Enterprise Ireland
CSG Innovation and Digital Adoption Subgroup
CSG Innovation and Digital Adoption Subgroup chairperson PJ Rudden.

PJ Rudden, Chair of the CSG Innovation and Digital Adoption Subgroup, speaks with ROBBIE COUSINS about the progress made in achieving the seven priority actions required to deliver the National Development Plan and modernise the Irish construction industry.

The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform’s (DPER’s) 2019 report, Economic analysis of productivity in the Irish construction sector, prepared by KPMG/Future Analytics, set out seven priority actions that needed to be implemented in the context of delivering the National Development Plan (NDP).

Construction Sector Group

These actions were seen as key to achieving the modernisation of the Irish construction industry, bringing it on par with more efficient sectors, such as IT and manufacturing. They were also considered essential interventions to enable the construction sector to achieve the massive carbon-emission reductions required, a 51% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by 2030 and net-zero emissions by 2050.

Innovation and Digital Adoption Subgroup

Following the report’s publication, the Construction Sector Group (CSG), comprising government and industry representatives, set up the Innovation and Digital Adoption Subgroup to implement the seven priority actions. The CSG appointed PJ Rudden, former president of Engineers Ireland, as chairperson of the subgroup to oversee the implementation of the actions. The seven priority actions are:

  1. Establish construction research needs
  2. Identify funding sources for future innovation, eg circular economy in construction
  3. Guide the development of Modern Methods of Construction (MMC)
  4. Establish a Construction Technology Centre (CTC) as a national research centre of excellence
  5. Establish a digital network under the Construction Professional Skillnet Ireland
  6. Digitise the planning permission application system
  7. Establish and fund a Build Digital Project (BDP) for BIM and digital adoption

Following the launch of the government’s Housing for All strategy and Climate Action Plan, an eighth all-encompassing action was added to prioritise sustainability and housing delivery as key elements of every priority.

Having held its first meeting in September 2020, the Innovation and Digital Adoption Subgroup has made enormous progress in the past two years in addressing the seven priorities, with much of this achieved during a period when Covid-19 restrictions were in place.

Subgroup chair PJ Rudden says there had been attempts over the years to address some issues contained in the seven priorities. One example of this was the digitisation of the planning process, but all of the priority actions required a properly resourced focused project management approach to deliver. He says they are now receiving this under the leadership of the CSG Innovation and Digital Adoption Team, which comprises some 300 experts from different fields across the sector.

“This was made possible by the fact that there was a recognition at government and industry level that the sector needed to be modernised as a matter of urgency to deliver on the National Development Plan.” PJ Rudden explains. “And while we have achieved much in the past two years, it has not all been easy, as we needed to be innovative and agile at every step. We now have increasing momentum, which has the necessary support across all government departments, and the Project Ireland 2040 Delivery Board is also overseeing this.”

The three principal work streams are the Build Digital Project, the National Construction Technology Centre, and Modern Methods of Construction.

Kingspan PowerPanel
Build Digital Project
PJ Rudden, Chair, CSG Innovation and Digital Adoption Subgroup; Pat Lucey, Industry Lead, Build Digital Project; Dr Clare Eriksson, Project Director, Build Digital Project; Michael McGrath TD, Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform; Suzanne Purcell, PMO Lead, Build Digital Project; and Robert Moore, Project Lead, Build Digital Project, at the Build Digital Project Annual Conference 2022.

Build Digital Project

In November 2021, the DPER announced that a consortium led by TU Dublin with CitA (Construction IT Alliance) as co-applicant and partners Atlantic Technological University, Munster Technological University, University College Dublin, and South East Technological University, had been awarded €2.5m in funding over a five-year period to establish and deliver the BDP.

The BDP was launched in April by Michael McGrath TD, Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform at TU Dublin’s Grangegorman campus. It aims to ensure that world-class digital practices, which already exist in some aspects of the construction sector, are adopted throughout the industry and supply chain to create a more sustainable and innovative sector from top to bottom and vice versa. The BDP will achieve this goal by providing guidance and leadership on the digital tools, standards, procurement approaches, and education and training required by the sector.

Construction Technology Centre
At the launch of Ireland’s Construction Technology Centre, (L to r): Professor Jamie Goggins, Co-Director of Construction Technology Centre and Director of Research & Innovation in School of Engineering, University of Galway; Tánaiste, Leo Varadkar; Leo Clancy, CEO, Enterprise Ireland; Dr Magdalena Hajdukiewicz, Co-Director of Construction Technology Centre and Lecturer in Mechanical Engineering, University of Galway; and Professor Ciarán Ó hÓgartaigh, President, University of Galway.

Construction Technology Centre

In July of this year, the DPER announced the awarding of €2.5m funding, with €2.5m matching funding from the construction sector, for a national construction technology centre to a consortium led by the University of Galway with support from Enterprise Ireland. The centre will be hosted at the University of Galway and includes partner institutions Trinity College Dublin, University College Dublin, University College Cork and the Irish Green Building Council (IGBC).

The CTC aims to accelerate research and innovation within the construction sector. This will be achieved, according to the centre, “by bringing together the whole value chain to accelerate people-centric innovation in construction and the built environment that drives the transition towards a sustainable society and economy, relying on the active engagement of its members and a European network of innovation clusters”.

The new CTC award to the University of Galway and partner colleges was launched by Tánaiste Leo Varadkar TD in late July.

Collaboration is Key

PJ Rudden explains that while these two centres have different objectives, their work is interlinked.

“The BDP and CTC are two critical priorities, and much cross-sector work went into their establishment. We also added a requirement for an MMC Demonstration Park after the Housing for All plan launch last year. This park is scheduled to be in place next year at the National Construction Training Centre at Mount Lucas in Co Offaly.”

