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CN Summit: Tech Sprint tackles the productivity problem

The Construction News Summit brought together tech experts and innovation gurus from across the built environment to target the challenge of industry productivity.

The judges

  • Duncan Evans, head of digital, Crossrail 2
  • Tim Fenemore, head of project controls, capital delivery, National Grid
  • Helen Hare, senior project manager, Great Portland Estates

Day One of the Construction News Summit 2017 saw 20 people from a range of contractors, specialists, consultants and clients come together to tackle one problem: how can we improve the productivity of construction?

The teams had a blank slate at the start of the day and, having just met each other, had 12 hours to come up with a technology-based solution to the problem of low productivity. The four groups all conceived ideas that impressed our panel of judges, who said the solutions all showed “an impressive breadth of thinking that would get more people to collaborate” if they were developed fully.

All four ideas were in contention at the end of the day, and after the final 15-minute pitches to our judges, a hotly contested debate saw Team Act emerge triumphant.

Here we take a look at what our teams came up with and how they proved that inspiration is alive and well within the industry’s next generation.

WINNERS: ACT

CN Summit 2017 Team ACT

CN Summit 2017 Team ACT

  • Oliver Hood, senior technical engineer, Morgan Sindall
  • Paul Morris, head of innovation, Tideway
  • Chris Oates, engineer, GHD
  • Hugo Viner, project manager, JLL
  • Ioannis Vousvoukis, principal structural engineer, Wentworth House Partnership

Our winning team comprised six people drawn from across the built environment who developed a solution they called ACT: the Automated Collaborative Tool.

ACT is a unified platform that allows automated ordering of materials and other suppliers direct from the project programme. This means the project’s schedule is plugged into the app, which knows when materials need to be ordered for a specific part of the job and orders them to arrive just in time, automatically.

Project dashboards would update everyone involved in the project, too, as well as senior leaders at the project’s stakeholders, without the project manager having to continually update them on progress – freeing up their time to focus on ensuring the project is a success. 

The judges felt that ACT had the potential to be a “game-changer” for the control of projects – and while it would need a bit more work to get off the ground than some of the other ideas, its long-term potential for change could not be ignored.

Judges could also envisage how the app would create a buzz within project teams, allowing everyone to see clearly what progress is being made, creating greater investment in the project’s success at all levels. It was also adaptable to a range of other onsite problems.

All of this combined to make ACT our worthy winners of the second annual CN Tech Sprint.

Construction Match

CN Summit 2017 Construction Match

CN Summit 2017 Construction Match

  • Sundeep Hundal, senior design engineer, NG Bailey
  • Tristam Kaye, head of engineering and innovation, global retail portfolio management, ISG
  • Sophie Leonard, BIM co-ordinator, Skanska UK
  • Adam Mitchell, managing surveyor, Bam Construct UK

This team had devised an app that could create a secondary market for unused or unwanted construction materials on site, which they dubbed Construction Match.

Waste is a topical issue at the moment, with 32 per cent of the 60 million tonnes of waste produced in the UK each year attributable to construction.

The team estimated that as much as 20 per cent of site waste could actually be re-used instead and that, while everyone is focused on recycling, there is an opportunity further up the waste hierarchy to re-use materials before they get to the stage where recycling is necessarily.

Presenting its business case, the team estimated that a tier one contractor with an annual turnover of £1bn would typically spend £3.5m each year on waste disposal. That would mean getting re-use levels to 20 per cent would lead to savings of £700,000.

The idea behind Construction Match was to redefine waste as surplus, with users logging onto the app to find materials at nearby construction sites that would be available for purchase.

Our judges felt this idea was the one that would present the quickest and easiest payback for investors, with a low potential upfront investment that would start generating measurable returns quickly.

It was ultimately not quite enough to win – but as the team put it during its presentation, Construction Match represented “a social solution to an anti-social industry” when it comes to waste. An admirable goal indeed.

Snap Construct

CN Summit 2017 Team Snap

CN Summit 2017 Team Snap

  • Jack Gornall, graduate area engineer, Mabey
  • Joe Horner, senior site manager, Bam Construct UK
  • Richard Tasker, associate, WSP
  • George Watt, remediation junior contracts manager, Keltbray

Another social media solution, this team took aim at one of the scourges of an office worker’s life: unnecessary emails.

The idea was to eliminate the excessive bureaucracy around emails, especially ones where people are copied into correspondence that isn’t relevant to them.

The solution – Snap Construct – would be an information-sharing app, drawing inspiration from existing platforms such as WhatsApp, Instagram and Snapchat, but combining them into one and tweaking the interface to allow for productive work in construction.

Each construction site would have its own dedicated Snap Construct page, where workers on the site could share information, from pictures of defects or problems through to other technical challenges.

Other technologies like virtual reality, 3D scans and live video conferencing could be incorporated to allow teams to collaborate more quickly and effectively – with real-time notifications only providing the information relevant for that user.

The judges loved the concept of Snap Construct, suggesting the team could have also explored other potential uses of the idea, such as fostering better supply chain collaboration or safety monitoring. It also had the greatest potential for wide adoption by staff at the level below project managers, the judges felt.

We can all relate to the dread associated with having an inbox stuffed full of emails, most of which won’t be relevant to us. Snap Construct could help solve that problem for construction.

RIDE

CN Summit 2017 Team Ride

CN Summit 2017 Team Ride

  • Dominic Deasy, estimator, Interserve Construction
  • Maged Hassan, head of strategic planning, Voestalpine Metsec
  • David McLeish, group estimating director, Robertson Group
  • Will Squires, senior consultant, Atkins
  • Matt Warren, senior design manager, Lendlease

RIDE – Risk in Design Elimination – was developed by this team with one mantra in mind: that the enemy of productivity is risk.

Productivity is inhibited by fear of the unknown and of taking risks, it was suggested, so RIDE aims to try to mitigate some of that risk, specifically in the sphere of health and safety.

The concept is an industry-wide health and safety data-sharing platform to test a design’s safety. The team felt it could “save lives, decrease risk and increase productivity”.

It was argued that most risk occurs in RIBA stages 5-7, when a building is under construction or in use, but that risk could be mitigated at stages 1-4, traditionally before a contractor gets involved.

RIDE would gather information from completed projects on their stages 5-7, mining it and feeding into an app. Using artificial intelligence, the app would then be able to identify the biggest risk factors in the user’s own designs at stages 1-4, and provide predictive insights or even design suggestions.

The judges thought this was a bold idea, and found the use of artificial intelligence particularly interesting, while flagging the challenge over the level of trust required within the industry to get it to work to its full potential.

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