Infrastructure underfunding has been a long-standing issue. When compared with the newly constructed infrastructure across other geographies such as Asia, the inadequacies of older infrastructure in the U.S. and the U.K. become apparent. With outdated systems that are no longer fit for purpose or are approaching end of life, these countries are sinking large sums into decaying networks. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, the infrastructure investment gap has now reached $2.59 trillion over a 10-year period. And that’s not all, this lack of funding has greater costs than meets the eye. Estimates suggest that by the year 2039, this continued underinvestment could cost the typical U.S. household as much as $3,300 a year—the need for new and improved infrastructure is clear.
Why is 2022 the year for an infrastructure overhaul?
The timing of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) is no coincidence. Much like the New Deal after the Great Depression, so too the IIJA is hoped to boost jobs and economic activity in the aftermath of the pandemic. The much-needed improvements in U.S. infrastructure will have long-term business benefits but the there are other factors at play. Sustainability is another key driving factor. With new net zero targets set during COP26, infrastructure improvements will play an important role in helping the U.S. attain crucial ESG goals.
The government will be looking to get the highest rate of return on this substantial investment in infrastructure and will look to construction & engineering contractors that can secure the lowest cost, the optimum quality, the most efficient delivery, and the lowest maintenance and operational expense throughout an asset’s lifetime. Infrastructure and large-scale construction projects are often plagued with delays and cost overruns. So, in order to become the most attractive candidate to win the valuable PPPs on offer, contractors must ensure they operate effectively and efficiently with digital technology as the corner stone of every modern construction project.
Standardization is the key to construction efficiency and project delivery. Modern Methods of Construction (MMC) play a huge role in seamlessly standardizing builds through the use of techniques such as modular, offsite, or prefab construction. Modular or prefabricated construction enables the standardization of builds to improve efficiency from design to construction. The assembly of pre-manufactured modules reduces the risk of delays by manufacturing large portions of the build in a controlled environment and reducing the complexity of on-site construction. A recent IFS study suggests that within 5 years, 50% of all construction projects will use modular manufacturing and/or 3D printing, with prefabricated modules accounting for up to 25% of the construction.
BIM also improves efficiency by design by seamlessly integrating different data sets into a 3D model. Layers of data from existing construction assets can be added or overlayed, to allow repeated design processes and standardization of different construction modules. While in the U.K. BIM compliance has become part of the selection criteria for contractors, this practice is yet to reach widespread adoption in the U.S. However, its adoption could significantly improve competitiveness over less tech-adapted contractors.
To tackle the age-old problem of construction project delays and cost overruns, precise monitoring is essential for contractors to manage project timelines and budgets to keep progress on track. Augmented reality (AR) technology can be instrumental to this process. AR devices can automatically perform measurement scans of construction sites at precisely the same point as the previous scan, using enhanced mapping capabilities to plot the exact location. This provides accurate updates of construction project progress, to allow irregularities and errors to be detected and resolved faster.
IoT (Internet of Things) sensors can similarly monitor and relay real-time data into a digital system creating a virtual overview of project activity. IoT sensors in construction equipment can help project managers organize efficient use of equipment and resources for optimal operation. IoT sensors can also be used to monitor conditions within construction sites, such as temperature and humidity, as these factors can cause delays and even damage to construction. Access to accurate, real-time data heightens project managers responsiveness to crises so that the right action can be taken at the right time to avoid incurring unexpected costs and delays.
As new infrastructure projects are proposed under plans set out by the IIJA, construction and engineering firms will be vying to win profitable contracts. The increased focus on contracting for outcomes means there is greater pressure for construction and engineering contractors to improve project management, increase efficiency, and deliver projects on time and on budget.
Here project delivery is key, and the integration of critical digital technologies will be a crucial deciding factor in who is awarded high-value PPPs. These transformative technologies will reshape how construction and engineering contractors compete and change the construction landscape.
Digital technologies are the sure-fire way of enhancing project delivery and contractors that ignore modern methods of construction and digital processes will run the risk of missing out during this time of huge opportunity.
About the Author:
Kenny Ingram is vice president of C&E at IFS. For more, visit www.ifs.com.
Modern Contractor Solutions, July 2022
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