Oliver Hughes from Digital Construction Week discusses digital technologies and their impact on the construction industry

POSTED: 20th October 2015
IN: Business news

As part of Digital Construction Week, Aldermore spoke to Oliver Hughes, the event’s director, to discuss the impact digital technologies are having on the construction industry, as well as what the future holds.

Digital Construction Week is a brand new event, comprising of three separate parts: the Westminster VIP Reception on October 20th; the two-day Digital Construction Show from October 21st to October 22nd, and the Digital Construction Awards on October 22nd.

The event will allow key stakeholders from the government, the AECO (Architecture, Engineering, Construction and Owner-operated) industry and the BIM (Building Information Modelling) community to come together and discuss the digitisation of the industry, as well as the challenges and opportunities this presents.  With over 36 hours of live talks, interactive forums, in-depth guidance and support, this is proving to be a must-attend event for anyone in the AECO industry.

To find out more about Digital Construction Week and how digital technologies are impacting the AECO industry, Aldermore spoke to the event’s director, Oliver Hughes.

Why was Digital Construction Week created?

“The AECO industry is going through a huge period of change. From the way we design buildings all the way through to how we operate them, digital technologies and processes are playing a huge part in that. For me, there’s a real image of construction being this industry of hard hats and muddy building sites, but there’s so much more to it than that.

“If you take a look at projects like Crossrail and HS2 there’s an incredible amount of new technology and innovation at play there. Sensors monitoring the entire project and providing real time data that can help project teams mitigate risk, minimise costs, and improve delivery across the board.

“Out in Amsterdam, PLP Architecture have designed arguably the smartest building in the world. A building that can adapt to the needs and habits of its occupants, reducing its own energy usage. When you start to bring in conversations around BIM, big data, smart cities, the internet of things, virtual reality, 3D printing, and advanced manufacturing it paints a really exciting picture for the industry.

“We wanted Digital Construction Week to help colour the industry and colour that picture.  We wanted to provide a place where the industry can come together and share learning and best practice.  But also to provide a place where they can get their heads around what all these different technologies mean to us.”

What impact have digital technologies, such as BIM, had on the current construction industry landscape?

“It won’t be the first time that you’ve read how much of an impact the government’s BIM mandate has had on our industry. It’s accelerated the UK to become a real global centre of expertise.

“During the recession it gave a real shot in the arm to the industry. The bulk of projects were in the public sector, so anyone wanting to win work at that time needed to get their heads round what BIM really meant. It’s brought to the surface a lot of the interesting and exciting things going on in the industry, because if it’s done right BIM is an entirely collaborative process. The data created from the use of BIM is incredible; it’s allowed people to innovate and explore new opportunities. 

“Digital processes and technologies aren’t new to the industry. BIM was coined nearly 15 years ago by Autodesk, but before that the concept had been around since the 1970s. The difference to me is that we’re now in a truly digital age and technology is evolving at an incredible rate. Construction is arguably a pretty adversarial industry, archaic in certain ways but in others we’re lightyears ahead and digital processes can help us all move there.”

How do you think digital technologies will shape the future of construction?

“Ultimately, they will help us design and build better buildings – more efficient, adaptive, intuitive even. The process of construction should become more efficient, safe, and profitable, with less wastage. SMEs and the supply chain will have the opportunity to become more innovative and push the boundaries. 

“For me though, I think the real change piece is around changing the face of the industry, attracting a more diverse workforce, boosting construction up the education agenda, and encouraging wider expertise from outside our industry. If all we give people is a view of hard hats and rigger boots, then there’s only so far we can go.

“One of our exhibitors, Daqri, has got an idea of what the future of protective headgear might look like. And our keynote, Skylar Tibbits form MiT, is working on materials that assemble themselves. When you start talking about the future there’s a lot in the industry to get excited about.”

What can construction workers, business owners and the industry as a whole do to embrace digital?

“We’ve talked to a lot of different people, from AECO and from other industries. I think ultimately it’s about a mind-set. Technology is great, but really it’s about asking the right questions, understanding what outcomes you want to achieve and then finding the right tools to help you deliver those outcomes.

“It’s exciting to talk about futuristic technologies and ideas but ultimately in business it comes down to the bottom line. How can these technologies and processes push the boundaries of what’s possible but also make us more efficient, productive, and ultimately more profitable.

“The use of BIM and digital technologies isn’t just about huge multimillion pound projects of the future, it’s about harnessing the power of digital to make your business more efficient right now.”

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