Insight

How can construction improve its productivity?

29 August 2018 | By Rob Elvidge

Cornelius20/Dreamstime.com

Cutting defects and adopting paperless technology are among the action points for construction if the industry is to improve its productivity, according to research by CM and software firm PlanGrid. Rob Elvidge, director at PlanGrid EMEA, explains.

The construction industry provides vital ingredients that enhance a nation’s productivity, creating the infrastructure that allows resources to be moved around successfully. The performance of the sector impacts the economy as a whole and plays a critical role in helping to solve the UK productivity puzzle.

However, productivity in the construction industry has declined over the past 50 years, on a global scale. In that period other industries, such as manufacturing, have seen productivity double. Complicated contracts, regulatory compliance and the need for specialisation have made project execution more challenging than ever before. It requires deep coordination between teams, and easy and quick access to all project information to help them deliver more efficiently. 

Solutions will almost certainly include new technology, such as onsite productivity software, project management software and building information modelling software, which can help eliminate wait times and reduce costly rework.

It is against this backdrop that Construction Manager and PlanGrid have carried out research among almost 250 industry professionals to look at the causes of the productivity problem – and possible solutions.

Asked what were the biggest factors affecting productivity in their business, 46% blamed resources – but, interestingly, 42% said they lacked the required information to make confident decisions and 37% said they had to spend too long on administrative tasks.

Significantly, dealing with mistakes and rework take up the most unnecessary time on projects, cited by over two-thirds of survey respondents. This correlates with other industry research on build quality, notably the CIOB study that found that three-quarters of construction professionals had lost faith in the quality management system (CM March 2018).

Further challenges on respondents’ time included dealing with conflict resolution (50%) and scheduling communication and meetings with project stakeholders (41%). The ability to efficiently share information across all relevant parties would help to resolve these issues, and ultimately save time and reduce budget overrun.

Construction is still heavily reliant on paper-based processes. Asked what percentage of their firms’ projects are run with paperless technology, more than a fifth of respondents said they rely entirely on paper plans, while a third indicated less than 25% of their plans are managed paper-free. Barely one in 10 claims to use paperless technology on 75% of projects.

In light of this, it is perhaps surprising that 48% of respondents didn’t know how they tracked paper spend on a project. With research showing this can be in the 0.5% to 1% range – even more on complex projects – this means a £10m project may
spend £100,000 on paper through the life of the project.

With paperless technology, an entire project team’s sheets can be updated and shared in real time without having to wait for a new set to be printed and distributed. This helps to save time, reduce rework and lower costs. Furthermore plans, drawings and contracts are protected from damage throughout, and handover is smoother.

While construction has been slow to adopt new technology to help boost productivity, the survey nonetheless suggests some appetite for change. 

Over half of respondents have experience of using online file-sharing tools to access and share drawings on a project and just over 10% indicate experience using BIM technology for 3D modelling. Web conferencing, estimation and scheduling software all feature in the responses. However, with 10% of respondents admitting to using minimal or no technology in their projects – and only 13% saying they used BIM – there is scope to explore proven solutions that can boost team productivity.

Looking ahead at challenges for the UK construction market over the next 12 months, squeezed access to labour was the one most commonly identified – perhaps not surprising in light of the Brexit uncertainty – by 38% of respondents. Reduced government spending (21%) and increasing wage demand (18%) were also seen as pressing.

It’s time for construction firms to use digital tools to improve performance and make the industry future-ready – to the benefit of both the sector and the UK economy as a whole. Our research shows indicators for change in the industry – we need to build on these early foundations.

This article is presented in association with

Comments

Re. final paragraph.quote "Its time for construction firms to use digital tools to improve performance and make the industry future- ready " unquote.
The Industry is labour intensive on site and always has been and always will be be !. until the robots move in and clone all form of structure. Is there a digital trowel? is there a digital hammer? is there a digital shovel? is there a digital foreman?
You mention defects being a major problem? this was solved for years by having a Finishing Foreman who hounded all trades until there were zero defects and the project could be handed over successfully! a thankless job but it worked (been there got the T shirt!!!) will a digital system replace this??
The industry must have a relentless labour training regime to meet future industry expectations for years to come. irrespective of digital influence.

John Anthony, 30 August 2018

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