Industry appeals for collaboration on Net Zero

Futureworx 2022 conference Session 1 Mark Lawton of Skanska, Mats Bredborg of Volvo, Jennifer Thompson from MachineMax, Holger 'Hopi' Pietzsch from Hexagon, Lara Young of Costain and Sam Mercer from Plantforce Rentals.  (L-R): Mark Lawton of Skanska, Mats Bredborg of Volvo, Jennifer Thompson from MachineMax, Holger ‘Hopi’ Pietzsch from Hexagon, Lara Young of Costain and Sam Mercer from Plantforce Rentals. (Photo: KHL)

Leading UK construction sector contractors, manufacturers, rental companies and technology firms have used the Futureworx 2022 showcase and conference to appeal for greater collaboration across the industry, to help drive the sector towards achieving Net Zero.

The Futureworx event, which took place in Peterborough last week, focused on the latest advances in technologies such as autonomy, the human-machine interface, AI and connectivity, and looked at how embracing these can help make construction more sustainable.

Expert speakers from National Highways, HS2, Plantforce Rentals, Volvo, Costain Group, Skanska and the Supply Chain Sustainability School delivered key information and practical insight on lowering carbon emissions, to an audience of senior professionals from companies operating in and around the construction industry.

Discussing how companies can go about reducing their carbon footprint, Costain’s Group Climate Change Director, Lara Young, told conference attendees that companies should start by focusing on what they can change and to focus on that before looking at other areas.

“There needs to be more industry consistency around; what we ask, what we’re focusing on, what we need to address first – so, yes there’s the electrification and the alternative types of low-emission plant where it’s available - and that’s a big part about how we can more efficiently use the machines... 

“I think I relate it to how we actually generally procure. Because it’s all very well and good saying well actually we want to reduce emissions, we want to achieve carbon reductions, but we can’t retrofit achieving Net Zero into how our current business models work.

“So fundamentally, continuing to procure the way we procure is not going to lead to Net Zero.”

Although Costain’s climate change action plan is based on “decades of data” and includes targets for biodiversity, natural capital and social value, as well as targets for lowering carbon emissions to Net Zero by 2035, Young said that as much as Costain would love to tackle all of climate change, three quarters of its sustainability targets relate to Scope 3 emissions.

“We fundamentally cannot achieve this [Net Zero] without our supply chain and clients coming to the party; with everyone working towards this,” she said.

Lara Young, Costain Global Climate Director Lara Young, Costain’s Group Climate Change Director. (Photo KHL)

Additionally, a point of consensus among the speakers was that whatever action is taken to lower carbon emissions, whether it be by contractors, OEMs or suppliers, these actions must be led by data, and be applied consistently, to have any kind of impact.

Technology knowledge gap

However, a major challenge for manufacturers and rental companies alike, is increasing the construction industry’s use of more environmentally friendly equipment and technology.

During a panel discussion, the conference speakers said that addressing the knowledge and skills gap around using the latest construction technologies, was essential to helping companies lower their carbon footprint.

Sam Mercer, COO of national equipment provider Plantforce Rentals, said, “There’s quite a big divide from the major projects to the Tier 2 and Tier 3 suppliers.”

He continued, “The way the technology’s advancing, if we don’t increase that knowledge share to the lower tier the gap for a new entrant - or an experienced person - is just actually going to get bigger and bigger. So we need to try and bring that up to speed.”

Mercer went on to explain that while technology, efficiency and carbon are at the forefront of what the industry is discussing, the reality is that “back in the office, we’ll win work on price.”

He added, the technology is put on it the equipment for a short period of time on a need-to-have basis, and once it’s not needed, were are asked to remove it because of the cost implications. 

Barriers to electric equipment uptake

When asked if price was the main barrier preventing construction sector companies from investing in new electric equipment, Mats Bredborg, Head of Customer Cluster Utility at Volvo Construction Equipment, said that it is not the only point of concern.

“The main thing is that we need to change, and change in the value chain is hard,” said Bredborg.

Mercer added, “The uptake for electric machines is absolutely minimal. We don’t have any success in that area at the moment because there is no behavioural change in running a site.”

He continued, “It takes more planning, more programming to actually be capable of doing that and what we [people] are trying to do now is use an electric machine but change none of our behaviours… But an electric machine can’t work nine hours a day - or work for five and idle for four. It can’t do that.”

“So, it needs that behavioural change now otherwise we’re just going to be sat idling, burning - whether that be hydrogen or battery electric fuel - we’re just going to be wasting as we are now. We need to get on top of that.”

About Futureworx 2022

Organised by CEE (Construction Equipment Events), the organiser of the Plantworx construction exhibition, Futureworx 2022 attracted senior professionals in and around the construction industry, bringing them together with suppliers and innovators to help map future construction targets and requirements.

In addition to showcasing what the construction site of the future will look like, Futureworx 2022 also highlighted the key challenges facing small and medium-sized construction sector companies, in the areas of immersive technologies and data.

Strong focus was placed on the people-plant interface, telematics, the connected site, safety systems and on the recent advances in autonomous equipment, and electric and hydrogen powered machinery.

Mark Lawton at Futureworx 2022 conference Mark Lawton, Head of Engineering, Surveying and GIS at Skanska, speaking at Futureworx 2022. (Photo: KHL)

This was highlighted by speaker Mark Lawton, Head of Engineering, Surveying and GIS at Skanska, who spoke about the development of semi-autonomous and autonomous equipment.

Lawton said that the industry had to understand that the project design data and information sent to machines - which includes hand-held devices such as smart phones as well as 50-tonne excavators - must be sent to them in a simple form that they could understand. 

Unique in the line-up of construction industry exhibitions and conferences, Futureworx 2022 was a focused event, designed for senior level professionals.

Its smaller size allowed attendees - such as company directors, managers, engineers, and other decision-makers - to have one-on-one contact with specialists from manufacturers, equipment rental providers and technology firms.

Attendees were able to have in-depth discussions about the key industry challenges and concerns, and to receive helpful information and advice.

Michael Plummer, Chief Global Marketing Officer, FuelActive, said, “We had a great show and a really good quality of visitors all day. I thought it was a more modern format than some of the traditional ‘mega shows’.”

Indeed, those attendees that signed up for the event’s VIP Preview Day were treated to a guided tour around the exhibitor showcase, during which they were introduced to the teams of exhibiting companies.

This provided them with the opportunity to arrange further discussions with specific exhibitors, that could help them address their business needs and concerns.

Dan Leaney, Sales and Operations Director at Xwatch Safety Solutions, said, “There was a lot of interest in our products, and we were particularly pleased with the interest National Highways showed in our laser curtain prototype.”

He added, “The audience consisted of senior management, decision-makers, and innovators. I can honestly say this was the best show I have ever attended to get in front of the influencers in our sector.”

Similarly, Anthony Shooter, Drone Chair at COMIT Projects, described the event as “a professional and enjoyable occasion expertly delivered by Plantworx”.

He said, “It was great to catch up with many innovative and dynamic companies and individuals. We made a host of new contacts - that share our group’s vision - on the stand.”

He continued, “I don’t want to ‘drone’ on - but it was a great event and I hope they run it again as it has the potential to be an important component in advancing technology in construction.”

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