It’s no secret that the construction industry has been slow with the uptake of technology.
Whilst we have seen some technologies gain ground in recent years, such as factory automation, BIM and LiDAR scanning, Building Control itself has remained virtually unchanged.
This is in part due to the Building Control Performance Standards 2017 (written pre-covid) that advised that remote inspection techniques such as the use of photographs, video or other remote media should not be relied upon as a complete alternative method of ascertaining the compliance of work on site. However, Covid-19 certainly acted as a catalyst and transported us into a world where technology was everything. Every industry had to adapt and fast – including Building Control. Although Building Control and the construction industry as a whole heavily rely on having people on the ground, it was quickly discovered that actually a lot of what we do can be done through the use of technology. Virtual site visits by video as well as Zoom or Teams meetings with clients meant less time on the road, reduced admin and increased productivity.
In fact, PCB Today’s recent research with the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) found that Covid-19 has accelerated digital transformation in the construction industry by nearly three years. From this, we expect the Building Control Performance Standards 2017 to be updated in the future to reﬂect current practices better. This will allow us to look to the future at the role that technology could play in the industry.
Can technology help with labour shortages?
The skills shortage has been a hot topic of conversation in the industry for years now, yet there doesn’t seem to be much improvement. Could technology be the answer to all our problems?
There are currently more than 45,000 construction vacancies* nearly double the level that they were pre-pandemic, in 2019, and no sign of the pressure easing due to BREXIT, COVID and an ever ageing workforce (*Source: www.crewitresourcing.com/
It begs the question, will these vacancies end up being ﬁlled with technology such as robots? But importantly, what do the future skills required look like?
How can technology help Building Control?
Plan Stage – The digital management of data
BIM4Regs was a government initiative that aimed to incorporate Building Regulations, planning and health and safety requirements into BIM models. The intention was that building regulatory information would be embedded within BIM software so that the system will automatically check regulations against the designs. The system could instantly advise design consultants such as architects and engineers if the designs comply with the regulations.
However, to be effective, Regulations need to be written in binary terms – works either comply or don’t comply, there would be no scope for professional interpretation. The current view is that approximately one-third of the relevant regulations could be incorporated into BIM software easily (Source: www.lexology.com
BIM4Regs has been talked about since 2013, and we are very interested to see its development and how this could change the future of Building Control. Perhaps automated code checking could be used as the first step in the application process, and where areas are outside of the artificial intelligence parameters, only then would qualified inspectors be required to pass judgement.
In addition, this year will see one of the biggest changes in building regulations for decades with the introduction of the Golden Thread, which will be a collaborative, digitised information system. The Government is expected to publish guidance and standards for the digital requirements of The Golden Thread, including what information needs to be stored.
For now, we know that it must be stored digitally, and we need to change the way we use technology on a daily basis.
Read more about the Golden Thread in last month’s article.
Site Stage – Innovative Technology
In recent years, we have also started hearing of the use of innovative technology in construction, such as robots/drones, augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR). We are at the very early stages of some of this technology, but this could completely transform the construction industry from what we know today.
These technologies are helping in project planning, quality control, site safety, reduction of errors, and so much more. This focus is worthy of its own article due to the complexities and advances…so watch this space!
Having human interaction in Building Control will always be important, and we are aware that there are some limitations to relying on technology for Building Control inspections for example, physical drain tests cannot be done, and some remote areas might have limited network coverage. However, having some extra help from technology could help us to save a lot of time, expenses, and carbon emissions created due to onsite visits. Some examples of how technology could aid Building Control include:
- Drones can be used to inspect high-rise, and difficult to reach parts of commercial and residential buildings, even when the scaffold has been taken down.
- Augmented reality glasses can help Inspectors visualise the building through immersive walk-through experiences and identify any potential compliance issues; much more detailed and accurate than drawings!
- VR can also help improve the overall construction management of a project, which reduces the risk of compliance issues and poor building design.
The introduction of ‘Robo Dog’?
There is no doubt that technology will have a massive impact on the future of the construction industry. We are very interested to see where these technologies will take us.
Maybe in 10, 20 or 50 years from now, we might be out of a job, and future building inspections will be taken over by ‘Robo Dogs’ like those produced by Boston Dynamics. This is not some post-apocalyptic science fiction plot as a prototype was unveiled in September 2021. Its integrated thermal camera and 3D LiDAR system can help detect nearby people, monitor fire hazards, and recognise open and closed doors.
At the very least, our roles and the skills required will look very different, so it’s important to embrace the beneﬁts of technology and not shy away from them!
We will be giving regular updates on the use of technology in the construction industry. Subscribe to our newsletter now to stay up to date.