The United Kingdom hopes to cut the time taken to construct a new building in half by pouring £420 million (A$753m) into “bytes and mortar smart construction”, putting pressure on the Australian construction industry to invest in its own innovation efforts.

The new joint government-industry investment, announced by business and energy secretary Greg Clark on Thursday, also supports the UK government’s Clean Growth Industrial Strategy mission to halve the energy use of new builds by 2030.

“As buildings account for around 30 per cent of total emissions, we also want to ensure that we are at the global forefront in designing and building smart, energy efficient and affordable homes and buildings through the Clean Growth Grand Challenge, saving families money on their bills,” Clark said.

The UK government’s intention is to bring together the construction, manufacturing, energy and digital sectors to transform construction in the UK, and will focus on digital building design, new manufacturing technologies and offsite manufacturing.

It’s also looking to expand its construction sector’s reach globally.

“British firms are at the forefront of innovation in the construction and infrastructure sector and the government’s new Sector Deal will ensure that even more of our businesses have the confidence to do business in overseas countries,” international trade secretary Dr Liam Fox said.

“With the global infrastructure market estimated to be worth $57 trillion by 2030, the opportunities are clearly there for our companies.”

The “bytes and mortar” deal will also up skill the country’s construction workers, with £34 million (AU$61m) to scale up innovative training models across the UK.

What’s Australia doing?

Although slow off the starting blocks, the global construction industry is now transforming rapidly.

Australia is in danger of missing out on the opportunities that a modern construction sector could bring, according to University of Melbourne professor Tuan Ngo speaking to The Fifth Estate, which is largely a result of the Australian construction industry’s “poor record of sectoral collaboration when compared to other countries in the OECD”.

“While the construction technologies sector does innovate, the project-dominated basis of the industry can make innovation more difficult than in other sectors. Construction teams often form and dissolve according to the needs of a single project, leading to limited continuity and ongoing relationships,” Professor Ngo said.

“The structure of the industry, which has a small number of large firms and a long tail of small and microbusinesses in the supply chain, can also act as a barrier to collaboration and successful innovation.”

Professor Ngo’s ARC Prefab Centre at the University of Melbourne has conducted a study on the benefits of innovation in construction, which reinforced the benefits of adopting digital and off-site manufacturing technologies

These studies showed that the implementation of digital technologies, in particular Building Information Modelling (BIM), can reduce project costs by 20 per cent or more.

In addition, Professor Ngo’s study showed that off-site manufacturing (OSM) can reduce costs by 15 to 20 per cent, and reduce completion times by 35-45 per cent.

Professor Ngo supports the notion of collaboration across industry, government and research organisations to ensure the Australian industry adopts appropriate combinations of BIM tools and OSM processes.

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  1. According to the figures, the UK government is saving 20-30% on public project costs through the use of (BIM level 2) tools, which cut-out waste and massively reduce the risk of errors. This has been rolled out since 2011 across all public sector projects, and invariably has a positive flow-on effect to the whole industry including private sector projects where BIM is growing in use.
    Architecture is at the forefront of the change, but government putting mandates on all public projects / all projects over a $X value, will help strengthen the collaborate value of BIM across the construction and related industries, particularly in areas like project management/building surveying/authority approvals/facilities management/manufacturing, which have been resistant to change.
    The Australian government appears to be well behind the UK in adopting and adapting to new technology, and needs to take far more initiative and leadership in this.

  2. Why do we slavishly follow the UK. the UK is a middling country who were technology leaders 150 years ago but have struggled since. Why not follow Singapore ,a model of good governance and infrastructure, or Germany for good design or China for sheer productivity and experience in rapid building. No, our so called intelligentsia go back to “home” as the paragon of all virtue. Please look around and see who truly leads the world.