THE CONSTRUCTION industry in Scotland requires a “technology revolution” if it is to maximise profitability and efficiency in the 21st century.
The comments were made by Stephen Good, chief executive of Construction Scotland Innovation Centre (CSIC), an industry support group that encourages collaboration between construction firms, and with academics to further innovation in what Mr Good said remained a very fragmented industry.
In addition to helping construction businesses overcome challenges and develop prototypes, CSIC is set to invest £1.5 million of its £7.8m core funding on capital equipment that will give businesses access to robotics, large-scale 3D printing facilities and a host of other innovation-driving equipment.
“There is a massive opportunity to use technology to build in a more profitable and efficient way,” said Mr Good. “Construction is one of the last industries to go fully digital. Big chunks [of work] are still manual and traditional. It is ripe for a technology revolution.”
In its current form, Mr Good said the industry is too fragmented, with architects, engineers and builders, among those whose roles differ to the extent there is not natural collaboration outside of specific projects, leading to a lack of innovation.
“The basic premise is to accelerate the expertise needed to solve industry challenges,” said Mr Good. “Construction needs to have more of an innovation culture.
“The challenge is continuous collaboration after the client has stopped paying,” he added. “Every building is a prototype, but clients are risk averse, so CSIC facilitates rapid research and development for pilot projects.”
Mr Good said that while there are a stream of innovations that have had an economic impact, they are done for the good of specific projects rather than to progress the industry as a whole.
CSIC, whose team was recently grown to nine, works with construction firms with a focus on business, products, processes and service.
Along with groups in seven other sectors, CSIC is supported by Scottish Funding Council, Scottish Enterprise, and Highlands & Islands Enterprise. It works with 13 Scottish university partners and construction businesses of all sizes, from the likes of Stewart Milne and CCG, to Invergordon sustainable design firm Carbon Dynamics and Inverness architect Makar.
“There is a detachment between different parts of the industry and we’re trying to change that,” said Mr Good. “For example, we’re working with other innovation centres like Censis and The Data Lab to look at how data can underpin future changes to Building Regulations.”
CSIC is almost two years into a five year set up plan, which carries with it a number of targets, including 600 industry engagements, helping industry invest £7m in projects, helping create 200 jobs, and generating £1.1m in commercial revenue, of which £740,000 has already been secured.
And for every £1 invested by CSIC the industry has invested £2 in cash and £1.50 in-kind.
Mr Good believes that the scale of innovation could be accelerated when the hub that will be home to that £1.5m capital equipment investment opens next year.
It will enable businesses to utilise cutting-edge technology to drive product and service innovation. Its opening is being overseen by CSIC’s head of technical operations Bruce Newlands, who founded open access digital fabrication studio Maklab.
“This will be Maklab on a huge scale,” said Mr Good.
With the Scottish Government’s commitment to build at least 50,000 affordable homes by March 2021, CSIC has been established at a time when innovation is desperately needed.
“In the wake of the Brexit vote we’re not seeing a reluctance in the willingness to invest,” said Mr Good. “We’re optimistic, there’s a huge need for housing and infrastructure.”