How to minimise construction downtime

Downtime is a problem that has spread to every corner of the construction industry. Where would we even begin to tackle this mother of all problems?

The problem

Downtime in the construction industry is at the root of many problems. It stands in the way of productivity and hinders sustainable development. From a commercial standpoint, downtime acts as a major inhibitor. In a survey conducted by Trackunit, it was found that 57% of construction firms that consistently experienced downtime lost business because of it. Additionally, downtime has major knock on effects and is hugely disruptive to the workflow on site. The only way to prevent the problems stemming from downtime is to tackle it at the source.

There are of course many reasons for why construction experiences unwanted downtime. The usual suspects include changes in supply chain, unexpected weather conditions, and resource errors resulting in bottle necks. But have we become desensitised to these problems? Are we now so comfortable with resulting downtime that we have stopped exploring ways to eliminate it?

We have all seen construction maintain ‘the old ways’ of doing things; business models remain largely the same as they have been for decades with few demonstrating the conviction to venture outside of this framework because there is too much at stake. Unfortunately, those who don’t dare take the leap into new frontiers today will certainly pay for it in the future.

So many of the ‘usual suspects’ can be unraveled and eliminated through greater transparency of, and more rapid feedback on, changes and errors as they occur. To achieve this, project teams need to start making use of all that data they have been so diligently capturing.

With the right approach, you can transform the wealth of data available on your project into actionable insights for future decisions. By incorporating Artificial Intelligence, you open up an array of new possibilities and insights that can help reduce downtime even further as well as bring down costs, and minimise delays. Data is the future of construction and will have a tremendous impact on the industry beyond what we could expect.

Where do we start?

So, we’ve looked at some of the main problems of downtime and why it’s important to tackle it. Now let us dive into some practical solutions that can set your organisation on the right path. We’ve outlined what we believe should be your top priorities if you are aiming to eliminate downtime completely.

Close the connectivity gap

In the digital age of the 21st century, information travels at an unprecedented speed. Companies and individuals alike use real-time data to make decisions. For example, as individuals we look at real-time weather data to understand what we can expect in the near future. Based on this data, we make decisions about how we are going to approach the next few days. A company like Rolls Royce uses real-time data in aviation to monitor the health of their engines during flight. This enables them to cooperate with air traffic control in the event of an emergency as well as predict what the airlines will need for their next scheduled maintenance. In the construction industry, however, information travels slowly. Promoting the use of more connected devices will enable construction teams to make better decisions, using real-time data. The connectivity gap is wide. The more we are able to close this gap, the less downtime will impact construction sites.

CASE STUDY – A major rail station development used Qflow to predict Air Quality levels across their site up to 12 hours in advance. This enabled the project team to eliminate worker downtime by planning activity rotation around the WEL Standard air quality limits. Qflow collected data from onsite air quality monitors, analysed it using machine learning and provided the site team with zonal alerts for WEL limits.

Enable data driven decision making

Making decisions on the basis of sound data is fundamental to improving performance and avoiding unnecessary downtime on your construction site. Without data to support our decisions, we end up flying blind and downtime becomes a greater risk. By extracting insights from the data collected on your site, opportunities for proactive risk mitigation and productivity improvements become much more prevalent. Relying on past data to make decisions can also help teams avoid making the same mistake twice. Mistakes in general are unavoidable but when we do end up making a mistake, it’s important that it is documented so we can account for this experience in future decisions.

CASE STUDY – A major highways project used waste data to identify members of the waste management supply chain that were falling below the required performance levels. Using this data the principal contractor was able to target their training effort and ensure a higher quality of reporting from the supply chain, ultimately saving them £295,000 in project cost.

Learn from previous mistakes

I can’t tell you the number of times the same mistake has happened within a month window on site! Cultivate a culture that openly shares failures and information across team’s and organisations is invaluable for eliminating downtime. By infusing an attitude of open, industry-wide knowledge sharing, everyone will benefit from past mistakes and the industry will make progress much quicker.

Change things that aren’t working

It’s all well and good acknowledging the mistakes, but to make real progress we need to explore and actually implement (even just in pilot to start) the changes that will enable us to stop them from happening again. Rapid experimentation with new technology and business processes can be a challenging for large construction firms where workflows and procedures are much less agile. However visionary leadership that supports new approaches and experimentation can transform a teams approach and bring downtime to a minimum. To make this a less scary step, try isolating a testing environment where you provide a small group of the field team with a new tool, you can gauge how effective it is and if it is worth rolling out on an entire project.

What you can do right now?

Use this time to take a look at your project, team, or organisation. Where are some areas where you can help make improvements. These small incremental changes will create a positive ripple  through your organisation and act as the source of big changes further down the line. Positive change starts with asking the right questions. Bring the following questions to your team to get things moving and begin the journey towards eliminating downtime:

What data is relevant to gather drive positive change in our organisation?

What past successful project can we learn from and use as a framework moving forward?

What past mistakes have we made that are useful for us to remember moving forward?

Does everyone in our organisation understand our technology vision?

What one technology investment would have the biggest impact on our team today?

Innovations that can help

Planning – nPlan – This tool optimises construction planning schedules by analysing all available schedules. Through the use of machine learning, nPlan can analyse all available data, determine where the biggest risks lie, and suggests improvements to their clients. This helps prevent downtime long before the project even starts.

Progress tracking – Disperse is a next generation progress tracker. The tool harmonises construction schedules, 2D drawings, 3D models and visual snapshots, and processes them with proprietary AI to create an interactive digital twin. Objective progress reports and alerts are delivered in familiar formats, accessible from anywhere, significantly shrinking downtime.

Supply chain transparency and quality control – Qflow is a construction technology tool built to tackle environmental impact and improve quality in construction. Leveraging the power of Artificial Intelligence and IoT devices, Qflow automates data collection and analytics to empower more data driven decisions. This helps teams avoid mistakes and reduce downtime.

Sustainability afterword

It is important to note that, while the UK is striving to hit it’s legally binding target of Net Zero by 2050, reducing downtime will also have a positive impact on the sustainability credentials of your project.

On the average construction site, a machines average idle time is 36%. Skanska aim to tackle this issue head on and curb the total emissions from on site machinery through the use of Artificial Intelligence. Optimising the efficiency in construction is crucial to reduce downtime and move the industry towards a more sustainable future.

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