Plant potential

John McAuliffe highlights the importance of new technology to the construction sector and encourages companies to invest in new solutions

The recent announcement of plans to invest £5 billion in schemes to boost housebuilding couldn’t have come at a better time. With proposed measures including an accelerated construction scheme and the selling off of brownfield public land, this is music to the ears of construction professionals.

Brownfield land is fundamental to addressing the UK’s housing crisis due to its proximity to urban areas and the opportunity to avoid building on greenfield sites. Planning reforms over the last two years have lifted red tape within the planning application process, and newly proposed investment will further improve the efficiency with which new homes are approved and built.

The primary concern regarding the use of brownfield land for developers is its legacy contamination issues. Developers should approach a remediation contractor from the outset, as early involvement ensures that time efficiencies are made and value-engineering opportunities are taken. Understanding the end use of the land, and associated risks, allows a specialist to formulate a tailor-made approach, avoiding unnecessary processes, which may incur additional costs with no supplementary benefits.

In order for construction teams to carry out thorough, cost-effective remediation of brownfield land, procurement of cutting edge plant and machinery is vital. The industry is making steps towards embracing increasingly sophisticated technology, but more must be done to convince smaller firms of its value and long-term benefits.

The creation of intelligent machinery relies on a combination of advanced software and hardware, allowing efficient collection of raw data. This data guides maintenance and refurbishment over a site’s life cycle for maintenance and refurbishment. Nowadays, BIM is important at each stage of a project, from design conception to decommissioning. Not only does BIM involve the creation of detailed site models, but it also promotes efficient collaboration between on-site and remote teams. This behaviour allows the secure transfer of data and limits loss due to human error.

Some companies are reticent to progress with BIM technologies due to high initial capital costs. Despite this, it’s important that firms consider the value that such an investment can bring. Fewer individuals required on-site, as well as less time spent on inefficient data transfer, allows cost savings to be passed onto clients. This means that businesses can remain competitively priced in an aggressive industry.

McAuliffe’s in-house surveying and engineering departments design and deliver bulk earthworks and remediation solutions using 3D GPS systems built into plant. The team was recently commissioned to provide ground improvement and remediation services on the site of the former BICC cable factory at Prescot Business Park in Warrington. Machines were fitted with cutting edge 3D GPS software, allowing operators to access design models and work to high levels of accuracy without the need for continual on-site engineering support. Models created were then passed on to subsequent contractors for the design and build of follow-on packages of work. This technology added real value and time savings, providing as-built information and real-time feedback on levels, locations and site features.

Health and safety is a priority on all construction projects and advances in on-site technology are helping improve standards across the board. Manufacturer Komatsu has pioneered the latest hardware, incorporating hydraulic systems with no external wires or poles. Machines are then able to translate on-board data to operate under hydraulic control through GPS and mobile sim card technologies. This allows the accurate identification of contaminants and execution of earthworks specifications without the need for engineers on-site, a significant health and safety benefit.

In addition to BIM and more tightly incorporated hardware, the advent of emission control on engines has promoted advancements in engine technology and fuel efficiency. This includes hybrid technology, which has been developed and rolled out by Komatsu and other manufacturers. Plant hybrid technology is based on primitive systems in cars, using batteries to provide power on less demanding activities such as rotation on an excavator. Significant savings are made on the cost of fuel, but there is still a lot of work to be done in developing more sophisticated technology.

In the next few years, the construction industry will focus on technology that reduces the number of individuals required on-site. Fewer workers cuts costs and improves health and safety standards, something which can be achieved by rolling out more automated machinery. The first step will be improving the degree of control within hydraulics of machinery, allowing enhanced automation of rotation and travel of plant. Driverless equipment is currently deployed on large quarry projects in Australia, and it is hoped that similar technology can be downsized to smaller projects in the UK.

The sooner that construction firms of all sizes realise the value of investment in plant technology, the faster the industry can move towards improving cost efficiencies and health and safety standards across the board.

John McAuliffe is managing director at McAuliffe Group. McAuliffe is one of the UK’s leading environmental contracting specialists, delivering innovative cost reduction solutions at the land acquisition and build out stages in the transformation of brownfield land. Its services include; soil and groundwater remediation, demolition, bulk earthworks and haulage.

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