#Innovation in the #construction industry #BIM #longread

Introduction

This blog investigates the concept of innovation within the construction industry, and how the professionals respond to standards, and what future innovations may arise over the coming years for the construction industry.  A definition of innovation will be explored, as well as some of the wider industry issues that affect the implementation of innovation.  Further to this future innovation solutions will be explored at and organisational as well as project level, with support from innovation reports to identify areas of opportunity for the construction industry.

Innovation context

From a review of the available literature on construction and its relationship to innovation it is clear that there is a large amount of reports, journals and articles discussing how the construction industry can better harness innovation for future development and increased productivity.  It is appears clear that the failure to adequately adopt innovation in construction over time is represented by the prevalence of this literature, and this would also suggest that a simple solution has not been discovered.  The importance of innovation within the construction industry is represented by the “Innovative Technologies for Buildings” research that confirms that the construction industry is Europe’s largest employer, as well a major source of export revenue and, importantly, affects the quality of life for residents (Innovative technologies for buildings, 2009, p. 4).  Crucially the effects of climate change and population growth represent clear threats for the future for buildings and infrastructure to respond to, and therefore more effort is required to ameliorate the concern that innovation is lacking as new ideas will provide solutions to these issues.

The Chartered Institute of Builders (CIOB) has presented research that illustrates the variety of innovation drivers that individual institutions believe are of importance.  At the top of this list is the ambition to enact greater cost efficiencies, meet sustainable criteria and interestingly meet client needs, see Fig. 1.

12-image-1

Fig. 1 (Innovation in Construction: Ideas are the currency of the future, 2007, p. 10)

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Fig. 2 (Innovation in Construction: Ideas are the currency of the future, 2007, p. 10, p. 13)

It can also been seen in Fig. 2 that encouragement of innovation is perceived to come from grants and government schemes, both representing the importance of a client led innovation strategy, illustrating the industries capacity to develop innovative ideas are limited.  An additional report to supplement the focus on innovation from a client drive perspective is the Construction 2025 Report (Construction 2025, 2013) which proposes the Government ambition is to have a “UK industry that leads the world in research and innovation, transformed by digital design, advanced materials and new technologies, fully embracing the transition to a digital economy and the rise of smart construction” (Construction 2025, 2013, p.18).  The recognition of the UK Government role in this report suggests that leadership is key to promote change and adoption of innovation.  These ambitious, although loose targets, represent a belief that innovation will support future demand and the UK should be at the forefront of this.  However the same report also identifies that there is a historic low level of innovation with investment and R&D in the UK, suggesting that lack of collaboration as an issue to this (Construction 2025, 2013, p.23).  Five areas are seen as barriers to innovation which include; the nature of procurement limiting collaboration, confidence from companies in relation to financial reward is low, funding for innovation is difficult, an inability to learn from successes for future projects, and academic and research organisations involvement is not consistent (Construction 2025, 2013, p.61).  These areas represent a critical examination of the construction industry that is fragmented and therefore is struggling to promote innovation.

Ideas that have been suggested to promote innovation include Aguiar Costa and Grilo (2014) who have proposed that e-procurement should be considered a future area for innovation construction that uses Building Information Modelling (BIM) to support the procurement process.  This will include greater integration and quality of information across different processes and look for greater life-cycle integration.  They contend that this may reduce the “negative effects of fragmentation of the construction project life-cycle” (2014, p. 1). Their results conclude that e-procurement could be improved by stimulating collaboration and enabling the management of the supply chain which will counter the traditional procurement methods that currently exist.  Crucially Aguiar Costa and Grilo (2014) argue that e-procurement could reduce time and effort for managing projects.  They identify some challenges which include the time required to set up a project and also the management of this, however further research and testing would be required, with relatively new forms of partnering contract such as PPC 2000, NEC and Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) potentially represent an opportunity that could incorporate some level of e-procurement. Also understanding of the process would need to be improved across all the parties particularly the client who will need to understand the ambitions behind such a process.

Park, Nepal and Dulaimi (2004) in an early paper discuss how innovation is “complex and dynamic” (2014, p. 170) when managing tasks, in contrast to traditional ways of working. A proposal for Park and Nepal is the use of champions on a project and in particular the Project Manager (PM) as an individual should promote innovation on a project.  Park, Nepal and Dulaimi found that “it is not the availability of ideas that hinders innovation in construction, but rather the decision to use them or the environment that influences them” (2004, p. 172).  They also propose that innovation should be used to overcome problems and be used to increase performance.  This would concur with Costa and Grilo as the correct client environment is required to be ‘allowed’ for innovation to develop.  The approach from Park, Nepal and Dulaimi (2014) may align with the idea of a BIM Manager who can support innovation adoption within the delivery of a project as they could be central to delivery and have a role that links to all members of a project. The skills required to be demonstrated would include “innovativeness, a cognitive style that is any individual’s propensity to innovate and thus represents a PM’s preferred style of problem solving and decision making” (2014, p. 172).  It would appear that this could equally be applied across the team but in particular to the project lead or BIM Manager.

