Like many industries, construction is currently embracing a range of new technologies – from virtual reality to the Internet of Things and automation – which has the potential to make a huge difference to the way things are done in future.
Some innovations come with concerns, such as robots which can lay bricks, as people worry about loss of jobs and possible lowering of standards. But many others have already been greeted with enthusiasm by the industry and look set to have highly positive impacts.
Below is a summary of new technology in the pipeline which could help reduce risk and improve safety:
Self-healing concrete –Concrete deteriorates over time as it dries out and cracks, creating a risk that structures could crumble. Now scientists have found that embedding a type of fungus into concrete can dramatically extend the lifespan of concrete structures. The technology is still in its early stages but the hope is that ‘self-healing’ concrete, which repairs itself, could change the future of construction.
Wearable technology – Employee safety has always been regarded as one of the most important issues in the industry but now there are technologies to connect machinery, people and data to reduce errors and minimise risk. For example, ‘smart helmets’ include features such as fall impact detection and video recording and ‘smart vests’ contain GPS tracking capabilities for use on large construction sites.
Virtual reality – Virtual reality is being used by architects to bring their designs to life, providing clients with 3D ‘walk throughs’. Importantly, these ‘walk throughs’ can help predict risks before construction even begins. Using Building Information Modelling (BIM) also provides data management benefits which help all aspects of the project team work together at all stages of the build. It can also aid maintenance post-build.
Blockchain – This technology, the inspiration behind crypto currencies, uses a network of computers across the world to create real-time ledgers or spreadsheets for transactions, agreements or contracts which need to be independently recorded and verified. Everyone in the network can access an up to date version of the ledger, and once updated the ledger cannot be altered or tampered with (only updated). It can be a strong guard against counterfeit goods, materials and equipment - and has the potential to free up capital flows, lower transaction costs, speed up processes and provide greater security for construction firms.
Internet of Things – IoT technology allows a network of machines to talk to each other and exchange data, providing a wealth of information which can aid safety, predict risk and improve performance. It is already being used for remote operation and monitoring, supply replenishment, tool tracking and equipment servicing.
Robotics – Robots which can lay bricks have made big headlines, even though at present they still need heavy supervision. However, there are many other aspects of robotics which could bring benefits to the industry. A start-up in San Francisco, for instance, is using the technology to allow bulldozers, excavators and other construction vehicles to operate themselves. The idea behind Built Robotics is to use automation technology “to make construction safer, faster and cheaper," said founder Noah Ready-Campbell.
Are there any risks to consider around new technology?
All these tech trends are helping to improve risk management in the construction industry, however, it doesn’t mean they come without risks or the need for additional precautions.
Reliance on machinery and technology which can have a huge impact on production and business when it goes wrong. This makes business interruption insurance even more important in the modern era which covers businesses if they are unable to trade due to an unforeseen interruption. Construction businesses should also look at insurance which covers the potential failure, replacement or maintenance of high-tech equipment.
Businesses should also be aware that an increased usage of digital tools can increase the impact of a cyber breach. Whether this is an error from an employee or an attack from a cyber criminal it can have long-term and short-term effects.
Any business that holds consumer data or uses a computer system within its business model needs to have robust cyber security and a tested contingency plan in place should things go wrong.
If your business is making changes to keep up with technological advancements and unsure about the risks they pose, speak to Howden. Howden has a dedicated team who are experts in arranging insurances for construction businesses of all sizes.