NBS’ Digital Construction Report shows rising use of emerging tech

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Over a quarter of those surveyed believe the construction industry is performing well, according to the NBS’ 2023 Digital Construction Report

NBS‘s latest Digital Construction Report indicates that the digital transformation of the UK industry is well underway, with one in five (22%) using AI and machine learning, with another fifth planning to do so within the next year.

Despite an overall rise in the use of digital technologies, nearly half (47%) are concerned the industry is behind the times. Moreover, 36% of respondents said they worry that they will be left behind when it comes to digital know-how, showing how fast things are moving on the ground.

Around a quarter (26%) believe this is an outdated view and is no longer the case, and that construction has finally found its ‘digital feet’.

With such a divided split, the Digital Construction Report suggests that ‘digitisation’ is more prominent in some areas of construction than others.

Digital twins are being used to improve design and safety

The popularity of digital twins is growing, with usage up by 50% since 2021. Often used in tandem with AR, VR, and MR(which is utilised by 36% of respondees) in ‘immersive tech’, over half (55%) of those that use digital twins, do so to mirror construction from other projects and to create an ‘as-built model’.

The study also flagged a growing appetite for the use of immersive technologies, such as AR (Augmented Reality), VR (Virtual Reality), and MR (Mixed-Reality), with the main use (74%) recorded as digitally generating ongoing projects in great detail for stakeholder engagement.

For two in three users (62%), immersive tech offers a way to visualise design interfaces, so they can better understand how construction projects fit within existing surroundings.

Just over a third (35%) use it for marketing purposes, particularly amongst suppliers (67%) who recognise its value when selling products and systems.

MMC and offsite methods are also trending upwards

Over half of professionals (57%) had been involved in a project that used MMC in the past twelve months.

In 2021, this figure was hovering at around 50% so an upward trend is taking place. Suppliers were the most likely (70%) followed by contractors (63%) and consultants (58%).

Eight in ten are using cloud computing as part of their daily workflow

While mainly in the form of storage, including Google Drive, OnePoll, DropBox, etc, the study revealed that over seven in ten use it to share documents and information with clients.

Three-quarters (75%) also use it to collaborate with other team members, particularly on 3D models and specifications.

Given the industry’s push towards the Golden Thread and focus on digital information management, it shows that the sector is making the essential investment to increase efficiency and reduce risk in the built environment.

AI is not as widespread…for now

Looking back to 2020, two in five (38%) said they were unsure if their organisation was using it, of those who did, just 9% were using AI. Following the launch of ChatGPT and other algorithm-based language models, the tide is turning.

Although 43% said they have no plans to use AI in construction, more than one in five (22%) have already adopted AI, and a similar number (20%) said they will do so within a year.

Some feel that construction has not yet realised digital’s full potential

A point of interest within the report was that despite overall growth in the use of tech, opinions on whether the industry is still lagging behind others remain divided.

Nearly half of those surveyed (47%) are still concerned the industry is behind the times when it comes to the adoption of digital technologies, but over a quarter believe it’s no longer the case.

David Bain, research manager at NBS, said: “It’s clear from the results that construction has ramped up digital adoption in recent years and is a far stride from where it was three years ago.

“Looking ahead, it will be fascinating to see next year’s report as 2024 is shaping up to be big on AI and machine learning.”

Russell Haworth, NBS CEO, added: “Looking at the evidence, we can see that construction is shaking off old and tired misconceptions and now relies on all manner of digital skills to produce building excellence.

“That said, there are still some areas for improvement and no doubt next year will bring further leaps in tech know-how and application.”

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