Despite the many challenges the Construction industry is facing, 2022 is set to be a transformative year for the construction sector, with an acceleration of the use of modern methods of construction and digitisation to meet ambitious, but very real, targets for housing and sustainability.
Many factors have influenced this move, besides the need to meet housing and sustainability targets; namely government investment in innovation, the demand from indigenous and multi-national employers for smart-tech and climate-friendly initiatives in their buildings and, indeed, the need to attract a young tech-savvy workforce into the sector.
Five game-changer technologies that will lead the way in turning the dial in the construction sector in the years ahead:
1. Offsite Construction
Modular construction – construction modules that are constructed in a factory and assembled on-site – has been around for years. The difference now however is that modular construction can be the answer to delivering retrofitting targets.
In Ireland modular construction is already being prioritised by local authorities and housing bodies, as well as some private investors, but one of the key reasons why modular housing is making this list is that several Irish contractors have developed fabrication facilities to manufacture modular elements, which until very recently could only be sourced from abroad. This will enable faster and cheaper production as we scale up and standardise design. With much of the work done upfront in design and manufacture, less time and fewer trades on site, the recently published CIF MMC report predicts a 45% reduction in material use and 50% reduction in waste generation.
In the UK and The Netherlands, councils are using modular construction to retrofit old, cold and badly insulated local authority housing by wrapping buildings in prefabricated, insulated walls, fitting solar panelled roofs and installing heat pumps. Individual houses are being ‘wrapped’ in as little as 10 days.
2. BIM (Building Information Modelling)
Building Information Modelling (BIM) facilitates digital walk-throughs of plans and collaboration between all trades. It has been around for years, but adoption is ad hoc. In the UK it is a mandatory tool for public contracts and there is now government and Enterprise Ireland support for it here, with the BIM Innovation Capability Programme for Ireland tasked with widening its use in Ireland.
Once it becomes a requirement in Ireland, it will not only provide greater visibility but will naturally lead to greater collaboration and unity of processes within the construction industry. BIM levels 2 and 3 are currently used, but the possibilities are great with 4D and 5D BIM, which incorporate programme information and real time costing within the BIM drawing models and allow programmers to show, on a computer, how a project will be built over time and the cost implications of design revisions. This allows better insights into the programme and site layout issues ahead of time, again preventing delays and increasing accuracy.
3. Camera Technology
Camera Technology is being used in several different ways, including Augmented Reality (AR), drones, camera-mounted hard hats and fixed cameras on site, all with the aim of capturing live information and comparing as-built construction against the digital design and agreed programme. This then feeds back to project software, updating live project dashboards and flagging any issues in real time.
The ability to carry out remote inspections with cameras and drones was invaluable during lockdown. Going forward, it gives greater flexibility in working practices and leads to faster detection of errors and discrepancies between the design and the build, which speeds up the QA/QC process.
For example, AR, which operates via a hard-hat with flip up visor and phone app, enables instant decision making and, as with all these camera technologies, includes image storage, creating a single source of truth which should lead to faster resolution and ultimately, fewer disputes between designers and contractors.
4. Smart Buildings Technology
Most people are familiar with smart tech in their own homes for central heating or lighting control, but for large commercial and residential buildings smart technology is also used to monitor building occupancy and usage.
Data from Wi-Fi and Bluetooth sensors is fed into a building information system, which gives much greater clarity of the costs involved in running a building up front and over the life of the building, making the building more cost effective and efficient to run. Very soon it will be the norm for most buildings as it ticks all of the efficiency, visibility, adaptability and sustainability boxes.
5. Carbon Calculating Software
Carbon Calculating Software is an important technology for the construction industry given Ireland’s commitments to addressing climate change. As the construction industry accounts for about 38% of all carbon emissions into the atmosphere, mainly due to the use of concrete, research into ways to monitor and reduce carbon emissions has been accelerated and the rush is on to design buildings with an embodied carbon reduction strategy in mind.
Carbon calculating software measures the embodied carbon impact and material efficiency of a building before its built. These measurements are not just for the build phase but the lifetime of the building. The data from these assessments allows those involved in the design stage to make design and materials choices from an informed position. The software is relatively simple to use and is increasingly used by architects, designers and consultants across the industry.