Digital construction: the key to unlocking the future of healthcare

  • 17th April 2024

With the recent Spring budget announcing £100m of extra funding for AI that will be partly channelled into healthcare, Mark Gibson, managing director of healthcare at Sir Robert McAlpine, looks at the value AI and digital tools can deliver on healthcare construction projects

While the role digital construction can play in the delivery of public projects has not yet been set in stone, it is clear that interest in its corresponding tools and technologies is growing – evidenced by the Infrastructure and Projects Authority (IPA) recently announcing a new framework encouraging the use of ‘responsible experimentation’ with AI on public projects.

Health sector projects provide the perfect canvas to explore the transformative impact digital construction can have.

In the wake of COVID-19, improving the number and quality of hospitals remains high on the Government’s agenda, and embracing digital construction is the first step on this journey: opening up avenues to increased efficiency and productivity on projects, driving technical excellence, and leading to decreased costs, smoother collaboration, and improved use of resources.

Digital tools: the future of construction

Digital construction methods cover both ends of the spectrum, from tools that assist with the day-to-day running of a site to cutting-edge developments currently being trialled.

For example, at IHP, the joint venture between VINCI Building and Sir Robert McAlpine, we are using Buildots technology while constructing the BEACH Building, part of the Royal Bournemouth Hospital estate.

This involves the use of helmet-mounted 360-degree cameras which captures images that AI then combines with BIM, schedule data, and 3D modelling to provide project managers with detailed progress updates sitewide and immensely improve collaborative planning. This is a marked improvement as reports used to be run manually, often resulting in package managers walking an 8km site per week.

Rigorous standards must be met when delivering healthcare projects, and digital tools can help in ensuring this.

HP Site Print robots are being trialled by IHP at Kingsway Hospital in Derby, allowing floor plans to be created and functions performed to an accuracy of 3mm.

As it is a psychiatric intensive care unit, precision is of the essence, and this guarantee of accuracy, along with improved speed – the robots deliver ten times faster than traditional methods – has made it an invaluable tool.

Other BIM tools, like the Dalux BIM viewer, can help simplify highly-technical jobs.

By bringing together floor plans, site capture, and models, complex interface details can be visualised and construction sequencing easier to interpret.

Augmented-reality headsets, also being trialled at Derby Kingsway, can then allow teams to superimpose these BIM models onto structures already existing or in construction.

This allows installation processes to be streamlined, ultimately bringing time, materials, and cost benefits to a project.

Mark Gibson

Data collection made easy

Digital tools can be highly valuable when collecting data.

If effectively integrated into a project, data collection can deliver value while construction is ongoing and throughout the entire life cycle of the building. It can also enrich end users’ experience by sharing findings from any data collected.

With the Building Safety Act making it a legal requirement for projects to share up-to-date information on buildings, the benefits of digital construction tools have been made ever clearer.

They make it possible for data to be easily accessed and shared by others – essentially creating a log of past activity and providing a roadmap through a building’s history.

Once collected, data can also be used to benefit clients and end-users post project completion.

For example, project data collected over the duration of the BEACH building’s construction has been shared with the University Hospitals Dorset NHS Foundation Trust to provide guidance on how best to operate and maintain the building, replacing the paper logs often used across the NHS.

Furthermore, the data has fed into enhanced digital security mechanisms put in place in the BEACH building’s maternity facilities, which trigger the automatic locking of doors when needed to keep babies safe.

The twin challenges of culture and education

Construction has often been perceived as a traditional, slow-moving industry.

Now, however, there is a growing push to understand new ways of working and a move towards embracing digitisation, digital tools, and methods – particularly in the healthcare projects sector, where estates are often under increased pressure to deliver from the outset, with little room for error.

This is in part due to issues in accessing sites following completion as well as meeting a myriad of technical requirements to ensure that any risks are minimised.

Digital construction methods should be embedded throughout the construction process, seen as a way of working industry-wide rather than siloed to specific teams within firms.

And this requires communication from within and throughout project teams, including clients, consultants, and executive leadership through to supply chain partners, and with other firms, too.

It is through this collaboration and communication that a culture of digital literacy can truly be fostered in the long term.

Wider engagement is key

The benefits of digital construction practices must be shared beyond internal stakeholders to ensure they are a longstanding feature of projects.

For instance, the supply chain should also be encouraged to engage with digital construction tools to foster greater digital best practice.

Similarly, we have seen firsthand how digital tools can facilitate engagement with key stakeholders.

Twinmotion, a visualisation software employed at Derby Kingsway, allowed nurses, doctors, and patients alike to feed in their preferences on the interior of a new hospital unit. This allowed end users to have a direct say on the project’s outcome and ensured quality could be met from the outset.

Joint ventures can also be an effective means for sharing best practice and spurring industry engagement with digital construction tools.

Opportunities for collaboration will allow businesses to share preferred methods of engagement, with the view to ultimately establishing an industry standard of best practice.

Where possible, firms can also put forward projects to take part in onsite trials, allowing future digital tools and technologies to flourish.

Ultimately, digital construction has the potential to vastly improve accuracy and precision when building a healthcare project – thus allowing the highest quality of construction to be achieved in tandem with timely, efficient delivery.

Potentially transformative for the healthcare sector and elsewhere, ensuring sufficient training and education exists for teams to effectively utilise digital construction tools and methods will be crucial in establishing it as a key pillar of construction going forward.

In a sector like healthcare, where projects demand precision and accuracy, digital construction might just be the key to unlocking the future.



Keep Updated

Sign up to our weekly property newsletter to receive the latest news.