Adapting to change: How Covid-19 is fast-tracking digital construction

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Matt Wiseman, divisional digital innovation manager at RMD Kwikform, highlights how, in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, digital engineering capabilities are set to become a key differentiator for contractors and engineers seeking efficiency gains, whilst helping the industry navigate disruptions and mitigate risks

Over the past year businesses in every industry have faced the unexpected challenges of a global pandemic. While some industries have thrived during these testing times, others have suffered trade restrictions, drastic drops in demand, and reduced availability of materials and workers. The construction industry is one sector that has been hit particularly hard by Covid-19, with the British Government putting a stop to construction in April 2020. Around 951,000 of the UK’s 2.3 million construction workers were furloughed, as lockdown forced them to down tools.

Although construction workers were able to return to work in May, the impact of the pandemic has continued to be felt, with projects facing supply chain issues, a halt in planning and inspection timetables, and a raft of new measures to ensure safety of the workforce. It is likely that sites across the UK will be subject to ongoing restrictions or limits, even post lockdown and vaccine rollout.

Nevertheless, although the past year has been one of the most challenging in recent memory, it has presented opportunities for the construction industry to not only survive the struggles it faces now and long into the future but to improve and overcome its historic barriers to change. The nature of the external pressures exerted by the global pandemic has meant the industry has been forced to adapt and work differently. Businesses have adopted remote working where possible and embraced new technology to help productivity and ensure work is carried out in accordance with evolving health and safety regulations.

A catalyst for change

For many in the industry, the pandemic has accelerated innovation. Long before Covid-19, many construction businesses’ processes, operations, and procedures were considered outdated, with the past year’s events further bringing this to light.

A recent McKinsey report has predicted big changes across the construction industry over the next decade, adding that the bulk of short and long-term pandemic-driven issues will be solved with technology. It reports that the mandate for change and technological adoption in construction has never been stronger, with the pandemic ‘only serving to provide additional urgency to the pre-existing productivity and data-visibility issues facing construction companies.’ And while contractors, architects, engineers, and suppliers have shifted to working and collaborating digitally over the past year, the Covid-19 crisis has also triggered a painful shakeout, with many contractors seeing ‘shrinking backlogs and more competitive bidding environments.’

The ways in which innovation and digital automation can help improve productivity, efficiency, and profitability in the sector are well-known. Technology like the integration of AI and BIM to modern methods of construction is not new, but the uptake has been slow. However, the pandemic has provided the necessary impetus for many to adopt alternatives to traditional practices and digitalisation is playing a key role in helping projects to get up and running again. Indeed, in PwC’s 23rd Annual Global CEO Survey last year, even before the disruption of Covid-19, 77% of engineering and construction CEOs were already planning for more 4IR operational efficiencies to drive growth. Today, digital engineering capabilities are set to become even more of a key differentiator for those seeking efficiency gains, while helping the industry navigate disruptions and mitigate risks.

The use of digital engineering tools in construction has several key benefits. These include:

  • Communication

Digital solutions in construction contribute to a more inclusive construction process where the flow of information is unhindered. Explaining project specifications to clients can be difficult if they are unable to visualise certain aspects of a project. The latest digital engineering tools offer realistic 3D visualisations of temporary works on a build, helping to break down any communication barriers and ensure transparency across the supply chain for any specified systems. This means any potential issues can be quickly raised and remedied by contractors.

  • Winning tenders

Digital technology not only helps to improve productivity and streamline decisions across the supply chain but can also play a crucial role in helping contractors win tenders. Early collaboration at the pre-tender stage can reap real rewards. By using digital engineering technology, recommendations on project structures and construction phases, not to mention the ability to identify any potential challenges, can be ascertained.

  • Tackling the skills shortage

In November, data from the Office of National Statistics revealed that redundancies during the pandemic had resulted in the lowest number of people employed in the construction sector since 2013. However, with projects up-and-running again with renewed vigour, it’s anticipated that more positions will become available in the coming months. Naturally, a construction sector that is innovative, collaborative, and forward-looking will make it more attractive to new entrants, and should be one that everyone throughout the supply chain in the industry should be striving for.

Embracing change

In response to evolving working practices in the industry, which have been further accelerated by the outbreak of Covid-19, leading international manufacturer and supplier of formwork, falsework, groundwork and safety systems, RMD Kwikform, has created LocusHUB; a ‘one-stop’ hub for all its digital innovations and resources. Available at locushub.rmdkwikform.com, it brings together all RMD Kwikform’s digital assets including apps, product videos, CAD resources and technical data.

Designed and developed to meet the changing needs of the construction industry, LocusHUB offers users an evolving library of digital tools to help optimise working processes and improve productivity levels. Tools on LocusHUB include LocusEye, RMD Kwikform’s innovative 3D visualisation software, which offers high-quality interactive 3D models of temporary work schemes. RMD Kwikform’s entire catalogue of material handling and guidance notes for its products is stored on LocusHUB, too.

It has become clear that now is the time for the construction industry to fully embrace new ways of working to help drive substantial operational improvements and maximise potential in the ‘new normal’. Those businesses willing and able to use technology well and transform how they work for the future, by fast-tracking digital transformation and optimising digital skills to become more efficient, will be sure to stay ahead of the competition – and the Covid-19 curve.

You can find out more about LocusHUB from RMD Kwikform here.

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