Part 3 – Using Technology
We have previously discussed how management of the pre-construction phase can help overcome some of the obstacles encountered when embarking on a complicated infrastructure project, involving high specification requirements. This month we look briefly at examples of where technology is assisting with the management of such projects, how they can limit defects and why contracts need to accommodate these developments.
Visual representations of a structure, usually 2D drawings, remain the primary means for a designer to convey to both the client and contractor what is to be built. It is also how the client inputs their knowledge as to how the facility needs to operate once completed. Virtual reality is an extension of this medium and an increasingly sophisticated. The client and design team can have a cheap first go at building the facility and allowing the client’s operating team to “walk about” the finished result. It also has practical applications as a contractor can use VR to visualise on site where key components (i.e. cabling and ducts) are meant to go, which is even more important in the construction of a laboratory then a residential or retail projects.
Pre-fabrication and modularisation is one of the other benefits brought about by digital technology. It allows components to be conceived, fabricated and assembled into the completed building in a digital world, thus ensuring the methodology for the construction to be considered at the outset.
Projects using pre-fabricated components and off site construction can reduce construction periods. While this does overlook the time engaged to develop and test the components, the benefits of modularisation mean it is increasingly being embraced by the construction industry. The ability to apply rigorous quality control in a controlled environment before components are delivered to the site for assembly is especially relevant to the life sciences.
Building Information Modelling (BIM)
BIM is both a technological and collaborative tool. It allows the information compiled by the design team to be disseminated to the construction teams, the client and the personnel who will use and manage the facility. These parties can then all inform the design and procurement of the facility. The benefit of BIM is primarily the avoidance of misunderstandings; the design team are able to visualise and co-ordinate the design to avoid clashes between differing elements of the structure and the services to be installed within the facility. Suppliers can deliver accurate product information directly into the digital model and highlight defects and deficiencies in the design in relation to their particular product as well as informing the construction team on the method of installation and co-ordination of the construction of the facility.
To be effective, BIM relies upon everyone involved in the project, including any specialist contractors supplying items of pharmaceutical equipment, being able to exchange information in this manner which means having the necessary software. Information sharing also requires a change of the adversarial mind-set. All too often when a design problem arises during construction any collaboration is quickly lost as members of the design team seek to protect their positions rather than the interests of the project.
The legal considerations with technology are often those of licensing and responsibility for maintenance. The intellectual property (‘IP’) relied upon is usually used under licence or may have been created specifically for the project in question. The project is enhanced by the efficiency and collaboration offered by the technology, but this may all be jeopardised if the relationship between the employer and the owner of the IP sours. This could be especially true if that party is providing the platform which every other stakeholder is using to co-ordinate the works. The party providing the key piece of technology is then so integral to the project that any inadequacy in their services has an increased negative impact and makes their replacement even more daunting for the employer unless they can retain the right to continue to use the platform or technology.
Even with the above risk in mind, the scope for technology to provide ever more sophisticated tools for the design, monitoring and delivery of construction projects is such that these will appear on more and more projects, especially those where key engineering outcomes are desired. Therefore, equal care must be taken to ensure that the employer has factored into their contracts how to resolve any issues arising from the reliance on the technology.
Next month we will conclude with a look at the current trends in engineering contracts and some of the initiatives being taken to try and ‘break the mould’ in construction procurement.