In light of the prime minister’s announcement that his new government will “implement the biggest infrastructure revolution in living memory”, following the general election in December last year, 2020 is set to bring big changes to the UK’s construction and engineering sector.
So how will technology support and shape the changing sector over the coming months? Here are a few predictions.
Short acronyms will be big news
This year will see more emphasis placed on aggregating and analysing data. We’ll see increased focus on the practical use of the internet of things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML) and both virtual reality and augmented reality (VR/AR). As these innovations start to mature, they’ll find specific roles in the construction process and gain greater acceptance as a result.
“VR/AR gives clients the insight they need to become directly involved in the design of their projects”
Much of this change will be driven by a recognition of the benefits of the data captured and analysed through these innovations. Tech-savvy construction businesses will demand greater transparency, knowledge and collaboration from the construction process, to gain greater control over it.
We’re already seeing improved customer involvement in production processes through VR/AR, which gives clients the insight they need to become directly involved in the design of their projects.
AI will be a game changer in the industry, because of the widespread focus on improving productivity in a sector that continues to see intense competitive pressures. It will allow construction businesses to capture, analyse and share data from project to project in order to to mitigate risks, manage issues earlier and continually improve. Together with higher standardisation, AI will enable better insights into the construction process.
5G and “network slicing” will boost connectivity
In many markets 5G networks will already be in operation in 2020. As the technology matures, the industry will gain a broader understanding of its benefits.
The improved speed and scalability offered by 5G will help construction and engineering businesses in three ways:
- Enhanced mobile broadband providing high speed and capacity
- Mission critical operations providing low latency and high reliability
- Massive machine-type communications providing high scalability and geographic coverage
The introduction of 5G also brings the capability of “network slicing”: empowering communication service providers to offer a wide variety of service-level agreements allowing them to tailor connectivity services to the precise requirements of any given application, user, device or context.
This could lead to a multi-tiered prioritisation for construction processes, for example ensuring 5G capabilities are fully utilised on those processes requiring the greatest bandwidth, such as video, without hampering processes of critical importance to the safety and security of a project.
Back end systems will be digitally transformed
As government regulations tackle slow supplier payments, digital transformation of back end systems such as payment management will grow in importance.
Construction companies have witnessed a year of increasing penalties, criticism and collapses due to supply chain payment irregularities. This will be a catalyst for positive change in the industry that mitigates business risks, improves the health of supply chains and reduces the risk of reputational damage.
Automating the payments process could be the start of a greater digitisation of back end systems, as construction businesses look to achieve greater transparency, accurate record keeping and audit trails around payment practices.
Digital twins and BIM beyond design
For BIM methodology to evolve, standards will be fundamental. Wider adoption across the project supply chain nurtures higher productivity and creativity.
“We will see greater support for – and adoption of – non-proprietary openBIM across the sector”
That will only happen when it is open to everyone working on a project, rather than being controlled by one entity. It is about data, not only design.
To that end, we will see greater support for – and adoption of – non-proprietary openBIM across the sector. We’ll see more standard format classes, like industry foundation classes (IFC) and the BIM collaboration format (BCF) (a model-based, software-independent communication protocol) and the open CDE (common data environment) programming interface. This move will help to future-proof project data as well as encourage broader adoption of BIM methodologies from teams across a project.
In 2020, the industry will come together to solve core problems, breaking down the walls that exist today. Organisations such as buildingSMART International will help to facilitate this.
As BIM evolves, we’ll see more focus on building out real digital twins. There will be more emphasis on using cameras, sensors and other data-gathering technology to capture and visualise the construction site in real time, providing owners and general contractors with the most accurate representation of the project site they’ve ever had.
A year of breakthroughs
Overall, 2020 is looks to be an extremely interesting year for construction. It’s the year we’ll see groundbreaking technologies practically applied by companies and workforces, providing the opportunity for projects to be approached and conducted in new ways.
Burcin Kaplanoglu is executive director, innovation, at Oracle Construction and Engineering Solutions