While media sources far and wide are lamenting the devastating impact of the coronavirus pandemic on construction activity, there has been a silver lining in all this. After years of resisting change, the crisis has forced the industry to innovate and modernise in order to circumvent the challenges posed by the outbreak.
For example, the rapid construction of several ‘Nightingale’ hospitals across the UK demonstrated the incredible efficiency and potential of off-site modular construction techniques. We looked on, amazed, as London’s ExCel Exhibition Centre was transformed into a 20-acre hospital in just nine days. And we saw how, as construction sites reopened with strict social distancing measures in place, firms across the country adopted new technology in order to minimise physical interaction while maximising productivity and profit.
From crisis to breakthrough?
It often takes a crisis to bring about change. For example, World War I led to revolutionary breakthroughs in plastic surgery, allowing doctors to repair the devastating facial injuries caused by modern weaponry. Now, it appears that the coronavirus crisis has provided the impetus the construction industry needed to embrace the advancements and technology required to create lasting change.
For example, lockdown has ushered in the rise of virtual reality. Public engagement exhibitions for planning applications have been going ahead virtually, while developers and architects have embraced the use of CGI video technology to create hyper-realistic walkthroughs of new projects. Meanwhile, firms have also been making use of drone technology to assist with inspection-related construction tasks such as site surveys, hazard identification and progress monitoring, enabling those involved to maintain a safe social distance and reducing the necessity of travel and site visits.
Contech comes out on top
Construction technology, or ‘contech’ has been the clear winner of the COVID-19 outbreak, enabling workers to do their jobs safely and efficiently and forcing firms determined to ‘do things the way they’ve always been done’ to branch out and experience what modernisation has to offer.
For example, Israeli contech firm Genda Tech has released an app allowing site managers to monitor workers using tracking beacons that identify when workers are less than six feet apart. If a worker falls ill, the app facilitates contact tracing by identifying workers who were in close contact with the sufferer. Workers are also obliged to fill in a questionnaire on the app when they arrive on site, and sent home if they are displaying symptoms of the disease.
Adapt or collapse
Contech is by no means a new phenomenon, but the construction industry has typically been reluctant to embrace change. Now, with an economic downturn and complete shift in working practices to contend with, accepting innovation could mean the difference between survival and collapse. A McKinsey report recently found that the companies that came out of the 2008 crisis intact invested heavily in digital technologies, rapidly reallocated resources and made bold moves to increase productivity – and now is no different.
Digitisation across the entire workflow
Looking to the future, we don’t expect only to see the widespread adoption of modern methods of construction, but also increased uptake of digital tools for workflow management and resource allocation, apps that monitor and support employees’ mental wellbeing, drone technology to facilitate remote inspections, building information modelling (BIM) tools to assist designers and engineers… the list goes on and on. In these uncertain times, nobody can predict the future – but if we can be sure of one thing, it’s that contech will be a big part of it.