Editor's Comment: The next 50 years of iC

11 September 2012

International Construction editor Chris Sleight.

International Construction editor Chris Sleight.

It was 50 years ago this month that the first issue of International Construction rolled off the printing presses, and a lot has changed in the industry in those five decades, which of course prompts the question of how the construction industry will look in 2062.

Before embarking on the dangerous sport of predicting the future, a quick look at some of the trends of the last 50 years. One of the first is how the culture of safety has changed in the industry. Look at some of the archive photos in this month's special feature (p 24 - 32) from the 1960s, 70s and even 80s and you will see construction workers in precarious positions, with little or no personal protective equipment, where one slip or misjudgement could have led to a fatal accident.

Thankfully that situation has changed in many countries around the world in the last 20 years or so, but there even in 'safe' countries there are too many serious and fatal accidents on construction sites. And then there are countries where there are no safety regulations, or they are not seriously enforced, where workers risk death and occupational injuries and illnesses because of the fact that they work in the construction industry.

If there is one trend that I hope will be seen over the coming 50 years, it is that safety in the industry around the world improves, and that developing countries learn from the techniques, best practices and culture of safety that has been developed elsewhere in the world.

Another striking trend over the last 50 years has been how technology influenced practices. As in many other industries, computers are now a key tool in the construction industry, from the design of buildings to helping to manage the on-site construction process. The advent of devices like smart phones and tablet computers, mean computing power is becoming more and more accessible, and that people are finding new ways to use computers to their advantage.

In a world where project deadlines are always tight and there is pressure on contractors to improve efficiency and productivity, there must surely be a role for the greater use of computer technology in the future.

But a barrier to this is the fragmentation of the industry and the wide variety of different software packages and platforms in use. There could be huge advantages if every piece of software used in the construction process could communicate with everything else - it could mean a more efficient construction programme, better management of materials, machinery and people and even improved safety.

Unfortunately the industry tends to work in isolated pockets. Just think what could be achieved if, say, an architect's CAD or BIM software could feed data directly to an equipment fleet manager and integrate with on-board machine telematics. Not only could this improve the design and construction process, but the greater transparency might help dissolve the adversarial culture that often holds the industry back.

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