Comment: Adopt digital solutions across siloes for better buildings

2 min read

Ibrahim Imam, co-founder & co-CEO, PlanRadar, discusses

the importance of identifying buildings defects at the earliest possible stage and how this benefits structural engineers

The Code of Ethics for Engineers describes how the profession must “hold paramount the safety, health, and welfare of the public.[1]” It’s a commitment that’s more relevant today than ever, particularly for the structural engineering community.

Significant errors could mean legal action, criminal charges, damning media headlines, financial catastrophe and a lengthy ‘blame game’ that obscures rather than reveals where things went wrong. So, it pays to gets things right first-time round, ironing out design faults before construction begins and rectifying defects at the earliest possible stage to ensure the highest quality work.

However, engineers often have to rely on other stakeholders to ensure the build matches the original specification. With the pandemic restricting personnel on-site, inspections are increasingly taking place remotely. As such, the engineer needs to be confident those on-site are working to the highest standards. This is where technology can play a crucial role.

Pre-construction

New legislation, including the Building Safety Bill and Fire Safety Act, is encouraging the greater adoption of digital solutions, to create a stronger industry culture of accurate and comprehensive record keeping.

This is not a new concept for the design phase. For the last decade or more, solutions built on BIM, such as clash-detection software, have revolutionised the way engineers collaborate on designs, allowing potential defects to be fixed before a shovel hits the ground, saving both time and money. However, tech can also give engineers better visibility of their projects once construction has begun.

Documenting all decisions

ConTech has made considerable strides over the past decade, driving quality and safety across the built environment. Mobile apps offer contractors a solution to the time-intensive task of defect management by allowing them to record work carried out digitally while on-site. It also enables them to track where decisions were made that deviate from original designs, who made those decisions and whether they were justified.

For engineers, this approach provides reassurance that work meets the appropriate standards, saving them countless hours spent identifying and rectifying errors and helping to distinguish and resolve the cause of problems.

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Earlier interventions can prevent site workers from inadvertently creating unfixable issues. With engineers able to monitor completed work in real-time, they can step in to address problems, issue new instructions and update plans to take into account the real-life situation.

Improving handovers

Notoriously, O&M manuals often do not receive the attention they deserve and are frequently inconsistently delivered. While time is money and both engineers and contractors are under pressure to meet deadlines and deal with urgent issues on-site, this sometimes means information sharing is not to the standard it should be, especially in the context of the new regulatory framework. This urgently needs rectifying, as complete and accurate handover documentation is a crucial asset for clients, helping to optimise and prolong a building’s lifecycle.

Digital tools that enable clear communication for all parties involved, particularly in the busy construction phase of a project, are standardising the handover process and removing pain points. It’s no secret that miscommunication and missing information are the most common cause of errors in projects, but tech is providing a solution, preventing errors and headaches for engineers.

Joining the dots

Whilst the role of an engineer is often painted with broad strokes and the specific responsibilities of each role is often nuanced, technology that allows for greater visibility and communication across siloes is achieving earlier identification of defects.

No matter the line of engineering, quality assurance and end-user safety will always be a top priority. Engineers looking to navigate potential errors now have the tools at their disposal, improving the way we build and ensuring that best practice is followed at all times.

Ibrahim Imam, co-founder & co-CEO, PlanRadar

[1] https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11668-016-0224-9