Innovative digital and off-site solutions are in the spotlight again, with recent developments in VR (virtual reality) and AR (augmented reality) technologies demonstrating incredible potential. UK construction designs are being optimised digitally in ways that would take weeks or even months if done by traditional methods.
In parallel to these developments, trade in Irish construction products and services to the UK has increased by 68% in the last five years. This increase, combined with trade of €1.29 billion of construction products and services to the UK in 2016 alone, indicates a clear upward trend in demand for innovative digital and off-site construction solutions provided by Irish companies.
Here are five key trends to watch:
- BIM: The future for the built environment
Last year, the UK Government made use of Building Information Modelling (BIM) mandatory for new capital funded public sector projects. As many Irish construction services and engineering companies gain a foothold in the UK market, they have access to BIM frameworks and guidelines for projects and products of this nature.
Technologies that once seemed only imaginable in science fiction, such as connected data, robots and VR, have become familiar solutions and procedures. As the trend moves towards BIM Level 3, 3D printing is reaching a point where components can be printed rather than shipped, opening up the option of virtual walkthroughs and intelligent smart cities.
- The growth of digital disruptors
Companies such as Uber and Airbnb have disrupted their industries and with new business models on the rise, we are likely to see the trend replicated across the construction industry. Disruptors challenge the status quo and this is what we are seeing in construction as technology evolves rapidly.
One of the key reasons Irish companies are so successful in UK construction, often winning contracts for complex, high-tech builds, including data centres, hospitals and commercial buildings, is because they are at the forefront of innovation in the sector. According to the BIM report, published in May 2017 by Construction IT Alliance (CiTA) in association with Enterprise Ireland, the trade and innovation agency, Ireland has made remarkable progress in recent years in advancing BIM capability. The report found that 76% of Irish respondents were confident in their organisation’s BIM skills and knowledge.
Embracing BIM as more than a tool, and instead considering it as a a series of processes that help to speed up the building programme and provide structured, accessible information for clients once a project is completed, is key. There is also an opportunity for companies to extend BIM even further by incorporating 4D and 5D modelling, which allows real-time visualisation of a project’s progress and for individual costs to be attached to different, specific elements.
- Looking to off-site construction and support
Another key area of innovation that Irish companies have focused on is off-site fabrication. Manufacturing components off-site allows less room and opportunity for mistakes. It also enables Irish companies to carry out a considerable amount of work before a building project starts on site.
Kirby Group Engineering took advantage of both prefabrication and BIM in a recent project that involved converting an existing warehouse and office building into a mission critical Tier 3 data centre for a leading provider of carrier-neutral data centres. Through digital fabrication and modelling, the process was completed in just 20 weeks.
- Build-to-Rent vs Build-to-Sell
It was estimated that the British construction sector needs to bring in one new recruit every 77 seconds to solve the country’s housing crisis – a staggering statistic. The supply of new homes through the “Build to Sell” model is constrained by a number of factors, including land availability, affordability, uncertain duration for ownership and increases in tax, duty and regulations. At the same time, the planning pipeline of the build-to-rent market is growing.
Irish companies that can help tackle the current industry supply issues around skills and capacity shortages are of particular interest to the UK. Companies like Extraspace Solutions, Cygnum Timber Frame and Techrete offer off-site manufacturing capability that reduces the number of operatives on site.
- A lean future for UK construction
Lean methods and processes across the supply chain are contributing to improvements in quality, productivity and the health and safety of Ireland’s construction industry. Benefits are accrued through the elimination of wasted time and from fewer delays on site.
Several Irish multinationals are embracing lean principles to win business abroad and construction companies like Jones Group, Mercury Engineering and Kirby are already exporting lean services abroad – securing more work, reducing costs, and offering better value to clients.
As a new chapter of economic uncertainty begins, Ireland continues to be a first-point partner for the UK and we expect trade relationships between the UK and Ireland to deepen even further over the coming years.