Emerging Technologies Could Drive Historic Changes In Construction

Emerging technologies could drastically improve the construction sector; streamlining processes, freeing up talented staff rather than wasting them on repetitive tasks, and radically shortening the construction cycle, according to Haman Manak from specialist contractor Stanmore.

Haman, who has experience working on multiple property types, including residential, commercial, student living and modular homes, is an advocate for the use of AI in the construction and development sectors and believes it has the potential to enhance work quality, improve health and safety, and increase productivity. 

Here, he speaks about his views on what the sector needs to do to ensure opportunities are grasped and innovation is not allowed to fall by the wayside.

In 2023, construction suffered: due to the stormy macroeconomic picture, insolvencies reached a worrying high and balance sheets were teetering on critical, with firms struggling to make the healthy margins they used to maintain. 

Clearly, last year was tough for the industry. And that’s why we, as an industry, need to figure out two things: one, how to collectively safeguard construction from further economic headwinds; and two, how to ensure we don’t let innovation fall by the wayside.

Yes, there is a degree of construction being, largely, late to implement emerging technologies. Machinery and on-site technology have remained pretty much unchanged for the last 20 years, raising questions about whether on and off-site processes are functioning as efficiently as they could be. And as firms have struggled over the last 12 months, there has been increased pressure on them to compete, which can become a race to the bottom. 

To help margins stay strong, any new technologies introduced into the industry need to be cost-effective; plus, they will only thrive if they work alongside the workforce and not replace it. The current workforce of designers, architects, site workers and managers are extremely competent and skilled. Their knowledge of the trades should not be understated or underestimated, but harnessed to develop the right technologies for them. 

Stanmore is a leading specialist contractor in the UK – and for decades, we’ve been leading the sector in dry lining, facades, glazing and metal work. We’ve been established since 1958 and have a good reputation, both among our clients and the wider industry, for delivering quality.

But of course, while we have settled into our niche and like to see ourselves as a leader in our industry, we will always have ambitions beyond our current specialties. We want to be a pioneer of technology and efficiency in the industry, stay ahead of the curve on the innovation front, and extend our craft to large-scale projects and developments, too. 


Embracing technology 

Technology, especially the likes of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), can be used throughout the whole construction process. For example, in the estimating stage, which involves repetitive tasks like rate allocation and reviewing drawings, AI could streamline those more formulaic aspects – and allow junior estimators to focus on the important tasks – their face-to-face relationships with clients.

In design, steel frame systems (SFS) could be worked on by software applications, allowing designers to simply make the finishing touches and ensure quality targets have been met.

By no means am I saying there will be mass redundancies and job losses through the implementation of advanced technologies. Not at all. Most of the game in construction is client management – and humans are necessary for building these relationships. That part of the job, probably the most salient aspect of the sector, cannot be fulfilled by a computer. 

The sector’s challenges

It’s no surprise the construction industry is one of the largest emitting industries out there and is struggling with its net-zero commitments. The built environment is the second-largest source of greenhouse emissions after surface transport. A large chunk of its carbon emissions lies in its materials – particularly how they are produced and transported – and the sector falls short of the 19% reduction needed to meet net-zero requirements. 

But, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and unprecedented macroeconomic challenges, construction firms are unable to commit a significant chunk of capital towards net-zero initiatives. We won’t be able to do this alone. We need innovators, particularly climate and green tech specialists, to flock to our industry – and supercharge our decarbonisation efforts.
Strategic partnerships and collaboration between construction firms and these innovative, net-zero-led start-ups – which focus on changing how materials are produced and utilised – could ensure the industry keeps track of its climate goals; until now, the industry has been focussed on its survival – and only had one eye on decarbonisation.  

If the sector embraces technology and innovation, construction will look much, much different. You’ll see sharper, more refined processes, on-site developments will be much slicker, and the turnaround of projects will be recognisably speedier.

Emerging technologies are opening the door to a new era for the construction sector – an era that could mark the biggest change to the industry since the Industrial Revolution. But, if construction remains as it is, while it’s not the end of the world, we’ll continue to lag behind other industries and the cost of new homes will continue to rise at a rate greater than if technologies were adopted.

Of course, as we exit from the rubble of economic crisis, the current challenges facing the industry will improve. And, there’s no doubt that a huge weight will be lifted off our shoulders when the Bank of England cuts interest rates. After a torrid year, the optimism of 2024 will allow housebuilding to surge again and construction firms to regain healthy margins.

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