Mace uses AI tech on Mayfair project to meet Covid-19 safety challenges

Work was already underway on Lodha’s No 1 Grosvenor Square flagship project when the lockdown and then social distancing added to the normal construction challenges

  • Client: Lodha
  • Main contractor: Mace

Balancing the many requirements of a building project – cash flow, cost, quality, and timelines – is always a significant challenge for project leadership. The Covid-19 pandemic made the balancing act even more intense, costing projects valuable time at the start of lockdown and requiring adjustments to ensure the health and safety of all personnel on site as production restarted.

With guidance from the Construction Leadership Council (CLC), recommending ‘one metre plus’ distancing on sites, it has been a major logistical challenge to keep projects as functional and on schedule as possible, while maintaining safety prerogatives and priorities for all staff.

Effectively balancing safety and productivity

At No 1 Grosvenor Square, the flagship London project of property developer Lodha, main contractor Mace used technology to adapt to the ‘new normal’, helped by Disperse’s building productivity management platform to guide and inform conversations with subcontractors about reopening the site safely. The team made changes to processes to help the site return to a high rate of productivity.

"We calculate that we’ve recovered eight to ten weeks that would have otherwise been totally lost,” says Liam Florey, project director at Lodha, “and we’ve managed to do it in a way that kept people safe. We earned the confidence of our operatives and management teams by making smarter decisions and having more meaningful conversations that were guided by technology."

Within six weeks of Mace restarting work, after a voluntary company-wide pause in late March, the Grosvenor Square site had returned to roughly 70% capacity with around 400 people present – and has had no recorded outbreaks to date.

"In light of how this project was able to bounce back and adapt to a totally unprecedented threat, we are now studying it more broadly within our organisation as a model for responsible operation," said Chris Harrison, project director at Mace.

We calculate that we’ve recovered eight to ten weeks that would have otherwise been totally lost, and we’ve managed to do it in a way that kept people safe.– Liam Florey, Lodha

A new approach: boost productivity by doubling down on human capability

Before the pandemic, Disperse’s technology had been in use at No 1 Grosvenor Square since 2018. The system served as a platform for managing productivity and offloading necessary admin from the project team.

The approach uses week-on-week 360° photography of a site to create a layered digital twin of a building project that enables teams to visually walk through every space on the project with good quality resolution, and uses proprietary AI to process the images and automate progress reporting and issue flagging. Armed with new insights and now free to use their brainpower for more challenging and complex tasks, the project team can operate with facts at their fingertips and improve construction workflow.

In the early days of restarting production on site, this enhanced understanding of the project helped the team stay fully aligned and focused on production by creating one shared understanding of the project’s progress and material needs, thus eliminating any confusion between staggered teams.

"An ironic thing in our industry is how important reporting actually is for informing decisions and driving progress, because nobody gets into building out of a love for reporting," says Felix Neufeld, founder and CEO at Disperse. "But the imperative to quickly and accurately understand the state of these complex projects suddenly became critical in the early days of the Covid-19 outbreak. The team at No 1 Grosvenor moved quickly and gave their best people the insights and capability to get back on the right path."

Disperse’s platform in action

Re-engineering policies and processes

No 1 Grosvenor Square posed challenges due to its layout when it came to ensuring social distancing.

"When the Covid-19 outbreak had just begun in Britain, the team at Disperse conducted twice-weekly scans of our site during peak hours and delivered a customised social distancing report that we used to uncover pinch points across the project," says Harrison. "These findings were essential for enabling us to design revised site layouts to accommodate necessary changes like one-way traffic."

Distancing was not the only imperative that was new: one of the unavoidable realities of construction is that it takes place at a physical location and largely still requires people on-site.

"The CLC guidelines are very clear on best practice and we were keen to follow them as closely as possible," explains Florey. "The non-negotiable, of course, is the safety of our workers and management teams, and with this technology we were able to effectively decentralise some of our operations and QA processes to deliver better results, even with reduced on-site headcount."

The virtual project environment meant that project teams could ‘visit’ the site digitally rather than physically, and there was no disadvantage to remaining off site in terms of having a clear understanding of progress.

Ongoing success

The Mace project team says it is will achieve some of the fastest construction outputs in London without compromising on quality, despite industry-wide setbacks from the global pandemic. 

"This situation once again proves how capable people in this industry are," adds Neufeld. "Our position is that it’s not the best use of human capability to manually collect data, and it’s not an effective use of people’s time to have them digging through inaccurate or poorly organised information. The teams that find a way to double down on core strengths like people management and complex problem solving tend to be the top performers, and this particular team’s performance has been exemplary."

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