The advantages of technology in engineering are being brought to the fore by the Covid-19 lockdown.
Across the country construction firms have adapted to the pandemic and subsequent lockdown, which has forced the industry to think on its feet. In the past, construction and engineering companies have implemented technology for the office-based side of construction, often neglecting sites themselves.
The pandemic has the potential to change this – and fast – as the industry discovers that with technology, remote site management is feasible. Remote site monitoring software company Sensat chief executive James Dean believes the growth of his company is proof that the construction and engineering sectors have been on the brink of a technology revolution for some time. He believes that solutions brought about during lockdown will now accelerate that revolution.
“It’s a forcing function on this industry, which didn’t really need to change before,” said Dean. “Suddenly things have had to change overnight. What are going to be the long term implications of that?
“If companies use these new technologies for 90 days and they become habits, it’s unlikely they’ll go back to the old way of working. So we could actually see a productivity boost of double digits in the course of the next year.”
Sensat’s value has risen from £0 to £47M in its three year lifespan, a growth that looks set to increase as the construction industry turns to technology during the coronavirus pandemic.
The company has made its remote working platform Mapp free for six months. Using Mapp, project teams can take snapshots of sites at the point of closing and monitor them remotely throughout lockdown. On the Barking Riverside Overground Extension project being carried out by a Morgan Sindall Volker Fitzpatrick JV this has already been done.
The use of artificial intelligence (AI) has also increased since lockdown. Vivacity Labs has been using its AI sensor network – which provides continuous streams of data on urban transport – to monitor the impact of Covid-19 on highways.
It showed that by 25 March, following lockdown, there had been a 60% reduction in traffic across the country. In Oxfordshire, data from the sensor network has also been processed to calculate whether social distancing rules are being followed by pedestrians – it has found that peak daily pedestrian interactions have fallen by 70%. This type of tracking technology is now being trialled as a means of keeping workers distanced and safe on site.
Construction management software firm Procore has identified a similar shift towards technology uptake during lockdown, according to its director of UK and Ireland Brandon Oliveri-O’Connor. “We were all waiting for a catalyst in this industry – the momentum was building,” he said. “There is going to be a time post-Covid – if it’s not happening already – where executives are looking each other in the eyes and saying, ‘How could we have better prepared for this? How can we ensure that we’re prepared for this in the future?’.”
Procore offers a platform that connects business applications and stores the information in one place, allowing companies to easily view important data and standardise operations. Using iPhones, Android devices or tablets, field communication – such as site diaries – can be logged and connected back to offices in a single platform.
Oliveri-O’Connor added the firms that have already used technology like this have found remote working relatively straightforward. He believes this makes the case for more remote working once lockdown restrictions are relaxed and the “new normal” is established.
Digital tools for public engagement are also proving their worth during the pandemic, with many councils and the Planning Inspectorate now in the process of setting up digital public consultations. Aecom has launched its own virtual public consultation tool to digitally showcase consultation materials, including videos, maps and plans.
“Much has happened in the past month – and those at the forefront of construction technology appreciate the gravity of the pandemic but also feel it could make the industry better,” said Aecom global lead for digital transformation Kevin Carlson.