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What’s on the horizon for the construction industry in 2022?

What’s on the horizon for the construction industry in 2022?

2021 came with some huge challenges to contend with, our industry experts run through what 2022 will hold for the construction industry.

By Professor Becky Strachan – Vice-Chair of IC3 and Professor in Engineering & Environment at Northumbria University

In the summer of 2020, we spoke to industry experts to ask if Covid-19 would be the catalyst for change the construction industry needed. Years of under-investment in R&D, low levels of digitisation and a fragmented ecosystem that eclipses most other industries had led to persistently poor productivity and a series of catastrophic failures that has taken both lives and livelihoods.

Almost 18 months later, construction finally appears to be on the precipice of change that many have been striving towards for many years. As construction sites lay abandoned and teams tried to continue doing their jobs from home, there was a marked shift towards digital adoption that took place across the sector. Investment in construction technology had been on a steady rise for some time globally, with the UK’s £170million construction sector deal driving increased R&D activity across the UK. The Covid pandemic accelerated this by creating an environment that demonstrated the value of digital technology in construction on an unprecedented level – resulting in a record year of investment by the end of 2020.

As we go into 2022, we have spoken to our key partners in the International Centre for Connected Construction (IC3) to get their take on what the next 12 months has in store. Whilst there is a definite air of optimism that large and positive changes are afoot, there are also cautions of risks that still need to be mitigated, and the importance of adopting technology to help with this.

Mark Thompson, Managing Partner at Ryder Architecture

This year will be a balancing act for the construction industry. It’s well publicised that construction output post lockdown has risen at its sharpest levels in nearly a decade, and we are personally seeing an unprecedented rise in demand for our services. However, there is also a range of risks that the industry will have to navigate to be able to deliver and fully capitalise on the opportunities ahead.

The building safety bill, which aims to ensure the safety of people in buildings, will be fully rolled out this year. Despite that, few people really understand the impact it will have on professionals across all disciplines. While the bill attributes specific responsibility for compliance, how this plays out across the construction ecosystem and lifecycle of buildings is yet to be established in practice. Similarly, the covid pandemic and remote working have driven a sharp rise in digital adoption, yet the concept of a ‘golden thread’ that brings together the necessary information from all professions is still some way off at an industry scale.

The journey to NetZero continues to be an important challenge. With political leaders leaving COP26 under instruction to strengthen their carbon reduction pledges, construction leaders will have to step up and lead by example. Overall, small and incremental changes are not going to overcome the big hurdles and deliver big rewards. The winners in 2022 and beyond will be those that understand reinvention is a great motto for construction.

Tom Jarman, Director at Low Carbon Journey

2022 is a crunch time for keeping the climate faith, and for construction to make its voice heard.  We have reached a point where there is very little capacity left to absorb more greenhouse gases; the good news is that there is the strongest consensus I have seen in my lifetime for climate action.  One outcome of this change however is the messiness of transition; oil is fast becoming a twilight industry, but the renewables ecosystem is not yet moving in alignment to make up the supply that is needed, and consequently, we are seeing the impact on consumers.  This is starting to translate into politics, with calls for the Government to reduce green taxes, obligations, and requirements.

The transition to a low carbon future creates enormous opportunities for construction; housing retrofit is a multi-billion-pound investment programme over the long term, there are incredible opportunities for low carbon steel, concrete, biobased construction and sequestration; and our digital future has fantastic potential. We have much to gain from decarbonisation and transition, including showcasing an exciting industry that offers people, at a very practical level, a route into being at the heart of the solution - but we must be clear we an ambitious industry, impatient for change, despite the inevitable pressure to pause the journey.

Bex Hodgson-Jones, Innovation & Improvement Director at Sir Robert McAlpine Limited

As the sector, and the world, emerges from the global pandemic, 2022 is not only about building back better, but building back greener. As an industry that generates around 40% of global carbon emissions, construction has a vital role to play in the journey to NetZero.

The industry has proven that it is able to adapt quickly when it needs to, and it's been encouraging to see a marked shift in perceptions about and adoption of digital technologies. It is critical to use this refreshed outlook to drive transformation on a new level and assess the opportunities Modern Methods of Construction provide in terms of solving problems like the climate emergency, productivity and safety.

As we shift our mindset to solving the immediate issue of lockdowns and labour shortages, we need to really understand the future skills requirements of our industry, rethink the profile of the talent we want to attract, and actively engage with educators rights across the spectrum to ensure we can provide a better and greener built environment.

Steffan Speer, Technical Director at Morgan Sindall Construction

2022 will be a big year for moving construction towards being a dynamic, innovative and exciting industry to work in. We expect to see even more advances in technology driven by start-ups and embedding of that technology in project delivery. Artificial Intelligence (AI), sensors and the Internet of Things (IoT) will all support the evolution of reliable and streamlined supply chains by providing a clear line of sight across the construction ecosystem. Blockchain and drone technology are also set to become increasingly pervasive, with the likes of robotics potentially automating tasks in the long-term to address specific skills gaps and make way for high skilled jobs.

As the use of technology becomes more embedded, and we gain more data and insight from the design, construction and maintenance of the built environment, we expect to see a shift towards standardisation of components and process that supports productivity and quality in the long run. We hope that this will also support the development and use of sustainable materials that reduce carbon outputs of built assets.

While the sector is tasked with tackling some of the biggest problems in our history – like climate change – we find a new sense of purpose that will help us to attract a more diverse workforce than ever before. This will be essential to successfully tackling the big challenges we face.

Richard Charnley, Investment Director at Northstar Ventures UK

Investment in construction technology or ‘ConTech’ has reached record levels post-covid. While the industry has seen a steady increase since 2015 generally, the pandemic presented the perfect opportunity to demonstrate the power of ConTech, driving a 56% rise in investments to $1.3billion.

Technologies supporting automation of labour and remote working have largely driven the trend. Autonomous drones are increasingly being used for site inspection, while AI enables real time analysis of images and videos captured by these devices. 3D printing to support pre-fabrication that alleviates labour intensive sites is also on the rise, while digital twins are supporting simulation and optimisation of design before construction even begins.

The recent £120million investment to support Causeway’s cloud-based solutions for the industry signifies the continued appetite in the finance world for ConTech. The increased acceptance for digital transformation together with the need to respond to big challenges could start a much-needed shift in the industry’s image from traditional and manual to innovative and highly digitised in 2022. 

Charlie Hoult, Chair of Dynamo and Managing Director at HyHubs

The shift to hybrid working is, without doubt, here to stay, and this has big implications for urban environments. Office workers are spending less time in cities, which has a knock-on effect for retail and hospitality that rely heavily on the associated footfall. Technology has a key role to play in helping us fully understand the opportunities and challenges this shift will create, and how we can reimagine urban areas in response.

The rise in city data together with advances in digital twin technology will be a powerful tool here. More and more buildings are being fitted with sensors to help control operational efficiency, but the uses of these sensors will likely evolve quickly over the next few years. Understanding how and when buildings are used can support traffic control and capacity from a public health perspective, but it can also influence the design of spaces to improve user experience and make attractive real estate propositions. 

Furthermore, combining data sets from multiple buildings in a city with data from drones and satellites can allow us to create digital twins on an urban scale. Integrating these live data streams means these virtual cities will act exactly as their physical counterparts. They can therefore be used to test and model the impact of interventions, supporting the design, construction and management of streetscapes, transport systems and more.

While there is still a lot to be worked out in terms of integrating data on the city level, the technical capability is already there. In 2022, we hope to see the two sides start to come together, to unlock the full potential of these emerging technologies.




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