Shift in Construction Technology for a ‘post-Covid, pre-vaccine’ era

by Amy Butler, JB Associates

In 2017, McKinsey Global Institute slated construction for evolving at a ‘glacial pace’ due to its ranking as the least-digitised industry in Europe. While plenty of technological advances were pitted as ‘on the horizon’, many companies were reluctant to take the necessary steps to push forward with digitisation. Critics warned that a lack of innovation would lead to companies folding, although it took a global pandemic before this prophecy materialised and those without suitable digital infrastructure in place were shaken.

The pandemic is now considered a catalyst for industry improvement, propelling construction out of its ‘glacial’ evolution and deep into the digitised era. A recent study undertaken by Procore found that two thirds of the surveyed construction companies had rolled out new technology during the lockdown, with 94% of these seeing an improvement to productivity and teamwork. However, what exactly are these technologies and where do we go from here?

Smart Buildings

While we are all now experts in the world of Zoom and Microsoft Teams, the challenge lies in returning safely to offices and various other workspaces. With many UK companies pushing for their teams to be back in work physically, how do we ensure that commercial buildings remain safe? Smart Building technology is reshaping the workplace and ensuring safety as well as energy optimisation. Buildings with integrated BMS systems and IoT sensors were already an option before the pandemic. Now, they are a wise choice for business owners.

Essential for a post-Pandemic and pre-Vaccine era, IoT systems can control air quality and ventilation. High-performance air filters and moisture controls will now be key due to Covid-19’s airborne nature. OKTO Technologies (Smart Buildings specialists) have even launched an Artificial Intelligence-led air filtration solution that is reportedly so advanced it can eliminate 99.98% of SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes Covid-19) from the air in 10 minutes.

Similarly, density control counters and heat detection cameras can be incorporated into BMS systems to ensure that viruses are less likely to spread or enter into a facility. Airports have been trialling infrared cameras to measure body temperatures for a fever and several companies offer leases or installations for these cameras. While they are not a definitive medical diagnosis, they add a level of reassurance. This may be the aim of much of this technology; a form of due diligence in protecting staff.

BIM & VR

Technological advances are also prominent on site. Construction News reported that contractors employed for the Nightingale Hospital projects found huge value in Autodesk programs. A vital tool for tracking constant streams of updates in rapid working conditions, construction management software proved its worth in recognisably challenging projects across the UK.

As social distancing measures remain in place, it is imperative that technology is prioritised; virtual communication is still far safer than face-to-face. Software like BIM is also providing insights and tools to manage projects during a more challenging time. Even more impressively, companies are merging BIM models with the cloud, GPS and Virtual Reality software. This development means a ‘digital twin’ of a facility can be created and it opens a world of opportunities for Project Management and Design efficiency.

Remote working could even be a trend that stays long past pandemic precautions. Drones have been used previously to reduce safety hazards for technicians and now may be utilised in future remote inspections. Similarly, researchers at the University of Strathclyde have been given £35,000 in funding to create a remote inspection system. The 3D immersive building environment program aims to reduce risks by eradicating the need for Quantity Surveyors or Health and Safety Inspectors to be physically present on site.

Whether enabling remote working, improving the health and safety of commercial buildings or aiding on-site processes, technology has become a necessary tool for construction in the last 6 months. The companies that had embraced digitisation long before 2020 were undoubtedly the ones able to continue thriving in the tough lockdown period. The next step is for many companies is to streamline their management processes or workplace systems to ensure technology works for them as efficiently as possible. Breaking out of its inertia, construction’s ‘glacial evolution’ is firmly in the past and technological advances are here to stay.

This post was authored by Amy Butler of JB Associates – building consultancy specialists. The views expressed are those of the author.

BSRIA Members wishing to make a guest contribution to the BSRIA Blog should please contact marketing@bsria.co.uk

Servitisation, Smart Systems and Connectivity – What’s next for instrumentation?

There are many buzzwords associated with the multitude of new developments in today’s technological world, and the use of terms like Smart Instrumentation, The Internet of Things (IoT), Big Data, and Servitisation are becoming increasingly common. Whilst we may think that we are familiar with these descriptors there is sometimes a disconnect with what they mean to the industries where they apply.

BSRIA is uniquely placed to be at the forefront of the use and application of technological innovation especially within the building services industry. BSRIA’s vision is to be leaders for information, knowledge and improvement for the built environment; with an aim of ‘making buildings better’, so concepts such as the BSRIA Business-Focused Maintenance (BFM) methodology fit this remit and have become increasingly relevant as technology has advanced.

Today’s engineers can now use a wide variety of instrumentation that can be considered ‘smart’. However not all smart instruments are created equal and to be truly smart the monitoring data must be connected to the Internet of Things (IoT), generating data that is uploaded and analysed either by a human operative or a software application. This can be used in preventative maintenance planning, helping to move away from planned scheduled maintenance schedules which are often expensive and unreliable in identifying faults and potential failures. Some of the most widely used monitoring methods include ultrasonic flow meters, temperature monitors, humidity monitors, power meters and process emissions analysers. These instruments and others are indispensable tools for engineers, they provide a non-invasive, user-friendly and cost-effective solution to maintenance testing which can be used as part of a smart system of monitoring.

