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Digital Construction

Embracing the digital 'revolution'

Author: Melanie Dawson

Posted: 2 Mar 2019

Recognised as industry leaders, GRAHAM continues to set the pace when it comes to the implementation of digital technologies.

Specialising in building, civil engineering, interior fit-out, facilities management and investment projects, as a truly national contractor we have built our reputation on pushing the boundaries of innovation with a focus on transforming workflows from office to site and site to handover.

Renowned for our exemplar BIM processes, GRAHAM became the first UK wide contractor to achieve dual British Standards Institute (BSI) Kitemark™ certification for both BIM Design and Construction (PAS 1192-2) and Asset Management (PAS 1192-3) in 2017.

Shaping the GRAHAM digital transformation is our ten-strong Digital Construction Team, which is led by Director of Digital Construction, Melanie Dawson.

In conversation with Specify ("Northern Ireland's 'No. 1' Construction Magazine"), Melanie provides a robust assessment of the digital revolution taking place in construction and predicts what the future might hold.

Is technology changing the construction industry?

The world is embracing technology at a rate like never before. From business through to everyday life, digital tools have made an impact, and construction is no different. While the rate of change in construction may be slower than other industries, it is gathering pace as it attempts to achieve targets set out in the UK government’s ‘Construction 2025 Strategy’.

For me personally, as a busy working mum, I am always looking for smarter ways to get things done. I want better results with greater accuracy - fast. Having been working in construction for over a decade, the industry is demanding the same thing. Contractors and clients are searching for smarter ways to streamline everyday tasks. I spend most of my time trying to solve these everyday construction challenges, exploring ways to integrate technology to automate our processes.

Our Digital Construction Team is always on the lookout for new technological solutions to support digital construction delivery. Essentially, it’s about identifying solutions to resolve potential problems. This is why thinking innovatively is so crucial, and why we are handpicking the best ideas from other industries, making them relevant while adding value to the construction industry.

What is the most needed innovation in the construction industry?

We don’t believe that there is any one particular piece of technology or hardware that the industry needs in order to be innovative. It’s much bigger than that. The industry as a whole needs to embrace the ‘fourth industrial revolution’. With clear digital workflows, cleaner information and limitless possibilities available as a result of that, we can really start to benefit from Artificial Intelligence, Internet of things and 3D printing.

How has GRAHAM embraced digital technologies?

Our Digital Construction Team has passionately embraced a myriad of digital tools that help us deliver better outcomes -  all driven by value. The first step for us was ensuring that we had robust processes in place. Ultimately, BIM is the process driver for digital construction at GRAHAM, and we demonstrate our pioneering, industry leading approach in that field.

For us, we then identify digital construction solutions, looking for technologies that help us deliver these processes on our sites. Through extensive research and development, we have incorporated a number of technologies into our workflows including; various types of immersive technologies such as Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality, laser scanning and drone technology falling under the realms of geospatial tools as well as specialist BIM software including Navisworks and BIM 360 Field.

We use Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality within our daily workflows. From client and stakeholder workshops to design developments, these immersive technologies play an integral role in our digital transformation.

We use VR to submerge our stakeholders in a simulated environment, allowing them to experience the project in a whole new dimension. We implement AR in the bid process, allowing our clients to view and interrogate the model from the on-set, offering an altogether interactive experience.

Geospatial technology including laser scanning and drone technology is used to create visualisations that can be then used off site to take accurate measurements and track progress.

We have a range of BIM software, which allows us to work with models right from the pre-construction stage to handover. We use the different software to interrogate the models, make design changes and capture vast amounts of data, which can then be analysed remotely.

With over 2,200 employees across the UK and Ireland, we deliver bespoke training internally so that our colleagues not only understand these tools but can confidently apply them on site. Our commitment to upskilling the GRAHAM business extended into an online platform, which allows 24/7 access to training material.

As an ISO 44001 certified organisation, we also work collaboratively with our clients, design teams and stakeholders to ensure they are up to speed in terms of the technologies we are using. The best results come from our joined up, integrated approach, and working collaboratively right across the board.

Our Erskine House (Belfast) project has benefited from the utilisation of digital technology

How has technology changed your job role?

Technology has exponentially changed my job role. In fact, my job in general has changed significantly from this time five years ago; digital construction did not really exist. 

Five years ago, we were only starting to talk a little bit about BIM and the role it could play. But fast forward to now and digital technology is at the core of our business. Technology is advancing at a speed like never before.

As things keep progressing and changing at a phenomenal rate, it is my role to make sure we stay on top of new and emerging technologies. Of course, they must add value to our business. We firmly believe that this approach will help us catch up on the race for Industry 4.0 and propel construction back in line with other industries.

Why do you think the construction industry has been so late to adapt new technologies?

I think change is always challenging, particularly for traditional industries like construction where there are enormous commercial and time pressures. To introduce innovative change, you do need to step back and take a wider view of how you are working.

Often in the construction industry it is difficult to do this because of very real time and money constraints. Our operational delivery teams don’t have the breathing space that is required to objectively analyse workflows. This is where I come in. To a large extent, I don’t have those time and money constraints, which gives me the ability to step back and look for smarter solutions that fall under the digital construction banner.

The Digital Construction Team at GRAHAM continues to push the boundaries of innovation

How has the implementation of new technologies helped GRAHAM?

Technology has benefitted us in lots of different ways. Importantly, it allows us to get it right the first time on many sites, saving time and cost while exceeding client expectations.

Applying 3D models and virtual simulations helps us have a much greater and deeper understanding of a project, in turn strengthening engagement with our clients. Our team know exactly what we need to build and, using digital tools, we know that we have the full confidence of the client.

Experience has taught us that clients are much more engaged with the process and that’s down to the improved communication digital solutions provide. In parallel, we are also gathering a massive amount of information as we go through the construction process.

This has changed our focus from not only capturing the information but also using it to help us make smarter decisions not just on site but for the future as well.

What do you think the future holds for construction?

I can’t wait to see what the future holds for digital construction. There are so many emerging technologies being launched, each one bringing with it a wealth of benefits for different aspects of construction.

As I mentioned before, I think that our industry can work towards the future by studying other industries. We can learn so much from them and bring the very best parts of those across to benefit our own industry.

Increasingly, we are implementing off-site manufacturing, modern methods of construction and pre-fabrication techniques in collaboration with our supply chain partners. I also believe that data analytics will play a major role in shaping our industry in the future.

More and more companies like ourselves are gathering huge amounts of information and subsequently using that data to benefit projects; inevitably helping us all to save money and deliver on time to an even higher quality.

I’m also looking forward to seeing the next disruptions that transpire. My prediction would be that because data analytics and, I suppose, the holders of the information will have a huge amount of power going forward, there could be a few left field providers who enter the market.

For example, the likes of Google, who currently know how to manage massive volumes of information - perhaps they could be the next big disrupter in the construction industry.

Either way, I am excited to see how technology will evolve and transform our industry.