In December 2017, the National BIM Council of Ireland announced its Roadmap to Digital Transition for 2018-2021, the country’s first ever construction digital strategy.

Following in the steps of many other European countries, Ireland’s BIM strategy aims to achieve a 20 per cent reduction in construction cost in Ireland and a 20 per cent increase in construction exports from Ireland to overseas markets across the next four years.1

This is a huge step for Irish construction, and shows a real commitment from the Government to pushing a digital transition – something that’s imperative if our construction sector is to keep up with the pace of change in the sector globally.

While tried and tested, and often still relied upon, traditional methods of construction don’t offer the cost, time and health and safety benefits that are required to meet the increasingly demanding specifications of today’s built environment. The construction industry is one of Ireland’s biggest contributors to its gross national profit, and is even forecast to contribute around 10 per cent of GNP to the Irish economy over the next two years.2 However, unlike many other industries, it still relies heavily upon human judgement and labour alone.

We’re seeing huge advances in automated construction processes which are helping to drive down cost through time savings and minimising mistakes on site. Machine control, for example, uses GPS data, 3D models and precise positioning data sent directly to a screen in the drivers’ cab. This helps contractors dig earthworks much more accurately in line with design plans without a reliance on human judgement or need of an engineer on site for measurements.

When used with web-based systems like Topcon’s Sitelink3D, engineers can remotely connect to any machine on site to share data, update designs or monitor progress – therefore minimising the risk of delays or errors without actually leaving the office.

The benefits are evident, and many global contractors are already embracing automated construction workflows in Ireland after seeing these benefits on projects elsewhere in the world. However, for smaller contractors in Ireland, winning tenders often comes down to whoever can do the work for the lowest price. As a result, investing in automated construction can be too big an initial outlay for that project.

For the Irish industry to embrace a transition to more efficient workflows as a whole, there needs to be a change from the top. On major public infrastructure projects, we’re seeing an increasing number of countries’ Governments specifying that technology such as machine control needs to be included in the tender. By setting this precedent, the adoption of modern construction workflows will naturally become more widespread. This in turn will result in a much more productive construction output overall.

The reality in Ireland, however, is that much of its construction industry is still recovering from the heavy impact of the economic recession and, in fact, a lot of companies are only now getting back on their feet. One of the most affected areas has been skills and education due to impact of a large number of skilled construction workers changing profession or even emigrating during the recession. For education providers in Ireland, this led to a challenge in attracting fresh talent to its surveying and engineering courses, ultimately resulting in a squeeze on budgets.

Since then, technological advancements in the construction industry have moved rapidly, and digital transitions like the one outlined in Ireland’s BIM Strategy are revolutionising job roles within construction. It’s imperative that colleges are a part of this change as they train the next generation of professionals, however with limited resources available it’s a challenge for educators to invest in the newest technology at the speed that’s now required.

This is something that Topcon, as a construction manufacturer, is passionate about supporting. Over the past two years, we’ve set a precedent in partnering with colleges across Ireland to help lecturers bring the newest technology and workflows to their students. Partnerships like these are helping ensure that new professionals coming into the construction industry are familiar with digital construction workflows and therefore can help in the adoption of these from the ground up.

As the population in Ireland grows, and becomes increasingly more urbanised, the demand for infrastructure will continue to boom. Widespread adoption of smarter construction workflows is therefore a priority, and the National BIM Council of Ireland’s Roadmap to Digital Transition for 2018-2021 is a promising step towards this change. However, for the transition to be truly embraced by the whole industry, more needs to be done to make educators a part of it. By forming partnerships between educators and those working in the industry, the digital transition can more effectively be introduced from both the ground up and the top down.  Article by Karol Friel, Sales Manager at Topcon Ireland.

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