Main Contractors Want Technology Visionaries

Peter Trebilcock is one of the construction industries leading technology thinkers and advocates. To understand more about what main contractors want from the supply chain and the equipment sector, Finning News caught up with Peter for this exclusive interview.

Peter: “As an industry, we have huge potential to improve the safe delivery of projects through the use of numerous technologies. But in my experience, there are a number of issues holding businesses back from investing in new equipment and digital solutions, which will ultimately drive the positive change we need to move forward.

For instance, there is a lack of investment in life-long learning and sharing. In its worst case, people in the industry go through a couple of hours of Health and Safety training each year, and are never actually exposed to anything new. This then becomes a major contributor to the ‘let’s do it the way we have always done it’ approach to projects.

However, clients and main contractors want project or application relevant solutions that will deliver safer, faster, and more cost effective outcomes. With BIM (Building Information Modelling) now being the norm, the sector needs to recognise the importance of investing in its awareness, including training and BIM compatible solutions. It’s about ensuring BIM is a part of the everyday. Equally, a greater level of information sharing is essential when working towards more informed data-driven decisions, connected assets will become an essential part of the digital equation. For the plant sector in particular, which is the first part of the building cycle, including demolition, remediation and earthworks, BIM and solutions like 3D machine control are already playing an important role in the delivery of projects. But like other parts of the industry, there is more that can and should be done.

For example, I recently witnessed the use of BIM as an innovative enabling tool when a young colleague at Balfour Beatty Groundworks overcame the challenge of getting a pilling rig through a particularly small four metre diameter aperture onsite. By making a BIM model of the rig and using the BIM model of the formwork supporting the structural opening, the engineer was able to work out a safe method of getting the rig into position. The solution involved the removal of counterweights and a boom, and resulted in the move being achieved in just two days, instead of the projected two weeks by more traditional methods.

Translating this example to the wider industry, this is where I can see BIM equipment libraries playing a role in the future. By giving designers access to accurate information, including BIM models of equipment and attachments, they are able to get a much greater understanding of a machines’ capabilities onsite. So in the future, we could see this information being used to match the best machine solution to the application, before making the hiring decision.

Information like this will also be useful for re-examining the methods of construction onsite. It is here where I see huge potential for innovation and new ideas, with experienced staff embracing the digital skills young people can bring to the industry. Another good example of this is a young coder that designed his own algorithms and programme, capable of tracking the design installation and performance of piles.

This took the 3D visualisation one step further by using software to optimise design and installation, ultimately leading to developments in components to make the whole concrete pouring process safer and quicker.

Taking a wider look at innovations in equipment, software and the growth in industry related Apps, I see there is a huge amount of work that has already been done and a lot of interesting stuff out there.

The industry challenge is how to best allocate resources and find better ways of collaborating, so that the right digital construction solutions are developed, supported and capable of being put into practical, cost effective use. When it comes to collaboration I sense that the tide is turning, with contractors much more open to both a push and pull approach to technology and digital construction.

So my message to the industry is: why wait for the moment you’re not allowed onsite to make a rushed investment in a BIM or digital solution? Look at the technology that is available now, and more importantly before you invest, make sure it is relevant to real world problems and that you can implement it effectively onsite.