Construction in a post-pandemic era

When faced with an ‘adapt or die’ scenario the construction industry and key players within it are taking the opportunity to push boundaries and technologies to benefit the long run, making changes to work practices, technology and ideologies.

Peter Salveson, leaning on wall
Peter Salveson, CEO of Hansen Yuncken. (Image source: Hansen Yuncken)

The construction and building industry had its fair share of ups and downs over the last couple years due to the global pandemic.  Employing almost 9% of the Australian workforce, construction sites were considered essential services to keep the Australian economy buoyant, but coupled with strict restrictions including physical distancing and hygiene practices as well as anxiety and a new focus on mental health and wellbeing saw a shift in how sites were to be managed.

Across the country, the industry seemed to be booming but scratch the surface and we saw prominent builders going bust, shortages in subcontractors and the labour force, supply chains being severely affected & operators having to find alternative ways to plan workforces, deliverables and unforeseeable and additional overhead costs being passed on.   

Like many other industries during the pandemic, there was a ‘fast forward’ approach to many innovations still in the design phase and in development restrictions. From the McGowan Government in WA creating new planning laws to cut council ‘red tape’ for home renovations and major developments to boost the WA economy in 2020 and 2021 & substantial changes to the overall WA planning system in general to the stimulus packages including the HomeBuilder Scheme and the 2021 Australian Infrastructure plan, governments were looking to the sector to pull the country out of the pandemic.

What we know for sure, is from 2022 the industry is on the precipice of innovation & change.

When faced with an ‘adapt or die’ scenario the construction industry and key players within it are taking the opportunity to push boundaries and technologies to benefit the long run, making changes to work practices, technology and ideologies.

Historically the sector has upheld more ‘traditional’ work practices. Site managers are needed on site 24/7 with face-to-face contact, ‘smokos’ are a regular part of the day, not to mention the physical and mental toll of working on site and building homes, apartments and large scale developments on budget and on time.

More and more investors and potential buyers are feeling the impact of delays and cost blowouts so what is being done?  Where do we see the construction industry heading and how will this impact the buyer?

It started off small; allowing remote access and being ‘virtually present’ for meetings for key personnel. This may seem mainstream for the mainstream office workforce industries that has seen positive uptake from working from home and virtual meetings, but was relatively unheard of, let alone utilised in the building and construction industries.  

Travel costs have reduced from hosting meetings virtually instead of onsite, and site offices have been replaced with offices at home; And the workplace culture has seen vast improvements with the creation of flexible working environments, creating workforce teams to increase productivity and innovation, as well as active participation and acknowledgment of mental health concerns.

Coming into the 21st century

Technology is now being developed and utilised to create efficiencies like never before. According to Peter Salveson, CEO of Hansen Yuncken an example of this emerging technology is Building Information Modelling (BIM).

“The innovation enables teams to not only create projects in a digital environment, but to meticulously plan each step of the process, enabling them to foresee where clashes between trades may occur and to rectify this through careful coordination of services.

“Combined with 360 degree videography and drone deployment, this technology allows an entire build to be monitored remotely in real time. The benefits of this are multifaceted, and not only improve productivity and quality of the build itself, but allows any safety hazards to be identified early. These can be duly corrected without impacting timings, delaying the projects or increasing usage of materials.” He said.

“Digital innovation should be seized by industry leaders as an opportunity to protect its greatest asset - its people. Improving site safety and boosting team morale, in turn increasing productivity, will prove crucial to the sector’s future success.

“While it may not be a widely adopted view, the construction sector must maintain a people-centric culture - regardless of how building practices evolve.” Said Mr Salveson.

Changing the way we see traditional methods

It’s not just about workflows and processes, Cutting-edge Australian 3D printing building and construction company, Luyten SD has built the world’s first 3D printed house in the southern hemisphere.

Being built in Melbourne the structure is both Australian and New Zealand building code compliant using Luyten’s own robust and eco-friendly Ultimatecrete - 3D printable concrete four times stronger than the 20 MPa residential building code requires.

“The elements were printed in two days and assembled on day three. Printed elements were ready to handle and be moved within only five hours of being printed. This is the great thing about our special concrete mix, it cures quickly and delivers results that supersede what is currently available at four times less cost.”  Cofounder and CEO, Ahmed Mahil said.

Less than 2 years old, founded in 2020 Luyten is focused on bridging the technological gap in large-scale and manufacturing industries through the introduction of robust construction automation technologies such as cutting-edge 3D printing and additive technologies. The company designs and manufactures custom large-scale three-dimensional construction printers for domestic and commercial construction.

“We are absolutely ecstatic with the 3D printing of our first house. The structure looks great and it is a fine example of the type of structure that can be built and will provide people with the ability to see and touch a 3D printed home in person before they order one.” said Mr Mahil.

Since launching, Luyten’s mission has been to make construction easier and more sustainable across a broad range of industries by reducing the time and cost to build, the amount of construction waste generated, and the impact of build activities on the surrounding environment.

“We have already taken many orders for the Heptapod where they will be used for affordable housing in regional areas of the country, through to the establishment of schools and accommodation offerings as well.

“Luyten transforms construction projects that traditionally take months or years to complete, and finishes them within a number of days. The 3D concrete printing revolutionary technology reduces 60 percent of construction waste, 70 percent of production time, and 80 percent of labour costs when comparing hands-on construction projects,

“In addition, the technology is proven to increase construction site efficiency with 60 percent guaranteed costs savings, 300 to 500 times shorter execution times, and an 80 percent total reduction in monetary expenses without formwork in concrete construction.” Mahil explained.

A green footprint

The Construction industry contributes almost 20% of Australia’s carbon footprint so sustainability also needs to be addressed within the sector and the impact practices have on the environment.  Organisations are also looking at greener materials to reduce wastage and working with clients and stakeholders to reduce their climate impact.

Hansen Yuncken has already started works on more sustainable practices with the use of green concrete and continuing to innovate business practices to maximise the use of renewable energy and recycled water where possible.

“The post-COVID construction industry is one that has not so much changed as rapidly grown. Sustainability, digital innovation and equality have always been a priority and, as lockdowns end, we will continue to build a better, shared future for generations to come.” concluded Mr Salveson.

Luyten were cognisant on the industry’s carbon footprint and their core business was to create construction solutions for generations to come, that reduce emissions.

“Our unmatched technology employs up to 40 percent less carbon dioxide emissions through propriety mixes that reduce use of cement, and the robotic systems reduce construction site and logistics carbon dioxide footprints by 50 to 70 percent,” Mahil added. 

Some of these changes almost seem redundant but for an industry that hasn’t really changed over the decades these small changes are making a big difference, and maybe we have COVID to thank, for encouraging (or forcing) companies to create change for the better.

What we can be sure of is that these operational changes create the space and time to work on product technology and service productivity, and in a world where time is money and money is time, shouldn’t we be encouraging one of our biggest industries to innovate?

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