How construction projects should look in 2030 – the Cambridge Laing O’Rourke Centre’s vision

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The Laing O’Rourke Centre for Construction Engineering and Technology has set out its vision for a construction project in 2030 – and digital transformation, performance measurement and digital and technological skills are key.

The Laing O’Rourke Centre for Construction Engineering and Technology at the University of Cambridge Department of Engineering was launched in 2011 to fulfil a shared vision of transforming the construction industry through innovation, education and technology.

Dr Brian Sheil is Laing O’Rourke associate professor in construction engineering at the centre. In the centre’s newly-published 2020-2023 review, he has outlined the 2030 project vision.

He stated: “The deployment of digital twin technology is central to our 2030 vision. Leveraging data science, actionable insights can be extracted from these digital twins, empowering intelligent decision-making that drives project success.

“Turning to the physical processes, we expect to see innovative materials and lifecycle processes. With a determination to achieve net-zero carbon targets and minimise the industry’s impact on climate change, innovative solutions will span the entirety of a project’s lifecycle. Our vision for processes involves automated logistics seamlessly facilitating the movement of materials, equipment, and supplies.

“Traditional construction elements will be replaced with cutting-edge practices, exemplified by the goal of implementing real-time monitoring through connected autonomous plants. Early progress in modern methods of construction will evolve further, culminating in significantly increased automation by 2030 (e.g. fully automated offsite production, semi-automated onsite assembly). Digital twin-led practices and Internet of Things support will drive this automation, closely tied to establishment of a flexible and reconfigurable kit of parts catalogue.”

Performance measurement

Dr Sheil said that, as 2030 approaches, intelligent construction project performance measurement will become a reality, enabled by mature data capture technologies and exchange standards.

“The foundational element involves the establishment of consistent and universally accepted performance metrics, notably relating to time, cost and quality, ranging from overarching project evaluation to granular task-specific assessments. Subsequently, the integration of cutting-edge tools such as sensors, cameras, and laser scanners for automated data collection is poised to foster seamless and continuous information acquisition.

“By 2030, we envisage real-time data interpretation that transcends conventional graphical representations, enabling immediate contextual insights that, in turn, empower informed decision-making and strategic planning. Furthermore, the iterative cycle of automated improvement actions ensures that insights gleaned are promptly translated into tangible enhancements. This cycle culminates with comprehensive reviews at both team and business levels, fostering a culture of continuous learning and adaptive refinement.”

Turning to skills, Dr Sheil said the workforce will undergo upskilling to harness the potential of new tools and methodologies. He added: “Emerging roles include generative designers proficient in AI-driven optimal designs, sensor system integrators adept at consolidating data flows, and net-zero evaluators merging environmental evaluation with construction planning.

“The industry will need to take proactive steps to nurture these talents, offering personalised career development paths and leveraging programmes like the Construction Engineering Masters to equip current and future leaders for success.”

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