How construction and consultancy company Mace is rethinking construction through a climate-friendly lens.
Attendees on day two of Engineers Australia’s Climate Smart Engineering conference heard from Dan Hogan, Associate Director at construction and consulting company Mace, who outlined innovative strategies to rethink construction and minimise the industry’s impact on the climate.
He began by pondering why construction “lagged behind” many other sectors, and contextualised the issue as systemic. The sector uses a project-based approach to building, he explained.
“Every project is unique, designed from scratch to a certain extent,” Hogan said. “We have a highly fragmented ecosystem [with] people looking out for their own gains [and] low levels of cooperation. We have misaligned contractual structures and incentives, and we have high use of contractors and temporary staff.”
The result is firstly one of lagging productivity growth – the construction industry improved by only one per cent per year between 1995 and 2015, Hogan explained, versus an average improvement of 2.8 per cent across the rest of the economy.
Secondly, the mismatch of methods and materials between, and the stop-start nature of, projects exacerbates the amount of time spent on and waste produced by those activities.
From construction to production
Hogan said Mace has embraced the challenge of reversing course on climate inaction, and laid out the company’s three-pillared business model: pursuing a sustainable world by reducing its carbon footprint and streamlining processes; delivering distinctive value to deliver high-quality projects; and growing the industry by using new technologies.
Essential to the company’s innovation strategy is promoting a shift from construction to production – or from a one-off, project-based approach to one that employs more pre-made and pre-fit components in a build.
He explained how Mace is rethinking the balance between what occurs onsite during construction and what occurs in a controlled manufacturing environment, by having more components manufactured in consolidation centres, then brought onsite and installed.
Hogan said that as the standardisation of project operations and materials increases, the digitisation of those processes rises at a commensurate rate.
“With machine readable data, you get consistent quality output every single time,” he said. “There’s no interpretation. It’s incredibly objective data, which leads to less rework.
“In a controlled manufacturing environment, we get higher levels of productivity, lower levels of energy, and far more efficient use of our materials. It’s far easier to predict the outcome of that building.”
In all, the streamlining of processes also has a direct, positive benefit on the climate.
“The more we move from construction to production, the better the net zero carbon outcome.”
Mace has taken its innovative approach to a number of projects, including a high-rise residential build in London in 2017. Using a standardised pre-assembly, the two residential towers comprising N06 at East London’s East Village were delivered at a rate of one storey every 50 hours.
The company also used fewer resources, produced 75 per cent less waste and increased the productivity of both individual workers and the overall project.
Application to existing assets
At the end of his presentation, Hogan also pondered whether these new approaches to construction also could be applied to existing buildings.
“The existing stock of buildings is probably one of [our] greatest challenges,” he said. “They make up obviously the predominant stock of buildings that we have, and any legislation will only ever apply to new buildings.
“Even if we legislate to improve the performance of those buildings and the performance of our construction sector, we still have an existing stock which is substandard in comparison.”
The key consideration for determining if the pre-fit production approach was suitable, Hogan suggested, was efficiency.
“Is it more cost-effective?” he said. “Is it going to save time, effort, energy, carbon?”
When refitting a 200-room hotel, for instance, a manufacturing-based approach could be effective – but in one-off instances, such as a single home or small building, “you’re probably not going to get the results that you [want] and traditional would be the way, until a time when the industry does adopt a manufacturing-based approach to construction”.
“Until we get to that level of maturity in the market, we’re probably not going to see too much [happen],” Hogan said.