Top 5 innovations for greater efficiency and sustainability in construction


While we weren't able to attend this year, we wanted to provide our reflections on UK Construction Week. The theme for 2020 was “Roadmap to Recovery”. It featured workshops and seminars on how the AEC industry can continue to recover from the pandemic, as well as a look at how to adapt to the new normal. The pandemic has changed the workplace for every sector. Construction was at the forefront of this learning to adapt to social distancing and new ways of working, but there is still much to do to adapt and thrive in a reshaped economy.


In this blog series, we take a look at the most important takeaways from the industry and it’s top thought-leaders.


Whether your goal is to reduce time spent onsite, improve safety, enable better collaboration or cost-effective build, there are innovations and digital technologies that can help achieve that. From robotics, digital twins, data tracking to lean construction - there are countless innovations poised to transform the sector’s efficiency and help different organisations.


While the AEC industry has always been a frontrunner when it comes to pioneering engineering, technological and mechanical solutions to create buildings, bridges and structures, the industry’s historic hesitancy towards digital technology usage in a virtual world has held the industry back, making it less efficient and agile. With a global pandemic hitting in early 2020, companies were forced to evolve, approaching business models very differently and accelerating the usage of digital tools. Now, there is certainly an opportunity to use this reset of how we work to be more efficient and improve productivity, and you can read more about this in our own recently launched positioning paper.



Here are the top 5 Innovations we garnered from UK Construction Week for greater efficiency, sustainability and quality in construction:



1. Virtual and Augmented Reality


VR not only enables project teams and stakeholders to step inside their proposed schemes before construction works commence, but is also able to create walkthroughs of complex site logistic plans in advance to support health and safety awareness training. In the coming years we can expect even more new applications and practical uses across the industry, revolutionising how projects are planned and built.


We also anticipate advancements to be made in augmented reality, or AR. By overlaying 3D digital content seamlessly onto a user’s real vision, another dimension of information is added to the physical world. This gives builders, planners and architects the chance to interact with lifelike digital models of their projects and ideas, allowing them to be more experimental, visualising what their ideas would look like in a simulated environment.​



2. Unmanned Aerial Vehicles

From digitising large infrastructure sites and undertaking inspections to ensuring operatives are kept out of danger zones, the continued rise of UAVs will significantly improve safety and productivity in the construction and infrastructure sector in the coming months.


Drones rapidly increase the rate of data capture, reducing time and cost to receive critical information. Combining the acquired data sets into the same digital replica of a site also reduces data silos and information mismanagement.



At the height of the pandemic, capturing site data became a blocker, but for others like National Grid, the move to digital became a way to enable teams to keep working. The asset owner embraced tools to help stay on top of work. National Grid teams in Didcot, required a way of visualising 3D site data from home to keep their project on track. Firstly, they required topographic data that could be captured in accordance with social distancing during lockdown, so they could have a digital replica of their site. National Grid then needed to be able to visualise and work with that data. So they could move forward, Sensat undertook a remote UAV data capture survey of the land adjacent to Didcot Power Station, meaning workers did not have to be on site. From this, the team were able to unlock, visualise and collaborate on that data from home after adopting Sensat’s data capture and common visualisation platform.



3. Digital Twins


Digital Twin technology was first developed by NASA in the earliest days of space exploration to solve the issue of maintaining systems in orbit when you can’t see or monitor them physically. Today, NASA uses digital twin technology to develop new recommendations, roadmaps, and next-gen vehicles and aircraft.


In construction, digital twins allow teams to work with a visual and intuitive 3D representation of a project. The latest visualisation platforms are packed with features and are capable of tracking and measuring complex project performance from any internet-connected device.


Data captured and visualised by Sensat for Network Rail and WSP



For example, in Sensat’s visualisation platform it’s possible to get access to all above and below ground data and information, including:

  • Geospatial and topographic site information

  • Integration of buried services and below-ground utilities

  • Masterplan models and BIM integration of all associated commercial

  • Residential structures, and all engineering design information for the associated infrastructure.

This gives you a Single Source of Truth (SSOT) of your development site or project, so all stakeholders are working on the most up-to-date information to create a holistic project overview.



4. IoT and Smart Buildings


In construction, IoT allows people to keep up to date on important assessment information about their equipment such as tire pressure, or GPS tracking. It also helps keep workplaces and workers safe, aids in performance, helps workers envision a project and problem-solve, and it can help give instructions for an on the job task. Wearable IoT technology and devices have a very important place in the construction industry. “Wearable tech items” refer to any item that can be worn on the body that helps provide information to the user through connectivity.


When you think about all the problems you’re trying to solve every day on a construction site. Would having more visibility into what your workers are doing or the work that was done for the day be helpful to you? All of those things right now require a lot of time and energy to understand; manually walking around a jobsite and translating to different stakeholders takes time and is susceptible to human errors. With internet connected devices and wearable technology, those things can be reduced and you have far more quality data to work with.


In the future, not only will IoT devices be used on the construction site, but they’ll be used throughout the building operations to give us continued insights on how that building is performing. One of the most important aspects of a smart building is that it offers greater efficiency. With energy consumption being one of the biggest worries in buildings today. Smart buildings are designed in such a way that the energy gets utilised efficiently, regardless of the internal and external conditions.



5. Eco-conscious building materials


After water, concrete is the most widely used substance on the planet. But its benefits hide enormous dangers to the planet. If the cement industry were a country, it would be the third largest carbon dioxide emitter in the world with up to 2.8bn tonnes, exceeded only by China and the United States.


Keeping in mind the current climate crisis, it’s important the construction industry adopts and introduces more environmentally friendly materials. For example, cladding invented by German company, Elegant, is able to absorb pollution in cities. They believe their carbon-negative material made from atmospheric CO2, will soon be able to replace existing CO2-producing materials used in the construction industry.



The key takeaway for transforming the sector, as Matt Gough, Director of Innovation at Mace summarised during Construction Week, is for us all to keep our eyes on what's happening, collaborate and co-create, and get out there and make these conversations and improvements happen together.


The construction industry is already taking positive steps in the right direction to work more sustainably, improve safety, and enable better collaboration. As the construction sector develops and adapts to meet changing COVID government policies, and new ways of working it will be interesting to see which innovations and digital tools have the most impact.



At Sensat, we pride ourselves in being industry leaders in drone data and visualisation that's valuable throughout the different design and construction stages.


You can find a whole page dedicated to free educational case studies, webinars, reports and tutorials to help you plan, build and manage your projects, here.



Acknowledgements:


This piece was largely inspired by a host of excellent speakers from a virtual seminar during UK Construction Week 2020:


Matt Gough, Director of Innovation, Mace

Felipe Manzatuzzi, Director of Digitalisation, Skanska

Julie Alexander, Director of Technology and Innovation, Places for People

Sam Stacey, Challenge Director - Transforming Construction, UKRI

Cristina Savian, Managing Director, BE-WISE

Jaimie Johnston, Head of Global Systems, Bryden Wood

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