He continues, “The BDP has just held its first annual conference in October. It has also completed its inaugural annual baseline survey to discover where the industry is in terms of BIM adoption and development.”

He adds, “The CTC is still in its set-up phase but is moving quickly towards being fully operational. It will be funded jointly by Enterprise Ireland and contractors/ consultants who want research carried out to improve and validate their project processes. Contractors can go to the CTC and ask questions about areas they want to develop and then use the research to drive innovation in their projects. It has extensive research resources with a national and international network of research bodies to facilitate its work. It will prioritise R&D uptake, particularly by tier-two contractors and subcontractors/suppliers, with an emphasis on SME involvement.”

BIM progression

PJ Rudden believes it is essential that the Irish construction sector as a whole is facilitated to rapidly adopt and move up through the seven levels of BIM adoption.

“BIM level 2D emerged first 10 years ago. The UK government mandated it for contractors on public contracts from 2016. BIM has not been mandated for public contracts here yet, but this was flagged to happen in the National Development Plan. I, therefore, expect that there will be moves in this area, starting with larger projects, in the next year. Whether it’s going to be level 3D or higher is unclear at this time. But, if we are serious about achieving greater efficiency and halving carbon emissions by 2030, we need to get to level 7D BIM as quickly as possible, if we are to drive the productivity and sustainability gains that are now needed.”

He explains that BIM 2D is two-dimensional, with level 3D being volumetric. “BIM 3D is the minimum BIM-enabled skill required for integrated project management, but we need to go further.”

He continues, “BIM 4D addresses scheduling and timing of projects, 5D is about managing project estimates and costs. 6D addresses embodied carbon and project life cycle information, while BIM 7D covers the structure’s or building’s life cycle and asset management, including the operational costs of energy, transport and carbon emissions of the building during its entire operational lifetime.

“For us to address the sector’s carbon emission reductions challenge, the sector must operate at BIM level 7D. The BDP will be the key to the industry getting to those higher levels of BIM over the coming years, but before that happens, we need to get to the point where the government mandates BIM for public projects over a certain threshold value.

“Construction sectors in other countries with higher levels of BIM adoption, particularly northern European countries, have greater productivity and sustainability levels than Ireland because of the extent of construction digitisation in these countries. So, the quicker we adopt higher levels of BIM, the greater the productivity and sustainability gains that will be achieved.”

Addressing the skills gap

According to Rudden, Priority 5 (Establish a digital network under the Construction Professionals Skillnet) will play an essential part in ensuring that existing personnel are upskilled in the latest digital construction skills.

“The Construction Professionals Skillnet (CP Skillnet) has been very successful at driving innovation and introducing new upskilling opportunities into the sector. This will now complement the work of the BDP and CTC by providing new training for people already working in the sector.”

Equality, Diversity And Inclusion

PJ Rudden applauds the work currently being carried out by the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, and SOLAS in addressing equality, diversity and inclusion in construction education and training. He is particularly excited about reforms in the National Framework of Qualifications (NFQ), which will provide clearer paths for apprentices to move in a structured way through the various NFQ levels.

“We all know that there are not enough skilled people across all levels of the sector, and there are not enough young women entering the industry. The government, state bodies and sector bodies have done a lot in recent times to address issues around equality, diversity and inclusion. I want to highlight here, in particular, changes being made in the area of apprenticeships.

“The number of registered apprenticeships is increasing in some traditional fields, while also in other new popular emerging fields. Apprenticeships should be seen as an entry point to a lifelong developing career that can lead to any level of qualification. As a result of changes being made to the apprenticeship system in this country, there is now a greater mix of in-class and practical learning for apprentices, which is being supported by our technological universities. And once apprentices complete their apprenticeship, there is a clear path for them to follow if they wish to continue their education, to go from NFQ level 4 to right up to doctorate or NFQ level 10. This means that those who choose to take the apprenticeship route to a career are now afforded the same opportunities as students who go directly into third-level education.

“These routes are now included in the CAO process moving from second-level to third-level education, and I look forward to the establishment of Further Education and Training (FET) colleges by SOLAS and the Education and Training Boards so that in future, all second-level students, regardless of NFQ level, will be ‘going to college’.

Public contracts reform

PJ Rudden says that when the government mandates BIM for public contracts and with the acceleration of MMC usage, it will be reconfiguring its forms of contract to facilitate the collaborative adoption of BIM and MMC, working together in tandem to speed up construction, reduce costs, reduce construction waste and create a new next-generation construction industry.

“For BIM mandates to work, contracts will need to be reconfigured to take account of the greater need for collaboration on public projects required because BIM is, of its nature, a collaborative process.

“In addition, the Office of Public Works (OPW) and the Office of Government Procurement (OGP) intend to implement green procurement as part of its planning process in the future. For this to happen effectively, it will need 6D BIM to assess designs based on low-carbon and net-zero carbon in future tenders. So, we must progress quickly through the various BIM levels for this to happen.”

In conclusion

In closing, he comments that much has been achieved in the past two years, and there will be further substantial progress in the years ahead. But he warns, “At this stage, we can’t afford to stand still, or we will move backwards. We have to maintain momentum and increasingly move forward. Through the ongoing work in the Construction Sector Group with government and industry working and the Innovation and Digital Adoption Subgroup working at the coalface, we can continue to work together to provide the essential housing and infrastructure needed to accommodate the anticipated one million more people living in Ireland, as set out in the ambitions of Project Ireland 2040 and National Development Plan,” PJ Rudden concludes.

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