A study by McKinsey recently found that the construction industry is one of the least digitised sectors. According to their findings, the construction sector is associated with some unflattering statistics, such as how large projects typically take 20% longer to finish than scheduled and are up to 80% over budget. Furthermore, construction productivity has declined in many markets since the 1990s, while financial returns for contractors are volatile and often low.
Despite its ripeness for change, the construction sector has been slow to adopt new technology for a number of reasons, primarily because of the expensive and time-consuming nature of digital transformation.
However, taking into account, the growing demand for environmentally sensitive construction and the harsh realisation that the skills shortage in labour and supervisory staff will only get worse, the construction sector needs to change its way of thinking.
At the moment, many construction firms are suffering from a huge waste of resources and energy, as a result of their legacy infrastructures. But is hope may be on the horizon with “connected construction”?
How connected is construction?
The rapid growth in digital technology and the internet of things claim to be ushering in a new era of smarter industrial work practices, enabling suppliers, site workers and customers to work together more efficiently.
One of the most significant technological breakthroughs is building information modelling (BIM), which offers both; 3D models of buildings, and data management capabilities, by way of centralising all the data on a building site into one access point.
BIM providers have been quick to talk about the benefits, which there undoubtedly are, but are firms using it?
>See also: The Government’s Transformation Strategy
Well, companies that work closely on public sector projects have had no choice but to adapt, BIM Level 2 compliance became obligatory on the 4th of April 2016, for companies to bid on centrally procured public projects. The European Parliament is also encouraging BIM adoption to “modernise the procurement process and ensure greater efficiencies”.
Outside of the public sectors centrally procured projects, adoption of BIM has been led by the UK BIM Alliance, which aims to encourage the implementation of BIM Level 2 by 2020, as well as connecting and representing organisations, groups and individuals in their digital transformation efforts.
National Building Specification (NBS), owned by the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), publishes research into BIM adoption in the UK, their April 2016 survey of 1,000 UK construction professionals revealed that BIM adoption had increased from 13% in 2010 to 54% in 2015.
Speaking in Autumn 2016, John Eynon, Architect and member of the UK BIM Alliance transition team, said: “It’s not so much the tier one organisations that are having difficulty, it’s the supply chain, the tier two and three guys who have got to learn how to work in digital environments, otherwise they won’t have a business.”
According to Eynon, one of the possible reasons for the adoption rate not being higher is because the sector has just come out of a recession, understandably, the last thing a construction firm wanted to hear when they are coming off that is that they would need to invest in new kit.
Eynon added: “Change in a decent size organisation to be a fully BIM compliant is a journey that could take at least a year possibly more.”
“It means looking at new ways of working, looking at new processes, new software.”
“I think this is about a fundamental change in culture, habits and working practices.”
His full interview can be seen below:
Benefits for early adopters
Early adopters are usually quick to praise BIM. According to a 2014 McGraw Hill Construction BIM study, 75% of those that adopted BIM reported a positive return on their investment. They also reported shorter project life cycles and savings on paperwork and material costs.
In 2016, Balfour Beatty’s BIM Director, Tom Loader, said: “We’re able to get far greater insight in terms of what the element is, how it’s made up, what its cost is, it could be what its fire rating is. Any piece of information we need to embed within there means that we can make decisions earlier in the process.”
“One of the big aspects that we are finding now is that it’s a far better communication tool with our customers. We can show the work that we’ve done, we can also show the upcoming work in a very clear, concise way to that customer, without the need for too much interpretation.”
Loader’s interview can be seen in full below.