It's a straightforward message. Pressing pause and eliminating errors reduces costs. Covid-19 has forced civil engineering and the wider construction space to come to a temporary pause and the successful elimination of errors once the industry comes back up to speed could make the difference between success and failure.
Studies suggest that the cost of avoidable errors is at least 5% and may run significantly higher. In fact, errors such as latent defects and unrecorded process waste could push that figure as high as 25%, or up to £25bn per year.
Could technology be the answer?
Research shows that many of the root causes relate to the design phase and a work culture that doesn't foster collaboration between construction and design. Using more collaborative forms of contract, investing in design and creating more robust processes including clearly defined roles and responsibilities could all help to alleviate errors.
The construction industry faces a challenge in stemming the decline in design information, with designs arriving onsite that routinely need to be comprehensively redrawn or even re-engineered.
Tapping into construction knowledge at the design stage could go a long way to limiting avoidable errors based on expertise in buildability and delivery. Too often the design process is closed down without that input, resulting in design changes and avoidable waste.
The role of the civil engineer
ICE has suggested creating a register of competent civil engineers who can act as an Independent Principal Consultant and sign off on construction designs. This specialised role could create new jobs in civil engineering and ensure that designs do not proceed until all milestones have been passed and agreed.
Acting as a controlling mind, the IPC would ensure that all design-related communications and decisions are well managed and robust. Critical to this role may be the use of digital engineering to reduce error and increase productivity.
The impact of digital
Civil engineers change the world and digital engineering is changing the way they work. The impact is particularly marked on information management and collaboration, two key areas when it comes to identifying and eliminating avoidable errors. BIM, augmented and mixed reality and AI have the ability to revolutionise the industry's approach to design and its implementation. These expanded design capabilities, in turn, impact positively on waste generation and reproduction of errors.
But there are barriers to digital adoption in terms of culture and a perceived loss of productivity when it comes to learning a new technology. BIM is often unadopted because of tight schedules and the lack of time to train up workers. And while digital engineering is predicted to increase productivity, there's just not enough evidence to make it attractive to the construction industry.
The impact of Covid-19
Issues of productivity and error elimination have never been more urgent. If the construction industry is to recover from the pandemic and safeguard jobs in civil engineering and other sectors, it's critical that errors become a thing of the past.
Whether that means a rapid digital transformation or the adoption of the Get It Right Initiative 12 point plan for reducing error and improving value, civil engineering could and should be at the forefront of a new culture of collaboration and design excellence.