Covid-19 has had a heavy impact on the construction sector in the United Kingdom. According to a study conducted by the Office for National Statistics, construction output collapsed by 40% during April 2020 in the UK. Gradually, as sites began to reopen and restart construction, the Construction Leadership Council (CLC) in the country came up with a strict set of guidelines recommending ‘one metre plus’ distancing between workers and limiting the number of workers on a construction site at any given time. Abiding by these new safety regulations posed a major logistical challenge for construction companies, adding to their already existing lockdown-induced challenges like downsizing of budgets and irregular cash flows. In this scenario, the use of emerging digital technologies, along with Building Information Modelling (BIM), proved to be quite fruitful in tackling several issues. Many leading contractors utilized Artificial Intelligence (AI) powered solutions during this period; one such company was the Mace Group ─ it used AI-powered solutions in London’s No 1 Grosvenor Square project, in partnership with property developer Lodha UK.
Lodha UK had appointed the Mace Group as the primary contractor for the £140 million residential redevelopment of the former Canadian High Commission site in London at No.1 Grosvenor Square. The project had been ongoing since June 2017, but construction was halted in 2020 because of the pandemic. To meet the Covid-19 safety challenges, the Mace Group used an AI-enabled construction progress monitoring tool, Disperse, which uses 360-degree cameras to capture two-dimensional (2D) images that go through an AI-powered algorithm to report on work progress at the site. The Disperse platform integrates different construction management software and solutions like Procore, PlanGrid, Autodesk BIM 360, etc., to provide intelligent insights and create reports. This productivity management platform helps all stakeholders associated with the project to efficiently monitor work progress, as well as virtually inspect on-site conditions. Disperse has helped the Mace Group devise new and improved workflow processes so that the company can abide by the pandemic regulations and resume work after the lockdown.
The Mace Group had already been using the Disperse platform to manage productivity and to keep track of offloading-related information since 2018. Disperse platform tools were now used to capture the project site visually, using 360-degree photography once every week, which created a virtual representation in the form of a Digital Twin of the project. This enabled the team to virtually ‘visit’ the site and generate ‘walkthroughs’ in high quality resolution. The AI-capable Disperse tools helped process these images and automate progress reporting and flagging of construction related issues and clashes. This allowed the team to access critical information (like clash detection) associated with the project easily, which improved the construction workflow. It also helped the stakeholders to maintain a virtual navigable record of the site, which could be accessed remotely.
This approach proved to be beneficial when construction work resumed after the lockdown. Because of the new CLC Covid-related guidelines that were put in place, it became highly imperative to have an accurate understanding of the project and keep the teams up-to-date in terms of progress, since most of the management work had to be done remotely. The Disperse platform enhanced the stakeholders’ understanding of the project and helped the different teams increase productivity by creating a unified platform for monitoring the project’s progress and demands in terms of material and labour. It also helped eliminate conflicts between the different teams, which reduced rework, time and cost. The Disperse platform helped the teams working at the site to stay on track because they were provided with intelligent insights regarding construction.
The Mace Group faced distinctive challenges due to the new CLC guidelines regarding social distancing. However, the Disperse platform proved to be really effective in helping with this process and keeping construction on track. During the early stage of reopening, the Disperse team conducted scans of the site, twice every week during peak hours, and delivered a customised social distancing report that helped in revealing the points of congestion across the project. The findings of this report proved to be extremely beneficial for designing revised site layouts to accommodate the required changes.
One of the major issues faced by the construction sector post-social distancing regulations was project supervision and management. The majority of construction work takes place at a physical location and demands the presence of people on the site. When the new CLC guidelines came into being, the teams at Lodha and Mace Group were on the same page when it came to ensuring the safety of the workers and the project management team. The Disperse platform helped effectively decentralize some of the operations and quality assessment processes, which helped deliver better results even though fewer people were physically present on the site. The virtual Digital Twin environment enabled the project management team to supervise the site digitally, instead of having to be physically present at the site every day. This helped in reducing the head-count at the site to a great extent.
The Disperse platform supported the team at the Mace Group to upgrade operational agility and bounce back swiftly compared to its other counterparts in the construction sector. It helped the team salvage approximately ten weeks of production that would have otherwise been totally lost if they had stayed with the traditional ways of construction. Within six weeks of resuming construction work, the site returned to 70% capacity with around 400 people present on site. After construction work resumed, there was not a single Covid-19 positive case recorded on site.
The project management team at the Mace Group is of the opinion that the use of the Disperse platform has helped them achieve some of the fastest construction outputs in London, without compromising on quality, despite industry-wide setbacks induced by the pandemic. Considering how this particular project was able to adapt to a totally new and unprecedented threat, the Mace Group is considering it, broadly, as a possible model for responsible and effective operations for its future projects in the pipeline.
Since the fight against the pandemic is still on, the construction sector is looking at exemplary projects such as No 1 Grosvenor Square, where the stakeholders used technology innovatively and intelligently to get around the challenges posed by the virus. In the future, construction and general contracting companies will need to effectively use technology wherever possible to abide by the new Covid guidelines and regulations.
|Location||London, United Kingdom|
|Project value||£140 million|
|Main contractor||Mace Group|
|Technologies used||Digital Twin, aerial 360° photogrammetry, and Artificial Intelligence|
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