Innovation and Technology in Hire in 2019

13 November 2018

In 2018, the construction industry began to embrace technology. Firstly, IPAF recommended the use of virtual reality for labourers training to work at height. This was followed by Nationwide Platforms becoming the first UK-based company utilising VR to complement its powered access training.

We at PAL Hire predict 2019 will be an even bigger year for technology and innovation within the construction industry. Alongside VR training, there is the possibility 3D printers will help construction companies reduce project costs, as well as the use of artificial intelligence and robots to automate tasks.

VR Training

Nationwide Platforms has developed VR simulators to assist boom and scissor lift operators with their powered access training. Each unit has a replica platform basket and control panel along with a motion-tracking headset that mimics the sensation of operating a lift. The training courses have been developed alongside a North American company and have been formally endorsed by IPAF. Training course have been developed for different levels of experience: Introduction to Powered Access; Operator Mid-term Assessment; Operator Skills Assessment; Risk Awareness Workshop.

There are pros and cons when utilising virtual reality within the construction industry, many of which are unpredictable, as found in initial tests.

Although simulators are an expensive one-off cost, in the long-run they are considerably cheaper when compared to using real machinery. The costs of training and re-training operatives with physical equipment could become considerable over a few years and the machinery isn’t being used on-site.

Alongside long-term cost saving, it is much safer to train operatives with VR equipment than actual machinery. The risks associated with working at height are well documented but ensuring all your staff understand the safety risks involved could help save lives.

Due to the risks involved, when things go wrong, they go horribly wrong. Many of the first trainees suffered psychological effects due to experiencing hazardous situations, showcasing the immense detail and realistic world created by VR.

One training scenario simulated a worker falling from an unsecured ladder into the path of an oncoming car. Operatives witness the man fall, watch the ambulance approach, hear the sirens wail, and listen to a phone call to the man’s wife after he is pronounced dead.

These scenarios rarely happen on-site and refinement will be needed in 2019 for the industry to fully immerse itself in the technology.

3D Printing

There have been several 3D printing experimentations with a significant degree of success. 3D technology is already having a great impact on the construction industry and the global concrete 3D printing sector is expected to reach c$55m by 2021.

Even though the tech is in its infancy and currently has limitations, the advancement of technology could help overcome these limitations. 3D concrete printing offers many benefits to users, primarily the reduction in the cost of materials and the length of the project.

Using 3D printing technology could reduce a 2 week project to 3 or 4 days and could also reduce the risk of injury work. 3D printing is also economical due to fewer materials being used in the manufacturing process which, in turn, reduces the impact on the environment.

Farther afield, a Dutch company has developed a unique construction method capable of creating 3D printed houses. Being able to create curved shapes has helped lower cost and as 3D printers can work continuously, lead times were also significantly shorter than traditional house building projects.

Before we get too excited about the possibility of living in a 3D printed house, there are some caveats to consider. Rules and regulations surrounding the construction industry were enacted without the possibility of 3D printing in mind. 3D materials would need to meet these regulations before they can be used in mainstream construction.

Artificial Intelligence

Artificial intelligence could improve the construction sector in numerous ways. It can be used for tasks such as bricklaying and remotely operating machinery at dangerous heights.

The impact of the UK leaving the EU could have a major impact on the construction industry. For the government to meet its housing targets, it would require an additional 400,000 workers each year for the next three years. Once the UK leaves the EU, we could lose access to approx. 220,000 migrant workers in the same period. Our pool of workers will reduce significantly and we will have to find alternatives to fill the gap.

In a report published by Balfour Beatty, they believe construction sites will be human-free by 2050 and humans will oversee projects remotely, accessing visuals and data from the machines.

This may be a little bit of a stretch as humans will always be needed in a construction site; however, the type of worker on-site may have to change. Currently, we have labourers who are experts in their field, but may not have the managerial/overseeing skills required on a robot-functioning site.

The type of human found on construction site might change from labourers to quantity surveyors or those skilled to handle robots to ensure machines continue to run at the standard needed to remain competitive.

AI could also lend itself to enhancing security and reducing injury. The face recognition software we now see in the latest smartphones could be coupled with AI to ensure only those registered can enter the site, providing complete safety.

Researchers from Waterloo University in Canada discovered AI technology and scanning software can track the body movements to analyse form and reduce on-site injuries.

Enhanced Transparency

The main reason the construction industry needs to enhance its use of technology is to increase transparency. Transparency is a common frustration for building owners during the construction process due to the lack of a customer focused experience.

VR and AI allows companies to walk clients into a model building and see what their site will look like once the project is complete. This improves the contractor’s ability to set and meet expectations. Updated 3D models would allow clients to watch the project unfold. If issues arise, clients can address them right away in a collaborative environment.

Technology is the way forward in all industries shaping the global and UK economy. 2019 could be the year construction catches up with the rest of the world. PAL Hire is currently in the process of creating supplier and client portals to increase our clients’ experience and further integrate our systems with new and emerging technology to provide an even greater level of customer service.

Find out more about our systems by contacting our team here.