Read the words 'innovation' or 'disruption' and the industries that spring to mind might be finance, transportation or healthcare - construction will probably not be appearing on your list. Here Andy Robinson, CEO of Colmore Tang Group, explains why their new partnership with Virgin StartUp is looking to change all that and introduce more original thinking into the sector.
Since we partnered with Virgin StartUp to launch ConstrucTech, the construction industry’s first technology accelerator programme, I've been asked a number of times why we decided to take this step. In my mind, there's a very clear rationale. The debate around technology in construction needs to move forward more quickly to improve production times and quality. Other industries are much better at seeing the potential in technology and grasping opportunities to boost productivity and commercial gain.
The construction industry as a whole is a slow adopter of new techniques, materials and technologies, in addition our traditional building methodologies rely upon traditional skilled and unskilled trades people. This ‘subcontractor’ body is very disparate and are, at the trade level, largely self-employed and therefore difficult to quickly change and scale at a speed that has a real impact. It is therefore a slow process of cultural adaptation.
We’re falling behind and it’s having a negative impact on the sector, growing the divide between the traditional, ageing workforce and the younger, technologically-advanced generations that are choosing other industries over ours.
That’s not to say that construction isn’t looking at tech, it’s just all a bit disparate. The Building Research Establishment (BRE) is a world leading multi-disciplinary building science centre, with a mission to improve the built environment through research and knowledge generation. The BRE is working hard on research and innovation, even focussing on emerging technologies, however we hear very little in terms of how its evidence-based research is resulting in practical solutions.
The construction industry is ripe for disruption, in just the same way that transportation and finance have been modernised. It’s all about how we identify the tech that’s already out there and apply it to our industry.
In a fantastic blog by Peter Diamandis, he explains the four trends that are revolutionising what’s possible in architectural design and construction. Materials will be key to disrupting construction. Historically, we’ve always been limited by the constraints put on us by building materials; now we’re able to look at cleaner, smarter options that are lighter, self-healing, aware and provide the opportunity to deliver 3D printed buildings. We’re able to look at using artificial intelligence (AI) to create adaptive models, virtual reality (VR) to visualise clashes, as well as see a future with robot builders.
Last year, Mace released its Industry 4.0 report on how construction can make itself future-ready. The report highlighted some staggering stats, for example over the last decade output per worker has remained flat in construction, whereas the service sector has improved by just over 30 per cent and output in manufacturing has rocketed by more than 50 per cent. Its analysis also showed that there will be a need to re-skill over 600,000 construction workers over the next two decades to new roles created by technology.
Education has always been at the forefront of advancements in technology, from university research to facilities to educate the next generation. A prime example of how education is using the best tech to bring youngsters into the sector is Dudley College of Technology. It recently unveiled its Advance II building, which provides skills development in Advanced Building Technologies; from apprenticeships to degree-level courses, it has the appeal and equipment to attract a new generation to construction.
Construction needs to look for outside help. We need to call on the thriving ecosystem of tech start-ups to come forward with fresh new ideas. The sector needs to invest in tech, to provide opportunities to trial new systems and products, and identify what’s already out there and help drive it forward to make a real change.
That’s why we’ve teamed up with Virgin StartUp. We want to share the challenges that we face as an industry with the world of tech. We want to see as many ideas as possible brought forward to help us learn, grown and maintain pace with other leading sectors. Colmore Tang is invested in new ideas, driving the industry forward and utilising technology, so if you’ve got something that you think could make a real impact, please apply.