Written by Hannah Mycock-Overell and

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For many people, “construction” conjures images of scaffolding, bricklaying, and piledriving. But there’s always been more to it than that, and new technologies are increasingly disrupting established practices and processes.

BIM has been around for a long time, but with the recent publication of the Winfield Rock report and the new CIC protocol there is renewed interest and appetite for its use. If used properly it should assist with accurate real-time information capture, increased productivity, improved collaboration and risk avoidance. The use of BIM on projects requires buy-in from all parties to the project. The parties need a common understanding of how they are going to use BIM and what their respective roles and responsibilities are.

Blockchain contracts, one of the newest emerging technologies in construction, have the potential to revolutionise how project are run. Construction contracts specify sequences of notices, triggering responses – for example for payment or for a valuation of a change instruction. Blockchain contracts would have access to fully digitised project data, and in accordance with coded rules, automatically execute the relevant response on receipt of the required data.

A multi-party blockchain contract could assist with the ongoing concerns in relation to payments down supply chains. Smart construction contracts, and the accompanying digital information, could also form the basis of an early warning system for delays and costs overruns. There are issues with how the technology could be implemented within the existing legislative and regulatory framework, and also thorny issues to consider around contract decisions based on faulty input data (whether due to human error or failed sensors tracking goods arriving on site), but many industry leaders are actively considering the potential of blockchain in construction, with the University of London bringing together digital construction and fintech experts in a Construction Blockchain Consortium.

Robots are moving in on the industry, with their eyes (or sensors) on almost every role. Portable robotic arms can be brought on site to perform almost any repetitive physical activity, whether laying bricks, setting out and tying rebar, or moving materials. Others plaster walls or 3D print bespoke components. Rovers can carry out site inspections, to check welds for defects or compare construction progress with designs.

Drones have already begun to change the way the industry operates. They are used to survey sites, both at the start of planning to produce baseline models and during construction to track progress. They can also be used to monitor security and health and safety.

AI / CCTV Technology can monitor footfall and behaviour / flow of tenants or visitors to a site or location to optimise use of space. It’s anticipated that such techniques will ensure buildings are used to their optimum capacity. Smart buildings that react to changes in external heat and light, and recognise us upon arrival are a regular feature for many of us now. One of the aims of BSRIA’s ‘SoftLandings’ initiative is to ensure smart buildings are optimised to maximise their efficiency and cost effectiveness.

Virtual reality is increasingly used in the design phase, to help clients see what their finished building will look like and understand the space available to them e.g. for specific furnishings or equipment. They can then make changes at an early stage. It can also assist with collaboration between the design team and reduce the risk of design issues manifesting on site, as different members of the design team can explore the design together and spot incompatibilities before the design is finalised, rather than them being discovered only once on site and work paused while they are resolved. Even computerised 3D models cannot visualise exactly the look and feel of a construction building. This increased understanding and visualisation in the early stages of a project, before construction starts, can help reduce miscommunication between parties to the project and make the planning and building process run more quickly and efficiently.

The use of digital processes and new technologies is only going to grow. The challenge will be whether the industry can adapt quickly enough to the new ways of working they bring with them.

6th June 2018