Do we need smart construction to get smart buildings?

In a report dating back to June 2016, McKinsey & Company looked at the changes needed to improve productivity in the global construction industry (Imagining construction’s digital future). The industry employs 7% of the global workforce, and with a staggering $10 trillion spent each year on new infrastructure, even tiny changes in productivity will have marked effects on both jobs and sector value. But, according to figures presented by Antony Slumbers in a tweet today, the construction industry spends around 1% on R&D compared to tech companies like Amazon who spend 12%. Clearly, there is scope to spend more to achieve greater productivity returns.

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In our view, truly smart buildings are started on the drawing board. So, if the necessary step of getting them out of the ground is “dumb”, how can we possibly create a smart building? How can we know, for example, that it was built according to the plans; with the materials specified; in weather conditions that were optimum; by people that knew what they were doing, and; were safe while doing it? What impact would this data have on the ongoing use, management and maintenance of the asset? Do we have the spec sheet and is it performing according to spec? If it were a software or hardware package we would, so do we need the same for our buildings along with the mechanisms to check performance against spec?

We think we do, with digital platforms and sensors used before, during and after construction will provide that certainty and a whole lot more besides. The five trends highlighted by McKinsey are really all about platform and sensing capabilities for construction that generate data and insights that can be used to accelerate the build and/or increase the durability of the final output.

Think use pattern feedback; materials durability; occupant satisfaction; repair rates; scheduled vs unscheduled maintenance; thermal and acoustic performance; energy consumption; operational costs. Imagine these statistics being available to the designer, construction firm, lender, developer, owner, occupier and user of the building and think about how quickly innovation would happen once the building is smart from inception.