Roundtable idea to ‘supercharge’ construction’s digital future

UK building professionals should ‘take a leaf out of motor racing’s book’ to advance their use of digital technology, an industry roundtable has concluded.

Participants in a recent Westminster Sustainable Business Forum (WSBF) event, sponsored by the British Board of Agrément, who got together to discuss ‘Construction’s Digital Future’, concluded that the industry ‘lagged behind’ others with similar levels of complexity in the uptake of digital technology.

“For example,” suggested the roundtable attendees, “the motor racing and aerospace sectors have widely embraced digital models and virtual testing because the costs, safety implications, and reputational impact, mean they have to. The construction industry should look to these sectors as a guide.”

Wendy Ajuwon, the BBA’s head of Marketing, said: “There is little doubt that digitalisation holds the key to helping solve many challenges for the construction industry. We are really keen to facilitate debate and push this agenda, not least because developing this technology for our industry can help deliver the Hackitt Report’s all-important ‘golden thread’ of quality building information.”

Speaking at the WSBF event, Andrew de Silva, a director at Andrew Miller Architects, said although there were many reasons for the limited uptake of digital technology, it was ‘primarily due to complexity’; projects operated on a variety of scales and required a range of skills and abilities across sectors. The situation, he contended, was further hampered by industry fragmentation and ‘competing priorities from different stakeholders with different procurement routes’.

“It’s important that the right data is given to the right people at the right time, and that’s a key element of the process,” said Andrew de Silva, who believes Building Information Modelling should be ‘at the core of businesses’, and not just an ‘added service’.

The roundtable, chaired by Housing, Communities and Local Government committee member, Teresa Pearce MP, discussed how embracing digital technology delivers secondary benefits including more efficient use of materials, better labour organisation, improved health and safety, waste reduction, and safer working environments.

The use of BIM – described as having a ‘multitude’ of indirect benefits for consumers – was discussed, as was the impact of the Government’s mandate for adoption of BIM Level 2 on public sector projects on accelerating the use of digital tools.  The participants said barriers to implementing BIM and other digital technologies included conflict between ‘cost and timescale-focused’ project delivery teams, and ‘quality and longevity-focused’ asset management teams, and ‘the reluctance of some building product manufacturers to recreate BIM information because it may compromise their Intellectual Property’.