Digital transformation is completely changing Ireland’s construction sector, enabling businesses to communicate, collaborate and solve problems faster, writes Justin Norman, interim managing director, Atkins Europe.
In 2021, daa commissioned Atkins and its construction partners to reconstruct the main runway at Cork airport. The timeline for the project was tight. The team had a mere eight weeks to deliver the finished designs and plans and then 10 weeks to do the job. By the end of week 10, planes would be landing again, no matter what.
The project was finished on time – it was the largest infrastructure development partly funded by Project Ireland 2040, the government’s capital investment programme, to be delivered on schedule and on budget in 2021. Better still, by reusing materials from the site, the project team cut carbon emissions by 20% and reduced the final cost for daa.
How it was achieved
The project was a pioneer, using technology specialists from the UK and Ireland, as well as Atkins’ Global Technology Centre (GTC), working out of India, to bring in international best practice.
The GTC also provided project management office (PMO) services to assist with project management and through our common data environment, shared programmes and platforms enabled our contractor to get all the information it needed, when it needed it.
Using digital and data-based technologies, this international team was able to collaborate closely to arrive at the right design and project plan, and then keep the project on track, in a way that would have been impossible using only conventional methods.
These project outcomes are what many in the Irish infrastructure sector aspire to, and quite rightly so. Ireland, after all, ranks fifth of the 27 EU countries in the European Union’s Digital Economy and Society Index – with digital transformation continuing to be one of the core economic policy issues in Ireland.
A total of 65% of our client base is public sector and although – in parts – digital evolution is taking some time to bed in, having the opportunity to present these tools and technologies, which have been tried and tested globally, is really showing our clients the value they can bring. This has led to digital technologies being adopted successfully in our own market, across industries from water to highways.
Advice on creating new forms of contract
Interestingly, we are also seeing infrastructure clients – especially in the private sector – asking for advice on creating new forms of contract, approaches to project management and alliancing models.
These companies want help to move beyond the limitations of traditional fixed-price contracts, which often don’t leave project owners – or the teams working for them – with a lot of flexibility to deliver innovation or increase efficiency.
The Irish construction sector as a whole, and particularly many of its younger and data-savvy technologists, are now actively trying to change this. We need to look at what changes are needed to contractual, regulatory, and other factors, to help the digital professionals of tomorrow make change a reality.
Over the past few years, we have renewed our efforts to recruit not just civil engineers, but also specialists in digital- and data-driven technologies, such as building information modelling (BIM) and digital twins. We know that these disciplines are key to providing the service – and the results – that clients are looking for.
Build data collection into major projects
These professionals are working with our clients to build data collection into major projects, to design data handling and processing schemes to ensure that the data we go on to use is the most relevant, and to help clients use that data to make informed decisions. By doing this, we can help stakeholders to make better capital investments, reduce costs and eliminate unnecessary delays.
Building a digital- and data-savvy workforce is good for the entire construction sector too. After all, the biggest problem we have in the country right now is the attraction and retention of staff, and young skilled workers looking to start their careers, are keen to work with these technologies.
Enabling our teams to learn about and deploy digital transformation tools and international best practice – like we did on the Cork airport project, but also through initiatives such as decarbonomics and net carbon zero – is proving to be significant from a talent attraction perspective.
There is tremendous potential in Ireland’s construction sector. New technologies and ways of working – as well as young change makers – have the potential to transform the sector, help overcome the long-standing productivity problem, and deliver on goals such as reducing carbon emissions and creating better and more human lived environments.
Case study: Dublin and Cork airports
daa is upgrading terminals and ancillary buildings at Dublin and Cork airports as part of a wider €1.9bn capital investment programme to create a more seamless journey for passengers, enhance security and facilitate capacity growth.
Atkins was appointed in 2022 as multidisciplinary design consultant for the work, which will see upgrades, expansions and reconfigurations improve retail areas, airline lounges, check-in zones, and cargo facilities. Upgrades include the phased implementation of full body scanners at Dublin airport, and the replacement of HVAC equipment across both sites.
Services provided included strategic infrastructure planning; airport planning and capacity modelling; multidiscipline design; technology/ICT/aviation security; and information management.
The team is connecting people, data and technology to deliver more efficiently, ensuring greater predictability, improved safety and better outcomes during all phases of the project – while minimising disruption and the impact on the passenger experience.
One example is the use of Safetibase, an award-winning system to improve the identification, management and communication of health and safety hazards on construction projects. Developed by a consortium, this open-source solution is integrated with 3D Repo and Bentley iTwin services to visualise hazards in the 3D model environment to assist understanding, communication and crucially hazard mitigation.
Atkins will also link 3D models with DfMA initiatives to allow digital rehearsals of assembly sequences, identifying further risk and optimising them for safety.
Information management sits at the heart of delivery, with the project team ensuring that data is structured correctly so as to draw deeper insights and better inform the client. Just as importantly, a shared data environment will strengthen collaboration between all stakeholders, with a single source of the truth accessible to all at any time.
Data-informed planning will be key to maximising opportunities for efficient, cost-effective delivery, as will design reuse and automation.