When the first model T came off Ford’s Detroit production line in 1908, its design and production method transformed the automotive industry, cutting the cost of motoring and making it accessible to everyone.
More than 100 years later, we are witnessing a revolution in design and manufacturing, which has widespread implications not just for the automotive industry, but also for the construction industry. Today, new processes and technologies have the potential to reduce costs and improve efficiency across an asset’s lifecycle. For the UK construction industry this is especially crucial as the government has mandated that costs must be reduced by 20% during the design and construction phases of a project and throughout the operation of a building , where up to 80% of its costs are generated.
Building information or BIM, which combines people, processes and technology, offers new ways to drive efficiency and improve performance. It provides clients and the end user with valuable, robust data, enabling them to test scenarios and make smarter decisions; making certain that buildings and infrastructure assets will perform as expected from day one. However, this is not all BIM has to offer. Recent developments such as asset tagging and intelligent 3d components are enabling facilities managers and operators to understand how fixtures and fittings are used and perform over their lifetime. This data allows them to benchmark the performance of items to determine which are the best/worst performers and then use this data to procure intelligently to reduce wastage and unnecessary costs.
During the construction phase, techniques such as off-site manufacturing - where panels and pods are prefabricated off site - are saving time and money on site, while also offering greater certainty and quality. BAM’s recent scheme, Somerstown Central Community hub in Portsmouth, is a great example of this process in action. Here, the frames for the hub’s iconic cylindrical form were delivered flat packed and pre-cut, complete with the holes for services in-situ, dramatically reducing the amount of fixing and cutting that needed to be carried out on site. In addition improvements to the assembly and erection process were achieved due to an off-site run-through before the frame got onto site, ensuring that construction went without a hitch and was completed in six weeks.
3D printing is another technology that is offering exciting possibilities for the construction industry. In China a Shanghai based firm has created a printer that prints houses. It uses a cement-based mixture made up of construction waste and glass fibre, to print pieces which can then easily fit together and be constructed on site. In a recent test, the company was able to create a total of ten single-story, 3D printed homes in under 24 hours. Aside from the construction phase, 3D printing has the potential to transform the way products are procured and repaired during an building’s operation. Building operators and facilities managers no longer need to order parts and wait for delivery; instead they can print replacement and new standard or customized items to meet their requirements, all from the comfort of their office. Even international development agencies are harnessing its potential, with Oxfam using it to build parts of taps, as well as replacing missing parts of British sanitation kits imported to the region.
However despite showing such great promise, the UK Construction industry has been slow to adopt these new approaches and technologies. With so much to gain I believe that we should be embracing these techniques and driving them forward, so that all building owners and users can enjoy the benefits of this new revolution.