The industry is facing a once-in-a-generation opportunity for transformation, one that can establish the UK as a role model and service provider for construction around the world.
This opportunity did not arise overnight, with UK development of building information modelling and visibility of the procurement pipeline having been important drivers. Now though, circumstances are right to enable a critical step-change.
Strong foundations in UK construction have enabled world-class building design capability and improving onsite productivity levels. But we still suffer from problems that are globally endemic: high levels of process and material waste, variable quality, and gaps between designed and actual asset performance.
Historically construction has been held back by industry fragmentation and lack of applicable technology. Those issues are now being addressed.
Critical mass reached
The prospect, and now the reality, of government support as part of the industrial strategy has drawn the industry together as never before. Orchestrated by the Construction Leadership Council, a critical mass of clients and suppliers are coming together to create a new approach that embraces digital, offsite manufacturing and whole-life performance techniques.
In July, the government published the construction sector deal. This describes how public construction procurement will be mobilised to leverage change in the design and assembly of buildings, how skills challenges will be addressed, and how £170m provided as part of the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund will bring to market solutions to transform construction.
I am proud to be leading the allocation of the £170m ISCF contribution, plus the £250m pledged by industry – a total of £420m to be invested over the next four years. Investment will be focused in four main areas: two dealing with vertical integration within the industry, and two dealing with horizontal integration.
Hear more from Innovate UK’s director
Sam Stacey will be giving day two’s opening address of the technology seminar at this year’s CN Summit, 20-21 November.
What the sector deal will do
The first investment in vertical integration will be to develop buildings consisting of standard product platforms and manufacturing processes. These will be aligned with government procurement needs, with an initial focus on schools.
“Techniques including artificial intelligence and geographic information systems will lead to rapid advances in construction decision-making and control”
The second vertical integration solution will be the creation of energy-positive buildings – buildings that generate, store and distribute energy. Full-scale buildings demonstrating the technology have been created at the University of Swansea, with the help of previous funding. We will now be investing to support the widespread market uptake of these buildings.
The first focus area in horizontal integration will be improving the information landscape across the industry – the collection and sharing of information about asset performance, building element location and status, supplier capabilities, and outcomes for end-users.
The availability of these datasets will pave the way for the application of advanced digital techniques to integrate the industry horizontally. These techniques, including artificial intelligence and geographic information systems, will lead to rapid advances in construction decision-making and control.
There is no doubt that the sector deal and the investments in developing solutions represent an opportunity to take UK construction from one of the world’s best to an absolute world-beater. I urge everyone to join the revolution in whatever way they can.
Sam Stacey is challenge director – Transforming Construction – at Innovate UK