Technology brings a new way of working but old practices still ring true – CIF Director Sean Downey

by | Jun 15, 2021

Technology is rapidly being integrated within the entire construction supply chain. Changes are often driven by those serving the FDI market through high purity contracts, pharmaceutical, data centres and medical devices, with client operations being mimicked into construction projects as a result.

Difficulties can lie within the advances brought in by early adopters and clients who’ve seen the need for innovation. But with action comes the potential for complete transformation.

There are key lessons to learn from these early adopter companies, their managing directors and senior leaders.

The first is to always consider the people on the team – perhaps they don’t always respond with the same enthusiasm that you might have for a new idea or process. Stand back and ask, what jacket are they wearing? Put yourself in their shoes.

Before you try to drive change or transformation, think about the people you’re going to be working with. Lesson two is to be solution focused. If you’re bringing forward something you think has the ability to transform, it has to add value.

Next, focus on a maximum of two changes within a 12-month period. When it comes to digital transformation, off-site fabrication or research and development, don’t try to take on too much. Track your development – see what works but also what fails.

What worked well and how can this be replicated elsewhere. Don’t go after everything at once, just because you see competitors or peers doing it. Finally, focus on the people delivering the work on site, those at the coalface, the supervisors and trades, the ones who lift the spanners and install the columns.

Talk to them about how they operate and what would make their lives different. Know how their day operates. The Construction 4.0 Committee, chaired by Tim Ferris of Jones Engineering, leads the CIF policy on innovation.

Our strategy is aligned with government policy on digital transformation, modern methods of construction (MMC) as well as research development and innovation.

We recently spoke to private and public clients, consultants, contractors and off-site manufacturers about the future of MMC. We asked what three things would completely transform the ability to use or demand MMC and off-site manufacturing.

An interesting theme emerged. The word that resonated throughout was certainty – in terms of capacity, standards, quality and delivery. From the providers perspective it was the same – they need certainty of finance, early decisions, certainty of frozen design and also demand.

Both ends of the supply chain are asking the same of each other – this in itself could enable a complete transformation of the off-site manufacturing sector for construction in Ireland.

A new National Centre of Excellence can help to support the transformation of the sector, build greater capability and potential for exports from our industry. Establishing a digitally capable industry and addressing the sustainability challenge will be the measure of our success and build resilience.

This could be a great help too when you consider the industry’s cyclical nature. When the downturn does come, we can still have manufacturing jobs in Ireland serving construction in other jurisdictions.

One company described this new way of working as BIM, FAB, LEAN – it’s like the old analogy … measure twice, cut once. BIM is about understanding how it should all fit together, it’s a cornerstone. FAB is about maximising off-site efficiencies – you don’t have to do it all yourself under one factory roof. The key to LEAN is examining your culture and aligning your people to achieve long-term benefits.

Clients are now demanding greater certainty than ever. If you’re able to lock that down in a project’s early stages – because you’re forward buying materials and bringing them into an off-site fabrication facility – it provides certainty.

For companies who have yet to move towards technology, speak to the CIF. We focus on BIM, MMC and RDI. We can point you towards enterprise vouchers, help with peer learning, provide a mentor, refer you to member companies who’d be happy to help you start your journey.

Nationally, CIF’s role is to fit into this era of digital innovation and adoption. We believe there is potential to completely transform the sector if we continue leading by action.

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