Construction’s digital future

UK building professionals should take a leaf out of motor racing’s book in order to advance their use of digital technology, an industry roundtable has commented.

The Westminster Sustainable Business Forum (WSBF) event, sponsored by the British Board of Agrément, met recently to discuss ‘Construction’s Digital Future’, concluding that the industry ‘lagged behind’ others with similar levels of complexity in the uptake of digital technology.

“For example, the motor racing and aerospace sectors have widely embraced digital models and virtual testing because the costs, safety implications and reputational impact mean that they have to,” roundtable attendees said. “The construction industry should look to these sectors as a guide.”

Wendy Ajuwon, BBA head of marketing, said: “There is little doubt that digitalisation holds the key to helping solve many challenges for the construction industry. We are really keen to facilitate debate and push this agenda, not least because developing this technology for our industry can help deliver the Hackitt Report’s all-important ‘golden thread’ of quality building information.”

Andrew de Silva, a director at Andrew Miller Architects, said although there were many reasons for the limited uptake of digital technology, it was primarily due to complexity; projects operated on a variety of scales and required a range of skills and abilities across sectors. The situation was further hampered by industry fragmentation and competing priorities from different stakeholders with different procurement routes.

“It’s important that the right data is given to the right people at the right time and that’s a key element of the process,” Andrew said, pointing out that Building Information Modeling should be at the core of businesses and not just an added service.

The roundtable, chaired by Housing, Communities and Local Government committee member Teresa Pearce MP, discussed how embracing digital technology delivers secondary benefits including more efficient use of materials, better labour organisation, improved health and safety, waste reduction and safer working environments. It also allows building designers to ensure the Hackitt Report’s ‘golden thread’ of information is delivered.

The use of BIM – described as having a ‘multitude’ of indirect benefits for consumers – was discussed, and how the government’s mandate for adoption of BIM Level 2 on public sector projects had accelerated the use of digital tools. Consideration should now turn to making BIM Level 2 mandatory at tender stage on residential projects using off-site construction techniques, which lend themselves well to digital workflows.

Barriers to implementing BIM and other digital technologies include conflict between project delivery teams (cost and timescale focused) and asset management teams (quality and longevity focused), and the reluctance of some building product manufacturers to recreate BIM information because it may compromise their intellectual property.

“Everyone has a responsibility to embrace digital technology as the more stakeholders that adopt it, the greater benefit it will have. Once we have a network off fully digitised built assets, then communities can start to reap the wider societal benefits,” the roundtable concluded.