Looking Forward: Three tech trends changing housebuilding

From PJ Farr, Managing Director, UK Connect

There is no doubt Coronavirus has had a huge impact on the UK housebuilding industry. Its aftermath will see the whole sector radically change the way it does business. From re-evaluating health and safety procedures through to upskilling the next generation of digitally savvy architects, builders and engineers, we are witnessing rapid, forced evolution across the board.

Nowhere has this been more apparent than in a renewed appetite for technology and how innovation can potentially provide the solutions needed to build more housing stock efficiently, and cost effectively, without compromising on quality and safety.

There’s plenty to get excited about and I for one am pleased to see everyone, from independent builders to major developers, starting to explore how technology can help them build better homes to a higher, more sustainable and more consistent standard.

A myriad of systems and products currently exist and in development – too many to cover in this article. However, here’s my pick of the top three tech trends which will no doubt dominate housebuilding throughout the rest of 2020 and beyond.

1. Go big or go home

A great deal has been written on big data, a term used to describe extremely large data sets which can be used to uncover hidden trends, behavioural patterns and unknown correlations. The information is then used to make more informed business decisions, and serve as the basis for artificial intelligence and automated systems. Essentially, it helps construction technology innovate and evolve.

For housebuilders, big data can be used in a number of ways. One example is historic data, which can be analysed to pick out past risks and errors, identifying corrections and informing future decisions, to avoid potential pitfalls. This can also apply to weather, traffic, community and business activities to determine optimal phasing of construction activity.

Importantly, the collected data can be fed back into BIM systems to schedule future maintenance activity, a vital process as we aim for the elusive ‘Golden Thread of Information’.

2. IoT A-OK

Already an integral piece of construction technology, the Internet of Things, (IoT) is transforming the way housebuilders and developers work.

IoT is a system composed of multiple smart devices and sensors which share data with each other and can be controlled from a central platform. Its potential is huge and could mean a more intuitive, efficient and safer way of working.

Emerging smart technology now means machinery can perform repetitive tasks, such as bricklaying, and even maintain itself; imagine a cement mixer that knows how to order itself more raw materials when it starts to run low.

Aside from the obvious safety benefits, IoT devices can help make construction sites more sustainable. This could be sensors installed in vehicles to automatically switch off engines when idle, or measuring wastage and using the information to better plan a development. These measures have been proven to significantly cut emissions, an important consideration as we strive towards our net-zero 2050 targets.

3. Give me five (and six)

Recently, 5G has received a great deal of attention, and will be indispensable to the provision of the strong, reliable connectivity required to support an increasing reliance on big data, IoT and other technology solutions.

5G will boast faster speeds, better traffic handling and less network congestion. When accompanied with Wi-Fi 6, the newest standard in Wi-Fi technology, it presents a powerful proposition.

Fundamentally, 5G and Wi-Fi 6 will enable users to communicate faster and more effectively, share large scale drawings, and run resource heavy applications without compromising on speed and performance. This agility will be crucial as demands for stock increase and require a greater reliance on MMC and AI-driven volumetric house manufacturing.

Overall, it’s set to be an exciting few years for housebuilding. There are many more interesting innovations and useful systems coming online in construction and I’ve only scratched the surface.

One thing’s for certain, as more tech-backed products and services become readily available, and adopted by housebuilders on a sector-wide scale, we will soon see a safer, more efficient and smarter working environment.