Builders and contractors need to find ways of recuperating losses and minimising unnecessary material consumption. Ibrahim Imam of PlanRadar has a suggestion
The construction industry is facing one of its most challenging periods to date. It’s a testing time for builders and contractors, who are having to navigate the minefield of evolving regulation, skills shortages and – most pressing of all – supply chain issues.
It is an issue that has hampered construction output throughout the second half of 2021, and is set to linger well into 2022 and has caused expenditure and production costs to soar. In fact, a recent HBF survey, showed 78% of SME housebuilders see the supply and cost of materials as a major barrier to delivery.
With such a difficult landscape to manage, it is no surprise that builders and contractors are making economies and looking at ways to recuperate costs. As the saying goes “when the going gets tough, the tough get going”.
Yet there are some silver linings. While the pandemic has encouraged builders and contractors to take advantage of the latest digital tools and software, by using these emerging systems to help them to build more accurately, they can also cut down on waste and reduce the number of mistakes made during construction and, consequently, the amount of rework needed.
Beyond market challenges, the sector has an issue with quality control, and it is costing companies millions each year to rectify mistakes
Importantly, the ongoing take-up of digital adoption is helping builders to react quickly to market crises with less disruption to overall work rate. Whether it’s covid disruption or supply shortages, we have seen the multiple benefits that can be gained by working digitally.
Paying the price
According to the sector-backed NPO Get it Right initiative, studies have shown the direct cost of avoidable error across the construction industry is around 5% of project value. In other words, the initiative suggests, it is well in excess of UK average profit levels, and costing approximately £5bn a year.
This figure does not take into account unmeasured or indirect costs which bring estimates closer to 10-25%, equating to more than £20bn a year in the UK sector alone. What this tells us is that, beyond market challenges, the sector has an issue with quality control, and it is costing companies millions each year to rectify mistakes.
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This is where digital construction can step in. Software, such as apps that help with quality assurance and documenting compliance, have now become central to a project’s success.
Powerful data gathering functions are allowing information to be entered quickly and with greater accuracy by qualified experts on-site. This includes digital replicas of worksheets and key documents such as site diaries or health and safety audits.
These platforms are providing an effective, automated solution to traditional, manual data capture methods, which often lead to human error when transcribing handwritten notes. It is also time-efficient, meaning reports can be easily generated without duplicating work and that water-tight, tamper-free digital audit trails are readily available.
With greater oversight, project owners have a more accurate view of what is actually happening on-site, and where efficiencies in resourcing can be found. And, with fewer mistakes, there is less need for costly re-work.
Time is money
We have touched on it briefly, but digitising construction projects can dramatically reduce the time spent in project management and administration. Time is money, so finding ways to maximise efficiency, particularly around communication and correct documentation, can keep projects running like a well-oiled machine.
One of the biggest barriers when it comes to communication is corresponding with companies and individuals outside an organisation
For example, one of the biggest barriers when it comes to communication is corresponding with companies and individuals outside an organisation, especially during the planning and design process. Now, in-app software that enables instant messaging between teams can speed up work rates.
Plans, designs and updates can easily be shared with those who might not have software licensing rights, streamlining communication, increasing visibility for all in involved and potentially saving hours in calls and emails each week.
Although building supply shortages are easing, the effects of last year’s disruption lingers and long lead times remain the norm. This is further exacerbated by the likelihood of the cost of building products increasing.
Research from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy last October found that average material costs were 23.5% higher than in August 2020. Other global economic factors could prompt a further cost hike, due to rising energy prices and inflation rates, squeezing profits even further. In such a scenario, reducing material waste and reducing errors can help to claw back potential profit losses.
Visualisation tools can help to keep waste to a minimum by identifying potential incidences early in the construction journey. This means they can be immediately addressed, as opposed to tackling them once the work has been completed, preventing time-consuming and costly rework.
The merits of working with digital tools are not only found in error reduction and lower waste – it is also boosting build quality. The fewer mistakes that are made, the better the finished product will be. For developers and contractors, this can result in long-term advantages when it comes to reputation management.
It stands to reason that those who embrace digital solutions now will stand to make long-term gains in an increasingly competitive market.
Ibrahim Imam is co-founder and co-CEO of PlanRadar