Modern methods of construction: how new technology is leading to better outcomes

As the demands for sustainability, efficiency, and cost-effectiveness in the construction sector soar, the role of innovative technologies has never been more necessary.


Technology, including generative artificial intelligence (AI), is increasingly becoming leveraged within the sector, proving a “pivotal moment” for the industry.

We only have to look at the launch of the UK Government’s new framework for harnessing AI to boost public project delivery to see that the use of new technology is on the rise, moulding the sector into a new shape.

Yet, there is no single piece of technology that is going to transform outcomes within the sector – improvement lies in the individual innovative practices that are slowly incorporated into day-to-day site work. 

Fortunately, there are multiple examples to explore how these modern methods have been, and can be, made possible through use of technology.

Here are four examples of how BAM has used technology to improve risk management for clients, construct buildings with minimal disruption to critical operations on projects, accelerate planning processes by using virtual walkthroughs, and ensuring that workers are not navigating difficult terrain by deploying robotics on site.

Putting AI into practice

Using AI as an example, it is poised to significantly enhance the efficiency of construction companies by introducing generative design, which is bound to have a positive impact on client work. However, there is still a long way to go – 55% of chief operating officers in the sector indicated that the main barrier to creating business value with AI was identifying the right opportunities to apply it. The challenge lies in recognising the right situations where AI can have a tangible, positive impact on the company's performance. In practice, it can provide simple planning efficiencies as well as on-the-ground support. 

Last summer, BAM trialled the use of a number of AI tools including work with nPlan to quantify and tackle potential issues within a portfolio of projects. Using AI, BAM was able to improve its risk management of the outcome of 50 projects by analysing potential risks and associated costs - enabling the firm to take prompt preventive action.

Improving risk management through AI significantly enhances safety, which reduces the likelihood of accidents and ensures compliance with safety regulations, such as the latest Building Safety Act which took effect in October last year. This anticipation and mitigation of potential problems ahead of time ensures a smoother, more predictable construction process for clients.

Using 3D modelling on large-scale projects

When we take AI one step further and explore its capabilities of 3D visualisation, we can also see how it can make the planning side of construction projects possible.

For example, when building the Sighthill bridge across the M8 in Glasgow, BAM used 3D concrete printing to create the staircase that provided access to the bridge. Printing allowed for precise and intricate shapes to be made, which can be difficult with traditional formwork. The removal of moulds and materials also reduced waste by 40% compared to traditional methods, keeping costs down whilst improving carbon efficiency. 

3D modelling has proven to be a valuable tool when it comes to healthcare too. In the construction of medical facilities, such as the Skyway Link Bridge at Southampton Hospital, the technology has allowed necessary construction to take place with minimal disruption to its critical operations. At Southampton Hospital, 3D modelling produced a digital replication of the bridge, enabling the team to pre-emptively address potential issues ahead of time, ensuring a seamless integration into the existing infrastructure of the hospital.


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Planning through the lens of augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR)

Similar to the method of using 3D modelling, the use of AR and VR in construction projects has massively streamlined the planning process of construction work. 

When BAM was tasked with strengthening and improving the access of the King Edward Bridge in Newcastle, the biggest concern was ensuring the safety of those with boots on the ground. The structure sits high, with low handrails, meaning that construction workers had to crawl on their hands and knees to stay safe.

By using AR and VR, BAM was able to facilitate virtual walkthroughs of project plans and foresee the potential changes, reducing the need for on-site visits and accelerating the planning process. 

In addition, when it comes to large scale projects, there are often a number of stakeholders, such as local authorities, clients, architects, contractors, involved that want to oversee construction methods and outcomes to ensure that work is meeting the needs of the local community. This new technology has proved an effective presenting tool to communicate construction plans to stakeholders and enhance decision-making, allowing those involved to see the changes on site and how the impossible can be possible.

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The place for robotics in engineering

When it comes to modern methods of technologies, the introduction of robotics has certainly caught the attention of the construction industry. With reports of bricklaying robots and pothole-fixing robots, there has been a keen eye on the outcome of their performance.

When implemented, robotic technologies are proving to be effective.

Agile mobile robots - often referred to as robotic dogs - are now being deployed to navigate difficult terrain and confined spaces within construction sites which are deemed too hazardous for people. A robotic dog, named Spot, was fitted with in-built laser scanners and put to work by BAM on a remote construction site in Shetland. The four-legged robot used customised 3D laser scanning equipment to collect data and create records of the 55,176m2 area, whilst being controlled remotely via 5G signal.

The successful use of Spot in this isolated location with harsh weather conditions and challenging terrain demonstrates that some tasks on sites can be automated or undertaken remotely, reducing the need for people to travel to difficult locations.

This has not been the only deployment of Spot – recently, it has been used by BAM to survey a former atomic bomb test site in Suffolk on behalf of the National Trust, as these facilities were deemed unsafe to enter due to decaying concrete. Spot has also worked with National Highways to inspect potentially hazardous roadside locations.

Whilst the use of robotics can help strengthen worker safety and innovation within the sector, it cannot replace the need for workers in the project. According to a report by Goldman Sachs, AI and robotic technology can only handle 25% of “unpredictable physical work”  – a skill that is vital on construction sites. The robotic technology will likely augment human labour rather than replace it entirely, because the value of human judgment, expertise, and adaptability remains crucial in the industry. 

Each of these examples of new technologies – AI, 3D modelling, AR, VR, and robotics – offers distinct advantages and when integrated fully, construction projects will see more efficient, cost-effective solutions that improve worker safety. 

When used holistically, they will not only reshape individual projects, but will improve outcomes within the construction industry and collectively setting new standards for the entire sector – standards focused on safety and efficiency, whilst making construction work possible.

The article first appeared in pbctoday on 8th April 2024. 

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About the author

Colin Evison - BAM

Colin Evison

Innovation Technical Lead 

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Colin leads the Innovation department. He works with departments across BAM UK and Ireland and the wider group to promote innovation in our business.

When he’s not managing innovation initiatives, he’s developing processes to streamline how we deploy innovation in the business. He looks at how we can make better use of data and how we can play a part in the shift towards Smart Cities.

Colin joined BAM Nuttall in 1997 and became a chartered civil engineer in 1998. He was admitted as a fellow of ICE in 2011. Outside of his main job, he supports graduate civil engineers on ICE Training Schemes.