Putting Ireland in fast forward: PJ Rudden on how construction businesses can adapt to be future ready

by | Apr 5, 2023

The key to off-site construction is the quality of digital design using Building Information Modelling (BIM) enabling the industrialisation of construction.

Design and specification of materials are also digitised enabling barcoding of products connected to Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) to enable continuous tracing of building products to guarantee product and construction compliance.

Businesses are only ready for MMC when the project is digitised as otherwise there is a genuine loss of productivity. Build Digital Project is working with the Office of Government Procurement so that major projects are accelerated using a combination of BIM for design and Modern Methods of Construction (MMC) off-site factory manufacturing replacing traditional construction.

This combination is more efficient and more sustainable environmentally. It gives greater productivity and reduces waste management costs as it avoids and minimises the cutting and trimming of timber and steel materials on site.

Ireland is way behind most of Europe. According to the latest statistics in the 2020 KPMG Report on ‘Economic analysis for the productivity in the Irish construction sector’, using mostly 2019 statistics, the ‘Gross Value Adds per hour worked’ (GVA) in Belgium, Denmark and the Netherlands are €45.51, €37.60, and €33.16 respectively whereas the GVA for Ireland was €22.30 when last measured in 2015 and €27.03 for the UK.

The principal drivers for these relative figures if you drill further was found to be greater digitisation in the industry in the countries  chosen. The culture of Next Generation Construction is entirely different, combining BIM and MMC all in comfortable office and factory settings to create a brand-new collaborative working environment.

These will increasingly attract school leavers to become modern apprentices, with digital skills trained in the Further Education Training (FET) College of the Future with increasing gender balance to create an entirely new pathway for future construction in Ireland.

I believe the willingness is there to adapt, particularly when we all are able to witness how digital communications grew substantially with the onset of the Covid pandemic. However, technology and training are currently the principal barriers.

These barriers are now being increasingly removed through the Construction Sector Group (CSG) Sub Group Innovation – where initiatives include the Build Digital Project and Construct Innovate Technology Centre – and the growing encouragement to adopt MMC.

As traditional skills and trades are becoming scarce they are being replaced by the new apprenticeship models being promoted by Solas and the Education and Training Boards (ETBs) around Ireland, to be led also by the FET College of the Future.

We need a new roadmap to embed innovation and digital adoption in construction in Ireland. We are currently laying the foundation stones for this transformation starting with delivery of the Seven Construction Sector Group (CSG) Priority Actions recommended in the 2020 KPMG Report on Construction Productivity in Ireland.

These include the setting up of the Build Digital Project by the Department of Public Expenditure, NDP Delivery and Reform to embed BIM in the sector especially with SMEs who represent 95 per cent of the industry led by TUDublin.

We are now in year two of that five-year project. This year Enterprise Ireland has set up Construct Innovate, centred in University of Galway supported by UCD, TCD, UCC and the Irish Green Building Council, to assist industry to support innovation research. This new National Construction Technology Centre is helping to accelerate housing and infrastructure development to provide water, energy and transport systems to support the need for greatly accelerated housing.

The Department of Enterprise Trade and Employment is working on a new roadmap for Modern Methods of Construction. All of these initiatives are chaired by the CSG Innovation and Digital Adoption Sub Group.

PJ Rudden was a guest speakers at this year’s IHBA Summit at Croke Park, Dublin on March 22. He took part in an expert panel discussion Making Ireland Modular where topics will include off-site construction and unlocking MMC for SMEs

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