Changing perceptions: why now is the time for the construction industry to embrace change
At the end of 2015, IFS carried out a global survey of over 1000 IT decision makers from companies in 12 countries. The survey aimed to gather insight on the subject of change in businesses: its relevance, impact, and drivers. The survey reveals a number of interesting trends, and here are my thoughts.
In a world where opinion can be formed from 140 characters or an artistically-filtered image, perception and reputation hangs by a thread. Construction has a reputation that it needs to combat – that of being old-fashioned and predominated by an older age group that is resistant to change.
With a workforce that hovers around the 40-70 age bracket, there has traditionally been a preference for sticking with tried and tested methods. However, over the last five years we are starting to see a shift as the industry wakes up to the new technologies and approaches out there that offer significant benefits. And more importantly, that provide companies with the ability to respond quickly and efficiently to change. But what exactly are the most important drivers for change in the construction industry?
We recently carried out a survey of IT decision-makers where we asked their thoughts on how they perceive change, and what they consider the most influential market or social changes that impact their business Respondents in the construction sector highlight customer demand and C-level decision makers as being the most influential factors in bringing about change for their businesses, but perhaps more interesting is the importance they place on government change as a factor of influence (selected 26 percent of the time). This is perhaps unsurprising as construction is highly driven by government spending, specifically with regards to schools, hospitals, transport infrastructure, nuclear power plants and more.
The biggest construction projects are often state-funded or executed by joint ventures. However, these projects require money, and lots of it. But at a time when we are still facing a certain level of austerity, money isn’t necessarily easy to come by. So governments are challenging the construction industry to start working smarter in order to lower the costs of building and maintenance.
All is not doom and gloom however. In the past 100 years there hasn’t been such a large-scale revolution as the one taking place today in the construction sector. With the introduction of digital asset lifecycle processes such as BIM, mobility, robotics and IoT, governments are forcing the construction industry to rethink old practices and embrace the change that these technologies have to offer. This forward thinking can already be seen in many construction companies which are embracing digital technologies and a more integrated approach in order to stay competitive. In particular, Building Information Modelling is taking off – a good example is the UK government, which is prioritising BIM as part of its Digital Britain initiative. As a result we are increasingly seeing the term BIM appear in job titles at many construction firms.
Relative to the impact of government change, the survey brings to light the lack of influence that mergers and acquisitions are considered to have on business change in the construction sector (selected only 19 percent of the time). This reflects that the construction industry sees less M&A activity than other industries, but what is notable for us is the growing use of joint ventures and alliances to deliver projects. Construction projects are now so big that they need more than one company to manage the contract, maintain the assets and so on, which is leading to multiple organisations forming new companies or joint ventures – take the water industry alliance eight2o as one recent example.
I would argue that the biggest challenge facing the construction industry and its ability to change is the lack of skilled professionals. The industry needs to invest in a younger workforce that is passionate about adopting innovative and forward-thinking technology. We are at the start of what I believe is a very exciting journey where finally we are starting to see the change needed to ensure that the construction industry keeps up with the rest of the world.
Kenny Ingram is the Global Director of Construction at IFS
Follow @ConstructionGL and @NellWalkerMG
Why engineers must always consider human-induced vibration
Human induced vibration, or more accurately vibrations caused by human footfall, often conjures images of Millennium Bridge-style swaying or collapsing buildings.
But in reality, the ‘damage’ caused by human-induced vibrations is less likely to ruin a structure and more likely to cause discomfort in people. Though not as dramatic as a structural failure, any good engineer wants to make sure the people using their structures, be it bridges or buildings or anything in between, can do so safely and comfortably. This is why human-induced vibration must be considered within the design process.
Resonance v Impulse
There are two ways that human-induced vibrations affect structures: resonant, and impulse or transient response. Put simply, resonance occurs when Object A vibrates at the same natural frequency as Object B.
Object B resonates and begins to vibrate too. Think singing to break a wine glass! Although the person singing isn’t touching the glass, the vibrations of their voice are resonating with the glass’s natural frequency, causing this vibration to get stronger and stronger and eventually, break the glass. In the case of a structure, resonance occurs when the pedestrian’s feet land in time with the vibration.
On the other hand, impulse or transient vibration responses can be a problem on structures where its natural frequencies are too high for resonance to occur, such as where the structure is light or stiff. Here the discomfort is caused by the initial “bounce” of the structure caused by the footstep and is a concern on light or stiff structures.
Engineers must, of course, design to reduce the vibration effects caused by either impulse or resonance.
Potential impacts from human induced vibration
Human induced vibration can lead to a number of effects upon the structure and its users. These include:
- Interfering with sensitive equipment Depending on the building’s purpose, what it houses can be affected by the vibrations of people using the building. Universities and laboratories, for example, may have sensitive equipment whose accuracy and performance could be damaged by vibrations. Even in ordinary offices the footfall vibration can wobble computer screens, upsetting the workers.
- Swaying bridges One of the most famous examples of human-induced resonance impacting a structure occurred with the Millennium Bridge. As people walked across the bridge, the footsteps caused the bridge to sway, and everybody had to walk in time with the sway because it was difficult not to. Thankfully, this feedback can only occur with horizontal vibrations so building floors are safe from it, but footbridges need careful checking to prevent it.
- Human discomfort According to research, vibrations in buildings and structures can cause depression and even motion sickness in inhabitants. Tall buildings sway in the wind and footsteps can be felt, even subconsciously by the occupants. It has been argued that modern efficient designs featuring thinner floor slabs and wider spacing in column design mean that these new builds are not as effective at dampening vibrations as older buildings are.
- Jeopardising structural integrity The build-up of constant vibrations on a structure can, eventually, lead to structural integrity being compromised. A worse-case scenario would be the complete collapse of the structure and is the reason some bridges insist that marching troops break step before crossing. Crowds jumping in time to music or in response to a goal in a stadium are also dynamic loads that might damage an under-designed structure.
How to avoid it
As mentioned, modern designs that favour thinner slabs and wider column spacing are particularly susceptible to all forms of vibration, human-induced or otherwise, but short spans can also suffer due to their low mass. Using sophisticated structural engineering software is an effective method for engineers to test for and mitigate footfall and other vibrations at the design stage.