Yu et al. (2012, p. 87) discuss that radical innovations in construction technology have been prevented from developing which has caused current issues, such as attempting to increase the sustainability of a building, to be undeveloped. They propose the use of automated generation of technology and solutions, such as automated function modelling with text mining to propose solutions to problems in an automated fashion. This may result in faster delivery times as well as solutions which may not have been considered.  However, the testing and development of this on larger scale projects is yet to be delivered and would require significant investment.

Of most interest within the research was a report by Loosemore and Richard (2014, p.38) who consider the value of innovation within construction and infrastructure and find valuable results.  Client leadership is proposed as fundamental for innovation success, however too often clients poorly equipped to drive this and choose the lowest price as the overriding decision making factor and require greater tools and insights during the decision making process to allow for better outcomes.  They propose that an integrated project strategy that is flexible and does not restrict other options should be used (Loosemore and Richard, 2014, p. 38).  Also the concept of allowing time for innovation as well as procurement system that “encourages collaboration, early involvement and which distributes risk and opportunity” (Loosemore and Richard, 2014, p. 38) should be implemented.

Loosemore and Richard (2014) identify key future construction industry issues of increasing population and historical infrastructure neglect as key areas will effect a construction industry which is not presently efficient and where productivity over time has not increased (2014). They identify that a government plays a part in reform and this proposal can be linked in the UK to the Construction Strategy (Cabinet Office, 2011) which has supported the adoption of BIM process as a way to increase innovation.  Loosemore and Richard explain that a focus on client’s skill and ability is required to be developed and believe that this will be more effective at driving innovation on projects. They conclude that a generalised view is not helpful, however large repeat clients are better placed to drive innovation based on the research.

The Chartered Institute of Builders have published their proposals for driving innovation which include;

  • Increase the communication of innovation through knowledge sharing,
  • develop existing technology for wider application,
  • the development of a web based forum to develop and share ideas,
  • the promotion of tax credits within the industry for innovation development,
  • increase education
  • lifelong learning and training.

These they believe will lead to greater efficiencies and an increase in productivity (Innovation in Construction: Ideas are the currency of the future, 2007, p. 19).  Again supporting the concept of a strong client and/or governmental role in supporting the correct environment for innovation to grow.

Innovation in the future

It has been seen that larger organisational and government driven initiatives are required to promote greater innovation, but there also the small scale, ‘day to day’ innovations that could benefit projects at an individual level.  For example a recent article identified simple proposals for future innovation on construction sites which included;

  • Wearable Smart Sensors
  • Tool Tracking
  • Drones
  • Tablets and Wi-Fi
  • Mobile Apps

(Groff, 2015)

These efforts can from the bottom up drive improvements on construction sites looking at issues of productivity, health and safety and recording of information to ensure that projects develop and are completed closer to timescales than traditionally.

Conclusions

This journal question has raised the issue of innovation and how the construction industry at a structural level is not progressing as well as at an individual level, in the response to standards, and how to ensure that the aims of BIM adoption are not stifled.  This response has focussed on the overarching issues that affect the industry and has identified that commissioning organisations, such as governments, as well as client groups are required to support and drive innovation adoption and increase their individual skills.  There are many challenges facing a fragmented industry currently and therefore the development of the construction industry is required to adopt, increase the use of innovation that can be shared across projects to meets these complex demands.

References

Aguiar Costa, A. and Grilo, A. (2015). BIM-Based E-Procurement: An Innovative Approach to Construction E-Procurement. The Scientific World Journal, 2015, pp. 1-15.

Built Environment 2050 A Report on Our Digital Future. (2014). 1st ed. [ebook] London: CIC. Available at: http://ec.europa.eu/research/industrial_technologies/pdf/construction-090622_en.pdf [Accessed 4 Feb. 2016].

Cabinet Office, (2011). Government Construction Strategy. London: Cabinet Office.

Construction 2025. (2013). 1st ed. [ebook] London: BISnt. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/210099/bis-13-955-construction-2025-industrial-strategy.pdf [Accessed 4 Feb. 2016].

Groff, A. (2015). 5 innovative technologies changing the construction sector in 2015. [online] Constructionglobal.com. Available at: http://www.constructionglobal.com/majorprojects/493/5-innovative-technologies-changing-the-construction-sector-in-2015 [Accessed 4 Feb. 2016].

Innovation in Construction: Ideas are the currency of the future. (2007). 1st ed. [ebook] London: CIOB. Available at: http://www.ciob.org/sites/default/files/Innovation%20in%20Construction.pdf [Accessed 4 Feb. 2016].

Innovative technologies for buildings – EU-funded research to transform the construction sector. (2016). 1st ed. [ebook] Brussels: European Commission. Available at: http://ec.europa.eu/research/industrial_technologies/pdf/construction-090622_en.pdf [Accessed 4 Feb. 2016].

Loosemore, M. and Richard, J. (2015). Valuing innovation in construction and infrastructure. Engineering, Construction and Architectural Management, 22(1), pp.38-53.

Park, M., Nepal, M. and Dulaimi, M. (2004). Dynamic Modeling for Construction Innovation. Journal of Management in Engineering, 20(4), pp.170-177.

Yu, W., Cheng, S., Wu, C. and Lou, H. (2012). A self-evolutionary model for automated innovation of construction technologies. Automation in Construction, 27, pp.78-88.

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