Skip to content
Civil Engineer blog

How does civil engineering exploit technology to eliminate error?

11 June 2020

Digital engineering, used correctly, is critical to increasing productivity and reducing error. ICE is working with key industry partners to explore the barriers that impede adoption and provide help on the journey towards digital transformation

How does civil engineering exploit technology to eliminate error?
How can civil engineers best use technology to eliminate costly errors? (Image credit: Shutterstock)

Key international studies suggest that the direct cost of avoidable error is in the order of 5% of project value. Research by the industry-led and ICE-backed Get It Right Initiative (GIRI) has revealed that the true figure is closer to 21% or £21bn per annum. It’s a big number.

Last year ICE vice-president Ed McCann suggested special registers of civil engineers deemed competent enough to sign off on designs for construction may be needed to arrest the decline in quality of design information being sent to construction sites.

McCann said that action was needed to address an “intergenerational low” in the quality of design information passed to contractors from designers.

“People are talking about an intergenerational low in the quality of design information; they are talking about design drawings that are incomplete, incoherent, uncoordinated and they arrive at site and have to be redrawn and re-engineered,” says McCann.

McCann, who led ICE’s 2018 review into professional skills and also fronts the Get It Right initiative which is dedicated to eliminating error in the UK construction industry, reflects on a number of causal factors including significant changes to the way the industry operates over 25 to 30 years. Additional causal factors include the abolition of fee scales, the fundamental shift in way work is procured with the shift to design and build as well as the digital revolution in the 1970s when firms started to do computational modelling.

Now, in 2020, there is a new threat: Covid-19. An increase in the number of latent defects, exacerbated by the lack of 'ownership' of errors, could be the most obvious legacy of the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a new snapshot survey of GIRI membership.

GIRI members have highlighted their fears that on operational sites, defects are not currently being recorded, with attention focused almost exclusively on productivity and the need to maintain social distancing requirements.

Digital engineering is clearly central to the debate and, used correctly, is critical to increasing productivity and reducing error. However, very little is known about the barriers that hamper and impede adoption.

What are the barriers to implementing digital engineering technologies?
What are the barriers to implementing digital engineering technologies?

Last year GIRI commissioned UCL to carry out a literature review into reported evidence of the occurrence of barriers to the adoption of future digital engineering technology. This review took place during the summer of 2019, with the final report issued on 11 September 2019. The review found that, while literature has classified and qualified the barriers to implementing digital engineering technologies, few studies have quantified the impact. As a result, how these technologies have increased productivity and reduced error has remained relatively under-explored.

GIRI has now set up a workstream to review potential solutions so that it can provide the industry with advice and guidance to overcome these barriers – and some of the solutions were explored in the recent ICE Strategy Session Using Technology to Eliminate Error.

Already seeking to provide much needed support in this area is the UK BIM Alliance. It exists to support organisations in the built environment sector to take the fundamental first steps in their journey to digital transformation.

It is an excellent source of digital expertise and the ICE is pleased to be joining the alliance through its new affiliate programme. The Affiliate programme aims to bring together the professional institutions, trade associations and any other industry organisations to provide a consistent message and coordinated approach to digital transformation, working across silos to a shared objective.

We hope that through this association the ICE will be more able than ever to keep members up to date with the latest advances in digital technology.

Watch this space!

  • Mark Hansford, director of engineering knowledge at Institution of Civil Engineers