A smart IoT instrument must be linked to the internet through a hub or router. The continuing development of smart technology and the IoT in the instrumentation sector means that something called servitisation is becoming increasingly relevant in the way that today’s building services sector customer offerings are created and marketed.

The concept of servitisation was first discussed by Vandermerwe & Rada in their 1988 paper; ‘Servitisation of business: Adding value by adding services’, published in the European Management Journal. The Servitisation of products involves a strategy of adding value by adding services to products or even replacing a product with a service package. For example, supplying an HVAC system and adding various levels of service, additional features and product support. Customers can be offered a choice of options for a product ranging from supply of the basic physical parts of the system, right up to a complete turnkey solution including all support, monitoring, maintenance and repair. For instrumentation the basic physical unit can be supplied, with additional services including accessories, software, service & calibration and data management being sold as additional options. Data management services are a relatively recent addition to the instrumentation sector, this can include mobile apps, data portals, warehousing & storage and data processing.

The way that servitisation is offered to a customer can be business or even product specific, for example there could be an initial capital expense payment, or the entire cost could be fully included in a subscription or lease type agreement. This helps the customer to manage capital expenditure and the seller to manage their finances by making income streams more consistent and aiding cash flow management. However, it is important to supply products that add value to the performance or create cost savings for a customer, over-specification or ‘over-servitisation’ of smart systems can be pointless, expensive and can lead to loss of customer goodwill.

With the user-friendliness and wealth of applications for smart instruments, you don’t need to be an expert, employ a consultant or have large budgets to get the data you need. We work closely but independently with a wide range of equipment suppliers which means we can provide solutions to meet our customer’s specific needs. We can supply a wide range of smart instruments from entry level units up to state-of-the-art professional cameras and all at an affordable price.

We recognise our client’s needs are time critical and we have equipment available for hire and sale direct from stock or with short lead times. In processes where plant failure can cause down-time that can potentially cost millions of pounds in lost income it is imperative that critical building services must never be disrupted by failure. We pride ourselves on providing fit-for-purpose, user friendly and cost-effective equipment.

At a basic level, an IoT instrument takes a measurement, this data is uploaded to a processing system, the data is analysed and any potential risks or failures are highlighted – this can result in an automated system response (e.g. process change or shut down) and/or an alert to an engineer (email, text, etc.) to highlight the issue for action (e.g. schedule specific maintenance or equipment replacement). The data analysis process is key to effective system operation, it can use Big Data processes to highlight potential problems (i.e. using software to analyse very high volumes of data to identify patterns consistent with potential problems). Artificial Intelligence (AI) software is one of the most recent developments in building control and monitoring technology and is an ideal fit for smart systems, it has the potential to deal with huge volumes of data and identify problems more effectively than human or traditional digital algorithm analysis. AI is a relatively new field and advances in this area are likely to increase at pace over the coming years and impact all aspects of the sector.

The development of smart IoT instrument systems is also driving servitisation by moving the point of value from physical instruments towards the software and data handling. There are many ways in which the building services sector has opportunities to use big data to create value for the customer, including improved information security and enhance physical comfort to increase worker performance. These trends are discussed in detail in the BSRIA publication BG75/2018 Building Services Analytics.

IoT instruments can also be linked to or part of a Building Management System (BMS) and it also fits with the BSRIA Business-Focused Maintenance (BFM) methodology first published in 2004 and updated in 2016 (BFM Guide BG53/2016). BFM plant maintenance requirements can utilise smart instrumentational monitoring and data processing. An aim of BFM is to provide engineers with a methodology for utilising maintenance budgets more effectively, this aligns with the design of smart instrumentation systems and the creation of service offerings. Assets critical to the business are maintained, while other less critical assets are managed as well as possible within the available budget. By assessing and prioritising plant maintenance needs for risks and criticality to the business, engineers and managers can ensure their maintenance effort is resource efficient, focused, cost-effective and increase their resilience to engineering risk.

The way that BMS data is managed and processed is as important as the instrumentation itself, it must be generated and analysed in a format that can be used to create plans and actions that add value, generate efficiencies and create cost savings for the customer. Some of the first digital breakthroughs have been in predictive asset maintenance and real-time monitoring. Digital twin systems where a virtual model of a physical asset is created allow predictive analysis to be performed and can highlight potential failure points more effectively than routine planned monitoring work. However, focus must always be on the key aim of smart systems to simplify processes for the end user, systems should work for the user not the other way around, this applies to the instruments, their control systems and product support.

Technological developments are likely to continue increasing in pace in the coming years and this will impact everyone involved in the sector from operators to supply chain suppliers. BSRIA Instrument Solutions is ideally placed to provide its customers with the latest developments in smart instrumentation as it supplies product from a comprehensive range of leading suppliers. For further details of the Instrument Solutions equipment hire, sales and calibration capabilities visit www.bsria.co.uk/instruments or call our team on freephone 0800 254 5566 (UK only ) or +44 (0) 1344 459314.

%d bloggers like this: