Insight

Demoliton - Safety and productivity drives innovation

1 May 2019 | By Neil Gerrard

R Collard on site at the £5.2m demolition of GlaxoSmithKline’s Greenford site

Demolition contractors are responding to health and safety and environmental drivers to make work ever more efficient. But, with the march of the digital age, some see even bigger changes on the horizon. Neil Gerrard reports.

In a world where constructors are starting to implement the digital twin, deploy drones and augmented reality headsets, and even take advantage of exoskeletons for workers, to name just a few advances, the demolition industry can look somewhat traditional by comparison.

But it would be wrong to assume that there is little innovation taking place in the sector because a raft of push and pull factors are slowly starting to change the way contractors operate – and that only looks set to accelerate in the future.

At the moment, it’s very much a case of evolution rather than revolution, explains National Federation of Demolition Contractors (NFDC) chief executive Howard Button.

“The whole industry is still using fairly traditional methods, albeit more efficiently and more effectively. We are probably awaiting the next step in innovation in the industry to take us forward,” he says.

That includes measures like building fleets of high-reach excavators that can be used to take down buildings more safely and efficiently in built-up areas.

“The biggest machine in the UK now has a reach of about 68m, which is a terrific height, and contractors are using machines of that height for the demolition of tower blocks. We tend to be moving away from explosives, other than in the big power stations where it is quite isolated,” Button says.

AR Demolition used dust suppression technology on its Broadmarsh site in Nottingham

Andrew Farquharson, divisional director for demolition at London-based O’Keefe Group, cites the example of the high-reach excavator with a hydraulic jaws attachment it used to dismantle a large four-storey building on Tabernacle Street in Shoreditch, which was originally occupied by the Financial Times newspaper.

Removing the existing structure was challenging as the building abutted three neighbouring properties which remained fully occupied. Narrow streets also meant access was extremely limited, making the 47-tonne Komatsu high-reach excavator, in conjunction with smaller machines in more sensitive areas next to adjacent buildings, the obvious choice.

Meanwhile, West Midlands firm AR Demolition last year invested £1.5m in three new high-reach Kiesel machines.

“We see this innovative technology as the future of AR Demolition and the industry as a whole,” says managing director and co-owner Richard Dolman.

“The sheer versatility of this new plant allows us to utilise fewer machines to perform the same function, with the ability to change attachments and change from standard to high-reach arms in a fraction of the time with traditional machines. This provides us with massive operational efficiencies.”