Optimising Equipment-Use in Construction

Tracking how, when and where machinery is being used to improve site productivity.

Last updated: 16th September 2021

Date uploaded:

Approved for use

Innovation Lead: Liam Winder
Project number: 104785
UKRI funding: £242,803

Website:
buildstream.co.uk/


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Summary

Construction programmes are less productive, and more expensive, when equipment is left unused, machinery orders are duplicated, or vehicles have to be taken out of service because of unscheduled repairs. This waste is often hidden in plain sight because there is little real-time data that shows plant use onsite. BuildStream and Costain are using the latest technology to track how equipment is being used across the site and how to optimise it - and can even identify when trucks are being used just to warm site workers up. A digital platform visualises the data and makes recommendations about ways to improve utilisation, any maintenance that's required, and it can even predict demand for machinery to avoid it sitting idle.

Innovation type: Digital, Process
Organisation type: Construction tier 1 contractors, Innovative SME, Research centre

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Project pioneers

BuildStream helps companies in manufacturing, engineering and energy sectors schedule and manage their quality inspections and audits.

The problem

Static machinery can be a sign of an inefficient site, and can cause site congestion when not being used. This has a major impact on both the productivity and the health and safety of a site. Wasted plant hire is a well-known problem, yet remains a blind spot within construction because of the lack of high quality utilisation data. Contractors, subcontractors and fleet managers are currently recording data themselves manually, which can be prone to error. Or they are using telematics services offered by Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) or Telematics Service Providers (TSPs) which only monitors when plant is either on or off, the fuel used, and any faults. In both cases, the data doesn't come with wider context of the site to support more productive equipment management. Plant hire companies and contracting teams need to commit to adopting new technologies if they want to improve data capture.

Vision

BuildStream has applied its Internet of Things (IoT) solution to track plant hire in operation on construction sites. Its telematics-based system provides information on the location and utilisation of construction equipment in a way that is frequent, consistent and can support real-time analysis. Its Machine Learning algorithms can then both recommend optimum plant requirements for existing sites as well as predict future utilisation. This means the equipment is used in the most efficient and productive way. Plant hire teams hire out with better knowledge of what contractors need, and with less risk of delays. Equally teams onsite can save time and money, and improve safety, by optimising machinery use.

Key Insight

BuildStream worked with construction company Costain on HS2. While working together, they discovered that plant utilisation can be as low as 30%. They also found evidence of five times as many as equipment duplications and crossover of equipment requirements. This early work confirmed the need for a systems-enabled solution that could help manage equipment fleet and support estimation, selection, deployment, coordination, and visualisation.

First step

BuildStream and Costain set out to understand the extent of plant hire wastage onsite. They paired BuildStream’s telematics and machine-learning technology with Costain’s access to sites. These early trials were initially to learn where wastage of plant hire occurs and what efficiencies could be made. But they were also interested to see how they could use the data to simulate ground works on future sites to help increase productivity - with the aim of eventually scaling the solution across other sectors such as transport, highways and utilities.

Barrier

Accurate data and visibility around wasted plant hire and resources will help project teams be more informed in their planning. This foresight will shift focus away from short-term solutions that simply keep costs down, to decisions that help improve productivity and embed whole-life value into construction programmes.

Digital Innovation

When developing and testing the technology, the team quickly appreciated that plant hire vehicles aren’t standardised. To ensure the kit would work on different vehicles, they developed a prototype that used a combination of cameras and proprietary IoT sensors to replicate visual sight and capture real-time data of the plant. This data is then aggregated and analysed using Machine Learning, and combined with 4D BIM to optimise, visualise and contextualise the data, compared to the building as-designed. The analytics, insights and recommendations can all be accessed via a digital platform. This combination of technology allows hire teams and contractors to tell the difference, for example, between plant when it's working (claw movement), when it's travelling or when it's on but stationary (idling). The technology can even tell when trucks are being used just to warm site workers up - learning that if you can keep staff warm in other ways, you can turn vehicles off and save up to 70% fuel. In addition, it can predict maintenance issues before they occur by analysing live equipment data. This level of comparable, real-time data means site teams have the right information to make better decision around plant use. It also means hire teams can forecast equipment demand and maintain an optimised fleet, so clients don't have to hire redundant vehicles.

Collaborators

BuildStream and Costain collaborated together after their shared observations working on HS2. Northumbria University also supported the consortium and was responsible for the data modelling.

  • BuildStream
  • Costain
  • University of Northumbria

Lead support

Transforming Construction and Innovate UK helped fund the development of the technology and support the set up of the trials. The success of this project has prompted BuildStream to collaborate with BIM Academy and Walter Plant Hire in a second round of funding for Aquila - a platform that can optimise plant use onsite.

Long Term Vision

More frequent, visible data about the way sites use plant hire will help contractors and hire teams utilise plant more productively and safely, and help hire teams manoeuvre their machinery more accurately. This innovation has the potential not only to improve site productivity but embed smart technology into the way construction programmes are planned and forecasted. As the appetite for more data from equipment in the field grows, so does the potential growth for the global telematics market in construction which is currently valued at under $1bn.

Human Stories

Telematics technology will mean that site workers are spending less time monitoring and tracking the use and movement of plant and instead freed up to deliver the job in hand. It will also make sites more safe as it will relieve congestion and ensure plant isn't onsite unless it needs to be.

Powerful Processes

The prototype is able to replicate visual sight and capture, and analyse, real-time information about how the equipment is being used, and on what site tasks. It uses a combination of cameras, proprietary IoT sensors, Machine Learning, and 4D BIM to optimise, visualise and contextualise the data, compared to the building as-designed. The analytics, insights and recommendations can all be accessed via a digital platform to provide site teams with the right information to make better decision around plant use. It also means hire teams can forecast equipment demand and maintain an optimised fleet, so clients don't have to hire redundant vehicles. Together it optimising equipment use for maximum efficiency and prevents unnecessary downtime of plant equipment.

Fascinating Facts

BuildStream worked with construction company Costain on HS2 and discovered that plant utilisation can be as low as 30%. The consortium also found evidence of five times as many as equipment duplications and crossover of equipment requirements. Site equipment represents 10% to 50% of project costs. The technology can improve utilisation rates to at least 70% from a current average of 30% and reduce equipment duplication by 60%. SaaS subscriptions from major contractors and SMEs could reach £100m+ when the product is mature.

Benefits

Safety
The optimisation of plant on site will reduce congestion and the possibility of accidents. Telematics technology is able to highlight where equipment is being used unnecessarily, inappropriately or dangerously - and so measures can be quickly taken to prevent accidents or retrain operatives if necessary.

Time
The service will enable contractors and subcontractors to improve utilisation rates to at least 70% from a current average of 30%. It can reduce equipment duplication by 60% and significantly reduce crossover of equipment requirements among work packages - which will ease site congestion which can both be contributors to site delays.

Trade Gap
SaaS subscriptions from major contractors and SMEs could reach £100m+ when the product is mature. The project team also estimates there are over 2,000 additional suitable SMEs providing equipment rental, civil, earthworks and demolition services in the UK and the USA, who could represent secondary customers.