Smart thinking

Opinion: Skanska’s director of innovation and industrialisation Sam Stacey says new technology will play a crucial role in tackling the world’s problems

Innovation and new technology will help us improve society. I think it's vital the construction industry leaves a positive legacy. This ties in with Skanska's purpose: 'we build for a better society'. We have to help society overcome its challenges.

New solutions, driven by technology, will bring a fundamentally different approach to tackling today's challenges. There is huge potential for radical improvements. Data will underpin everything. Our industry is very complex, much more so than other controlled environments such as a car factory. By changing the way we collect and use data, we can have a huge impact on productivity.

The foundations for change are being laid. Building information modelling (BIM) is a fundamental part of that. BIM is essentially about data. The level-two requirement for public-sector work creates a great basis for the whole industry to grow and improve.

3D printing is set to revolutionise the construction industry creating huge productivity and sustainability gains.

The internet of things – where everything from boilers to a building's components are linked to a computer network – is marvellous for construction and maintenance. It allows information to be collected from things that are in different locations. We need to know where our components are and what's happening to them. Ideally, sensors and transmitters would be incorporated at the production stage of components. It has the potential to provide information throughout its entire lifecycle.

We can also use innovation and new technology to help overcome the productivity gap between construction and other industries. In construction, lots of time is spent on non-productive activities. These could range from fixing defects to double-handling – moving equipment or plant more than necessary. The amount of productive time is, on average, less than 50 per cent. In manufacturing, that figure is closer to 90 per cent.

The amount of materials used to construct buildings can be significantly reduced by using new techniques. We also know buildings can be managed much more efficiently. For example, the amount of energy needed to maintain and run them can be cut. These developments have a positive impact on both productivity and the environment, so there is a double-win.

Innovation and collaboration are at the heart of the solutions we need”

A multidisciplinary approach can deliver innovations and technology. It's the fundamental basis of creativity. People who have studied creativity say it's to do with being able to make connections with different things. Construction companies, architects, academics and scientists getting together will lead to breakthroughs.

There is a tremendous amount of convergence of technology from different industries. An enormous amount of research has been done in other sectors. Without a doubt, we have to learn from those. Manufacturing is a good example, where we can apply their approach to the construction sector to make productivity gains. If we are going to stay ahead of the game, it's essential that we spread our net very widely.

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Last updated: 01/08/2017