This article was co-authored by Grebin Cherian, Trainee Solicitor, London.
We have seen an incredible amount of innovation in the global construction space over the past year and not all of it has been AI driven. According to McKinsey, this pace of progress is expected to continue for the foreseeable future.
Construction innovation is becoming essential for transformation of the UK industry in terms of efficiency and sustainability. Innovation is delivering value throughout the supply chain.
Here are some examples of innovation being applied to global construction projects:
- Spanish transportation company Ferrovial has joined a number of construction firms using ‘stakeout robots’ on its projects. The rolling machines draw full-scale plans on the surface or flooring of a site, producing lines, marks and texts defined in a CAD file.
- Continuing the topic of robots, Australian construction robotics company FBR has begun testing the latest iteration of its Hadrian X bricklaying robot. The machine now takes the form of a three-axle truck with a 32-metre-long articulated telescopic arm that can lay up to 300 masonry blocks an hour. The laying arm follows a CAD plan, and operators add pallets of brick to the truck, where other robots unpack them and, if required, cut them to size with a circular saw.
- Students in Hong Kong have conceived and designed a three storey apartment block made almost entirely of engineered bamboo. Bamboo is a promising green structural substitute. Manufacturers can make elements including slabs, walls, beams columns and roofs through a process of sterilizing, steaming, compression and laminating. Engineered bamboo is composed of multiple layers of different thicknesses and grains to produce excellent strength and durability. It is highly versatile, lending itself to any number of shapes, sizes and property configurations.
- In the UK, production of the world’s first zero-emissions cement on an industrial scale has taken a “huge step” forward with the completion of an initial trial melt. The Cement 2 Zero project, which uses a by-product of electric steel recycling as the basis of greener cement, aims to accelerate the decarbonisation of the construction, cement and steel sectors. Partners of the project, which secured £6.5 million of UK Government funding, include Balfour Beatty, Atkins Réalis, Tarmac, Celsa, Day Aggregates, the University of Cambridge and the Materials Processing Institute.
- A 21-metre-long footbridge which incorporates fibre reinforced polymer (FRP) has opened just north of Craven Arms in the Shropshire Hills, UK. Similar projects in the Netherlands and Germany are also set to launch. This again is part of the efforts to use alternative materials to concrete, which are said to offer many benefits beyond just carbon reduction, such as being lighter and costing up to 40% less to transport and install.
- Swiss Building Material Company, Holcim, a global leader in innovative and sustainable building solutions, has mapped out a new focus on reducing carbon emissions, optimizing the use of materials, and promoting a collaborative innovation ecosystem to decarbonize the construction industry and make it more circular. Its innovative solutions include producing a low carbon concrete and a low carbon cement range. It has also driven new innovative projects such as using cutting-edge 3D printing technology to 3D-print ten housing units in Kenya.
- Construction researchers at Loughborough University have created an AI-powered RAAC detection and maintenance tool by creating digital twins of the RAAC elements of a building to monitor their performance.
- Continuing the theme of RAAC, AXA have trained their AI system to grasp the concept of RAAC construction and identify potentially affected buildings insured or occupied by their policyholders within a matter of hours.
As with all new innovations in construction, especially those that are seeking to decarbonise the industry and utilise renewal energy, it requires understanding and flexibility from brokers and underwriters in seeking to provide the appropriate level of insurance cover.
New methods of construction are not without their risk, as the old established methods emerged as a result of attempts to avoid the standard perils, such as fire, flood etc. However, with the drivers to make the industry greener, some materials for example are coming back into vogue, albeit somewhat redesigned.
AI will also have a big impact on developments in the future and the effect of an issue on an AI developed, or reviewed, project will need careful consideration in terms of new project wording and, if a claim arises, causation. The wider issues around the use of data, where this data is stored and how it may be used are considerations that should also be taken into account.
These new innovations pose the question of how the insurance industry can stay ahead of the curve. With the complexities and intricacies of new innovations, brokers and underwriters should acknowledge and have processes in place to best understand the present and future implications of claims.
With innovation transforming the industry, in order to get ahead, brokers and underwriters will need to 'develop' their own understanding of these new methods of construction and the possible effects that these new advances will bring in claims.