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

Think in £s not kWhs and Start Reaping the Rewards

Steve Browning is Marketing Manager of Trend Controls, a BSRIA member company

Steve Browning is Marketing Manager of Trend Controls, a BSRIA member company

Often considered an unwelcome expense, the truth is that investing in energy saving initiatives offers significant financial benefits, as well as enhancing an organisation’s environmental credentials. I’m Steve Browning, marketing manager of Trend Control Systems and in this blog I will explain how a Building Energy Management System (BEMS) can increase the bottom line.

Although better energy management and the need to reduce carbon emissions are both moving to the forefront of the corporate agenda, they are doing so far too slowly. Rising prices, combined with the increasing scarcity of resources and a growing raft of environmental legislation, means that addressing the issue of how energy is used is no longer just an option, but something that requires serious attention by all businesses.

To put the issue into perspective, the long-term framework outlined by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) sets out plans for achieving the reductions stated in the Climate Change Act 2008. When compared to 1990 levels, this equates to a reduction of at least 34 per cent by 2020 and at least 80 per cent by 2050. As they are responsible for 17 per cent of the UK’s carbon emissions, the nation’s 1.8 million non-domestic buildings are at the very heart of meeting this challenge.

The government is also ramping up the pressure to comply. In addition to the CRC Energy Efficiency Scheme, the Climate Change Levy (CCL), Air Conditioning Assessments, Display Energy Certificates (DECs) and Energy Performance Certificates (EPCs), earlier this year the Energy Savings Opportunity Scheme (ESOS) was introduced to address the requirements laid out in Article 8 of the European Union (EU) Energy Efficiency Directive.

It means that ‘large enterprises’ employing 250 or more staff, or that have an annual turnover of in excess of around £42m and an annual balance sheet total of around £36m, must complete regular energy audits. The first must be undertaken by 5th December 2015, and then at least every four years.

The government hopes that ESOS will drive the take-up of energy efficiency measures amongst businesses, enhancing their competitiveness and contributing to the wider growth agenda. Furthermore, for organisations wishing to comply with increasingly popular international standards such as ISO 50001, a certified energy management system (EnMS) must be in place.

It is therefore a constant source of bemusement and irritation to me that some organisations aren’t making the obvious correlation between investing in technology that can reduce energy use and saving money. By failing to ensure that energy is being used as well as it could be they are, quite literally, paying the price.

One reason for this could be that for energy bills are often low compared to items such as wages, research and development, and property rental. However, companies must consider other issues such as brand reputation, employee expectations and competitive positioning, while customers expect them to play an active role in reducing the carbon footprint of their operations and products.

Even more frustrating is that in many circumstances it doesn’t even involve a vast capital outlay on new technology – for example, by simply maximising the potential of an existing BEMS energy savings of 10-20 per cent are easily achievable. This could equate to a 0.1-0.4 per cent saving on a company’s total cost base, instantly increasing profitability.

When a BEMS is first commissioned it is configured around an existing building layout and occupancy patterns. These can change over time and incorrectly configured time clocks and setpoints, new layouts, and repartitioning can all lead to poor control and energy wastage.

Failure to maintain a BEMS on an ongoing basis will result in degradation of the building’s energy performance. In order to rectify this, it is advisable to undertake an audit that ascertains what can be achieved and identify any energy saving opportunities. While items such as boilers, chillers, air conditioning, and pumps can be checked to make sure they are working correctly, any maintenance issues to do with the BEMS itself or the building services equipment use can also be addressed.

BEMS providers will be able to offer expert advice on how to enhance the operation of plant by installing items such as variable speed drives. The investment can pay for itself in a matter of months – for instance a centrifugal pump or fan running at 80 per cent speed consumes only half of the energy compared to one running at full speed.

It is critical to achieve stakeholder buy-in for any business enhancement programme and by using a standard Internet browser, software based packages are available that act as a window to a BEMS. It is also possible to access utility meter readings from a BEMS and present a continually updated record of a building’s energy consumption and carbon emissions – showing employees and visitors whether they are on, below or above performance targets.

Hopefully, I have demonstrated that reducing carbon emissions and lowering energy expenditure are closely linked. The savings that can be made through the use of a correctly specified and maintained BEMS are considerable and will help achieve compliance with environmental legislation. My advice is to take action before it is no longer a choice!Trend_RGB SMALL

For further information please call Trend Marketing on 01403 211888 or email marketing@trendcontrols.com. Trend are the main sponsors of this year’s BSRIA Briefing – Smarter ways to better buildings.

You can read more BSRIA blogs about BEMS here.  BSRIA’s WMI team also produce a BEMS market report –Building Energy Management Systems (BEMS) in Europe and the USA – which is available to buy from the BSRIA website. 

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