Can tech offer efficiency solutions to the energy conundrum?

David Mitchell, founder and CEO of construction technology company XYZ Reality, believes technology is the silver bullet to growing construction energy crisis costs

Rising energy costs are squeezing margins in the construction sector and, according to the Office for National Statistics, limiting the appetite for new projects in the UK, replicated in the US and other parts of the world. With material costs at a 40-year high, factories across Europe risk halting activities to cope with surging utilities bills. Although September’s Energy Bill Relief Scheme for businesses (for England, Scotland and Wales) provided some relief for the UK construction industry, wider issues caused by gas shortages are yet to be resolved.

In a bid to tackle the challenges presented by volatile energy costs, investment in digital technologies that improve construction efficiency, I believe, will provide a long-term solution. Emerging technologies, including augmented reality (AR) and collaborative cloud platforms, are offering specifiers, contractors and sub-contractors ways to streamline projects and build with a leaner approach.

By targeting pain points along project timelines, particularly misinformation and miscommunication, teams can minimise errors that lead to unwanted waste and missed deadlines, ultimately reducing energy requirements.

Building better and smarter with technology

Digital technologies like computer-aided design (CAD), incorporated into building information modelling (BIM) workflows, have transformed how construction teams on- and off-site manage and carry out projects. Combined with construction-tailored software, digital tools are allowing engineers and project managers to build with greater accuracy, reducing costly human error, leading to less material wastage and labour.

For instance, engineering-grade AR-enabled tools give teams on the ground the power to bring BIM to life in real time and visualise prefabricated architectural designs at scale. By comparing these models against real structures during inspections, engineers can ensure specifications are being met, with millimetre precision in some cases. We have already seen many construction contractors like PM Group and Mace leading the way in utilising AR tech.

What’s more, collaborative file management platforms like Autodesk’s BIM 360 have bridged communication gaps between different teams. It’s often the case that multiple teams work at a distance on larger projects, implementing a better-connected approach means data and information becomes more readily accessible to everyone involved. For example, engineers carrying out inspections on the ground can use digitally enabled hardware to connect to teams off-site who can carry out remote inspections alongside them.

Breaking away from siloed datasets using collaborative software also helps to maintain a golden thread of information, or a single source of truth throughout projects. When information and designs are passed around, and sometimes translated to accommodate different software platforms, misinformation is eliminated. This is crucial to maintaining the highest level of accuracy and quality when building. Digital transformation in construction is about building on top-line applications for technologies like AR and combining different solutions to maximise their effectiveness.

The aim of the game here is to reduce the amount of rework on a project without sacrificing quality. Rework is a well-known enemy of construction – XYZ’s white paper Rethinking Rework: exploring the causes of and solutions to construction’s most expensive problem notes that 21% of average project costs are due to human error – ruling out the need for rework brings greater efficiency when building and translates into both material and energy savings.

If rework can be avoided, which industry analysis estimates to be between 5% and 30% of all construction work, contractors can reduce the amount of unnecessary energy from site operations, materials and cut back on project costs. This can also make room for further investments into R&D for new and improved technologies.  

Since developing our engineering-grade AR headset, The Atom, we have seen just how effectively digital tools can reduce rework. In several case studies, we saw reductions in costs and project lengths, with productivity increasing by as much as 40% in some cases, thanks to the ability to carry out informed remote inspections where teams on and off-site were connected throughout the process.

Digitalising construction and maintaining a golden thread of information can also provide insights into the true value of rework and how to reduce it.

Excessive waste and energy consumption are not new problems in the construction industry; however, the effects have been compounded by rising energy costs. Technology can help the sector weather the storm, and leaders across the industry must look ahead and consider what digital innovations are available to them and whether investing today could save them money tomorrow. 

Unfortunately, investment into digital transformation in construction is still hampered by tight project budgets and it is understandable why many contractors are risk-averse. Spending on technology can feel like a gamble, but when compared to the waste and damage caused by unnecessary rework, it’s a no-brainer in my book.

Equipping engineers and project teams on the ground with advanced powers through technology such as AR will cut costs and energy requirements on projects. The next stage in the evolution of construction is connecting the industry in a high-tech ecosystem. And those who are willing to invest in digital solutions will be less at the mercy of the beast that is rising energy-crisis costs.

Energy Bill Relief Scheme bit.ly/UK_EBRS

Construction output in Great Britain bit.ly/ONS_construction_output

Image credit | XYZ

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