The Future of Construction Plant Hire


Kevin Minton, Director of The Construction Plant Hire Association provides the highlights of their 2015 conference…

The Construction Plant-hire Association’s 2015 conference was a huge success, with record numbers of delegates attending to hear a wide range of speakers from a broad spectrum of industry sectors. Welcoming visitors to the event, CPA director Kevin Minton outlined the importance to the UK of the construction plant industry, which currently has a capital value of more than £2bn.

Introducing this year’s main topic – The Future of Construction Plant Hire – he added that the plant and equipment business makes a £4bn contribution to the UK economy and it remains a catalyst for economic growth. “However, the industry cannot afford to be complacent,” said Mr Minton. “The industry needs to look to the future.” 

Highlights of the conference 

Intelligent Machines – Martin Frank, Research Engineer at Volvo Construction Equipment:

Much has been said about the rise of intelligent machinery, where automation or autonomous operation has been designed to aid operators and improve on-site performance and efficiency. Volvo has taken a step back from this however, to examine the benefits of automation and to assess exactly what its customers require. Working with colleges and universities to gain a fresh perspective on machine operation, the company has asked customers exactly how operator assistance could benefit their individual jobsites and to look at need driven design.

Manufacturers gather data from a host of machine components, sub-systems and sensors, to build a comprehensive picture of machine operation. By combining this with site and fleet information, it is possible to provide communication between multiple machines on site. While Volvo has been trialling futuristic equipment, including autonomous wheeled loaders, there are benefits to be had from much less forward-looking technology. This includes systems such as Smart View 360° cameras, to give the operator a view all around the machine for safer operation.

However, he said that it is vital that the operator trusts both the benefits and the actual operation of the automation. He also claimed that operators will need to adapt to new ways of working, trusting intelligent functions to carry out some of the tasks.

Supply Chain Capacity and Capability – Phil Ellis, Leader of the Capacity & Capability Project at Highways England:

New technology is all well and good of course, but if we don’t have the people and equipment to meet future demand, we risk missing much of its potential. Keen to ensure that the required workers and machines are available when they are needed, Highways England (HE) has invested more than £1m on a project to assess both its own demands on the sector over the next five years, and the industry’s ability to meet those requirements. Mr Ellis said that Highways England currently has an annual spend of £1.3bn, but is planning to get to around £3bn a year.

However, he warned that the industry has lost more than 400,000 people since 2007 and will need to recruit around 1.1m new workers by 2020.

As part of HE’s research it has produced a demand model to forecast the volume of plant that it will need over the next 5-10 years. It is also doing spatial modelling, to see where those projects are and how they might be brought together with other major infrastructure projects in the UK, working with the likes of Network Rail to develop a total transport sector solution.

“What is the capacity of stone production in the UK? How many pavers are there available? That is the type of research that we have been doing,” said Mr Ellis.

Unsurprisingly HE has discovered that there are as many concerns relating to people as there are to actual machinery, though surprisingly Mr Ellis said that the biggest skills shortage is at supervisor level rather than other operatives. That said, he believes that the industry needs to bring around 1,000 new apprentices a year into the road plant sector, whilst at present the UK road plant industry takes on around 250 youngsters each year.

It is therefore putting plans in place to run a national advertising campaign, potentially spending £5-7m a year for the next three years, to boost awareness of construction career paths.

“We want to develop a highways sector training organisation,” said Mr Ellis. “Plus we want to be a lot more transparent when communicating demand to the industry.

Plant, BIM and CDM 2015 – Gordon Crick of the HSE:

One way to improve safety on site is to remove risk at the design and planning stage. This is where Business Information Modelling (BIM) can really make a difference, as 3D and 4D modelling (where the timeline is added as a fourth dimension) can contribute to a safe build.

“The benefit of 3D modelling is foreseeable risk,” said Mr Crick. “And we think that 4D models have huge safety benefits. 4D equals constructability, a powerful way of incorporating buildability. We do feel that BIM is a really powerful tool for the future, but we want to see it extended.”

The Future of Construction – Sam Stacey, Head of Innovation at Skanska UK:

“Radical changes are going to come in delivery of the built environment,” said Mr Stacey. “I feel that we are at a tipping point now, but we must adapt to what is coming.”

As a cutting edge contractor, Skanska is working on a range of projects, with the likes of ABB to develop robotics for construction, using Oculus Rift virtual reality glasses to show clients how the project will progress and incorporating RFID technology to provide monitoring on site.

One of the biggest potential developments for the contractor comes from what it calls flying factories. While the benefits of off-site construction are well known, transportation costs from production facilities can make them expensive. Skanska has therefore developed temporary pop-up factories, that can be established a short distance from the site.

“We’ve come up with a method called flying factories. Once you get things off site you can start looking at automation,” said Mr Stacey.

New technologies include using robots to make reinforcing cage structures, looking at the automation of piling rigs and using drones to survey structures.

Skanska is also working with Loughborough University, Foster & Partners, Lafarge, ABB and others to develop 3D concrete printing. This allows the contractor to create difficult shapes and structures in concrete by printing the design.

“We’re pretty confident that facades will be a big thing, though in small quantities,” said Mr Stacey. “I think there will be a combination of printing on site and in the factory. It’s going to be quite a mission to get consistency across the industry, but this will all help to attract young people into our industry.”

Kevin Minton


Construction Plant Hire Association

Tel: 020 7796 3366


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