started my career over 20 years ago.
Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) technologies assist us to visualise before we build, enabling interdisciplinary collaboration, clash detention and the ability to plan better and more efficiently. It is playing a role now in accelerating with remote working environments as we navigate through this pandemic. This new reality is demanding for more connections between the project site and the office.
And now Mixed reality (MR) is emerging, where real and virtual worlds meet, to produce new environments and visualisations, where physical and digital objects co-exist and interact in real-time.
And lastly, Blockchain claimed to have the potential to disrupt many aspects of how companies do business. And like other emerging technologies, I have been exploring its uses, benefits and assessing its potential opportunities in the construction industry.
Blockchain is a nascent technology that can simplify and secure transactions among parties with great potentials of or simplifying intermediary in the construction lifecycle thus simplifying the landscape as well as reducing costs, increase efficiency and reducing time to value. Smart contracts and Ricardian contracts can help us to establish transparency on the execution of our built projects.
The use of blockchains can be used for tracking raw materials through the lifecycle to support supply chain operations, tracing materials and equipment enabling more efficient operations and bringing sustainability.
Time to get out the dead horse
This new crisis is asking as to find a new normal, putting further under pressure an industry that has been struggling for years with productivity flattening, poor quality and uncontrollable budget and time overruns. However, many of you will agree with me, now more than ever it has given us the opportunity to finally get out the dead horse and re-think the way we design, build and operate our built assets.
What I believe is important is to take into consideration that innovation per se needs to be assessed analysed and seen as an interdisciplinary approach which includes a multitude of actions and needs to be seen as an integrated ecosystem of solutions to be really effective. Implementing only one innovative solution in isolation is not likely to bring that much-needed productivity, efficiency and quality improvements and long-term sustainability that our beloved industry desperately seeking.