The UK seems to be in the lead for construction technology, a conference in London heard recently.
The Construction Productivity Forum (CPF) – organised by the UK’s Construction Equipment Association (CEA) and trade show Plantworx – heard Sam Stacey, head of innovation at Skanska, make the claim while presenting a major contractor’s perspective on driving productivity in construction.
He said the drivers the drivers of productivity were investment, innovation, skills, enterprise and competition.
At Skanska, he said, the company used flying factories, which means offsite manufacturing and industrialisation of construction projects using temporary and flexible factories.
“Offsite fabrication means low overheads and low transport costs,” he said.
Keynote speaker at the conference was Lord Adonis, chair of the National Infrastructure Commission – a body set up by the UK government last year to look at the country’s needs for nationally significant infrastructure – and also chair of Crossrail 2, the north-south version of the London, UK, rail network expansion project which is currently being developed.
Lord Adonis said his message was one of optimism, and that planning of major projects was now better than it had been.
For the UK, the HS2 high-speed rail line joining London and the north of England would, he said, be the biggest project over the next few years. He said construction would start next year, with the line to Birmingham expected to be completed in 2026, and the Manchester and Leeds branch in 2033.
He stressed how significant HS2 would be, pointing out that it would be the UK’s most expensive project of its type ever – after HS1, the Channel Tunnel rail link.
Paul Nash, director of Turner & Townsend Project Management and who has just been appointed president of the Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB), told the conference that there was a need to measure productivity of construction more effectively.
He said that the construction output figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) were concerned only with the assembly part of the process.
“It doesn’t include design services, project management and so on,” he said. “We are already talking to the ONS.”
David O’Neil, head of supply chain management at Highways England, also spoke at the CPF conference. Highways England was formerly the Highways Agency, and became a government company in April 2015. It is charged with operating, maintaining and improving England’s motorways and major A roads.
O’Neil said the agency’s supply chain strategy set out how Highways England and highway suppliers would work together, “aligning around clear and transparent shared objectives, engaging on structures (contracts/environment) to deliver performance and improvement, and committing to develop and deliver the capability and capacity”.
He said, “We will change the way we work with highway suppliers moving from managed contracts to developing more efficient peer to peer relationships where value can be added.”
Paul Gudonis, vice president sales, Enterprise, Inmarsat – a mobile satellite communications firm – discussed creating a connected construction site. He said this included email, voice, internet and VPN (virtual private network) to remote files. He said this meant any app that could be run from a desk at headquarters.
This, he said, could lead to “zero unpredicted downtime, predictive maintenance and site security and monitoring”.
He added, “Inmarsat runs a programme to explore how business efficiency can be unlocked through the adoption of our technology. Hand in hand with the customer, we define their communications challenge and propose innovative solutions.”