Opinion

Making 2021 the year of construction tech

A wide range of technical solutions making projects smarter, safer and more sustainable are set to transform infrastructure delivery in 2021, says PJ Farr.

There’s no doubt that Covid-19 has encouraged greater digital adoption within the construction industry, with enthusiasm growing daily. Of course, we’ve already read plenty of articles showcasing specifier-led innovations - NBS Source immediately springs to mind. Less have been devoted to the on-site professional, who equally stands to benefit from the rising availability of new technology.

I want to take a look at some of the emerging (and existing!) systems set to transform the physical delivery of infrastructure in 2021, whether a major housing development, superhighway, high-speed rail or a cutting-edge ‘smart city’. 

Particularly, I’ll focus my attention on those solutions making projects smarter, safer and more sustainable. 

The efficient secret

5G and Wi-Fi 6 are terms that every construction contractor should become familiar with, as they have the potential to revolutionise site operations. 

Boasting higher speeds, better traffic handling and less network congestions, improved connectivity through 5G and Wi-Fi 6 will enable faster, more effective communication, sharing of large-scale drawings, and the running of resource-heavy applications with no lag. 

This greater capability will be crucial as we move further towards more advanced BIM solutions and automated construction methods, as both rely on super-fast, faultless networks.

Safety in numbers

The building safety bill has placed greater focus on how technology can create a safer construction journey. However, we also need to consider the construction workers themselves. 

Current coronavirus risks have provided the catalyst for remote induction platforms and non-biometric sign-in systems, with more reliable broadband helping professionals to work efficiently, whether socially distanced or remotely. 

More widely, ‘Near Miss’ and RIDDOR levels remain high, but technology is effectively addressing this. The use of beacons and sensors combine with low frequency wireless is one such example, particularly when used on a W-gate or at a road crossing offering the site manager a real-time snapshot of potential hazards. 

Nascent AI-backed PPE detection systems are also allowing site mangers greater oversight of their personnel, instantly identifying if someone is not following regulations and putting themselves and colleagues at risk. 

Waste not, want not

The drive towards green construction is accelerating and contractors will be expected to meet their targets. Many will be looking to the latest low-emission methods to help them build more sustainably.

The Internet of Things offers a potential solution. A centrally controlled system, composed of multiple smart devices and sensors which share data with each other, allows machinery to perform repetitive tasks and self-maintain. Imagine a cement mixer which knows how to order itself the right amount of raw materials needed when it starts to run low. Immediately this reduces waste from over-ordering. 

Further, sensors could be installed in vehicles to automatically switch off engines when idle, or measure skip levels, using the information for better waste management.

Looking forward

As you can see, I’ve only scratched the surface and no doubt 2021 will be as much the ‘year of construction tech’ as it will be the dawn of an age of big infrastructure. 

As a tech and telecom provider myself, there’s definitely a positive business case for greater digital adoption. It will boost business and the efficiencies delivered will quickly start to benefit the bottom line, delivering that crucial ROI. 

However, there are still many hearts and minds to win over, representing one of our biggest challenges in the coming year. 

PJ Farr is managing director of the technology company, UK Connect Ltd.