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News & opinion

20 NOV 2018

Innovation on the horizon for the construction sector

Forget costs savings, heightened employee safety is the real benefit of offsite construction and modularization, stressed PCL Agile’s Troy Galvin and Andrew Fleetwood at the RICS and CIQS 6th Annual Construction and Project Management Seminar. And it’s our shared responsibility to explain the value to our clients.

RICS and the Canadian Institute of Quantity Surveyors (CIQS) hosted a dinner and seminar during the first significant snowfall of the year in the Greater Toronto Area. And despite the closed roads and clogged highways due to slick driving conditions, the room was packed with professionals eager to discuss the benefits and challenges of innovative techniques like modularization to find out whether the new techniques do, in fact, result in faster and cheaper construction projects.

The event started with opening remarks from Arif Ghaffur BSc (Hons), FRICS, PQS, MCIArb the event chair and following presentations by PCL Agile, the evening’s debate was moderated by Natalie Alexander MRICS, PQS, MSc who asked, “why does the construction industry have a challenge with innovation?”

The construction industry is perceived to have had zero growth in productivity or efficiency gains recently, she explained. Alexander pointed to the McKinsey report that suggested the global cost of low productivity in the construction sector is $1.6 trillion. Lack of progress is blamed on the skilled worker shortage, over-regulation and taxes.

But how do we bring the younger generations into the construction industry? The answer to Alexander’s question came later in the evening during a question and answer session. Dr. Diana Nada suggested a change in culture could provide answers by transferring skills on the job. She suggested we recognize the skill shortage and make it a priority to pass knowledge between different groups of people.

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I come from Calgary and most of the time people want to concentrate on the oil and gas industry but the skills are transferable between industries. There’s room to learn and we need to work together to improve the skillset of the labourers and other employees.

Dr. Diana Nada

Building this culture of knowledge sharing should happen on the job where workers can be provided with opportunities and a platform for people to learn from one another, she said.

Lack of skilled labour isn’t the only challenge to innovation in construction Alexander referred to. The construction industry is a conservative sector that doesn’t like inefficiencies, which makes the industry slow in adopting unproven methods.

“Innovations and technologies, though well intended, come with pros and cons,” argued Alexander. Lack of incentivization and procurement issues can also stand in the way of progress.

But despite the industry’s hesitation to adapt, Alexander expressed hope and a challenge to the seminar’s attendees.

“We form part of a $10 trillion global economic contribution and there’s still room to tap into $1.6 trillion if we seek out the challenges, use innovative methods of working and still ensure we’ve lowered our environmental impact,” said Alexander.

PCL uses facts to dispel preconceptions

Troy Galvin and Andrew Fleetwood of PCL Agile presented case studies on the use of offsite construction for two projects at MacKenzie Vaughan Hospital where they installed 290 washroom pods that were 98 per cent complete when delivered and plenums where everything was installed in the shop and ready to go before installation at the hospital.

Some of the challenges they brought up was that the offsite construction of both projects was not considered at moment zero in the design. Rather, the projects were designed in the traditional way. Galvin noted that a modular design can be built with traditional methods but not the other way around. Determining whether a project is a good candidate for offsite design should be done at moment zero – something he referred to as utopia.

Galvin suggested getting everyone on board comes by using scrums and workshops effectively throughout the project and that leadership must all be on the same page.

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Get all the decisionmakers in the room to embrace offsite construction. It’s our duty to inform our clients that we can do it better and do it faster offsite.

Troy Galvin
PCL Agile

Taking attendees through the two case studies made a few things clear and spurred a number of questions from the audience. When comparing the costs of traditional builds with offsite construction, it’s clear that offsite is not always cheaper. “It could be cost neutral or more expensive,” explained Galvin. “But we saw the value in doing it offsite.”

Bringing innovation forward

PCL Agile’s case studies brought up a number of questions for the debate, which was led by Alexander and included Diana Nada PhD of Colliers International, Amir Kia of York Group of Properties, Troy Galvin and Andrew Fleetwood of PCL Agile.

The prevailing question for debate was how does the industry move forward in adopting innovative techniques and solving productivity challenges? Nada suggested the solution comes through exploring case studies such as the ones PCL brought forward and learning from each other.

“How do we make those decisions at moment zero?” Nada asked, “Convince the clients we need to do it at the front end? This is key to the success of the project. The cost is the same or higher but there’s always ways to find improvements on costs.”

With informed decision-making at the beginning of projects, challenges can be faced early to save time and costs. With an improvement in pre-project planning, productivity issues can be solved.

Those in attendance were keen to question Galvin and Fleetwood on their case studies. Galvin explained that convincing unions to accept offsite construction was no different than explaining the benefits to other stakeholders.

The key is to make sure everyone understands what’s involved in the project. He stressed the biggest benefit of offsite construction from PCL Agile’s perspective is increased worker safety. This is a priority the union shares with PCL Agile and their clients.

“There are risks and opportunities,” agreed Nada. “Tell the client that there will be risks and these are opportunities. Know how much risk they’re willing to take and allocate risk management strategies to match client strategies.” Nada stressed that everyone is working toward the same goal and aims to achieve it on budget.

The panel was in agreement that innovation is necessary and the key to adoption is to get agreement from all stakeholders early in the project and to maintain that agreement with regular communication throughout the project.

The evening was concluded with the annual volunteer award of excellence which was presented to Professor Bill Nichols M.Sc., PQS(F), PLE, GSC, AIC, FCIOB for his contribution to Quantity Surveying and the advancement of professional excellence.

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