Digital tech: 3 paths to more sustainable construction |
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Digital tech: 3 paths to more sustainable construction

Contact image Gustaf Werner, Vice President for Innovation, Skanska Group Gustaf Werner, Vice President for Innovation, Skanska Group
We live in an age of extraordinary technological changes. An explosion in digital capabilities, including data analysis and the development of artificial intelligence and machine learning, is helping redefine the way we work, connect and spend our leisure time.

This expanding digital capability also has major potential to help reduce emissions from the global development and construction sector. By applying digital innovations intelligently to solve construction and operational challenges, we can help reduce the use of fuel and raw materials – and the production of emissions – across a structure or building’s construction phase and working life.


At Skanska, we are working actively to shape a less carbon-intensive sector, and have been trialing a range of digital technologies to reduce the impact of our operations and products.


Here are three of the most promising.


Digital twins


Digital twins are virtual models of real-world assets programmed to include as many characteristics of the real objects as possible. The concept has major potential sustainability benefits at both the design/construction and operational stages of a building’s life. During design and construction, a twin can be used to try different configurations of the available space, demonstrate designs to stakeholders, and improve workflows. During the operational phase, a digital twin can be linked to smart features and sensors within the building to provide the owner or manager with an interactive overview of maintenance needs and power usage. In the UK, we are actively working with digital twins where our Intellekt product is enabling building operators to monitor and adjust parameters including temperature, carbon dioxide levels, lighting, heating and more.


Data-driven construction sites


Most machines on global construction sites run on fossil fuels. While we are exploring fossil-free construction sites as one option for improved sustainability, another is reducing emissions from construction machines by coordinating their usage more efficiently. Data-driven construction sites use software, sensors and artificial intelligence to better understand the movement of machines, materials and staff, allowing for less downtime and more productive and efficient use of assets. Such systems have the potential to identify the optimal times for deliveries, the best types and combinations of delivery vehicle, and whether a certain fuel will deliver suitable results.


We are pioneering the use of such technology in Norway together with construction software company Ditio, investigating how data analysis can improve efficiency while building infrastructure such as roads.


Robots and automation


Robots have long played a role in the manufacturing sector where they can be programmed to perform the same task over and over. Now, advances in their sophistication may be opening the way for them to play a role in more efficient and sustainable construction.


We have been collaborating with technology firm ABB to see if robots can successfully create the structural rebar (reinforcement bar) cages used in construction. The dimensions and properties of the cages can vary widely depending on where they are to be used, meaning the robots used need to be flexible and capable of producing multiple designs.


In trials, specially designed robots have managed to reduce the time needed to produce a metric ton of rebar cages from 16 hours to one hour. Using robots rather than people for this dirty and dangerous task also has the potential to improve safety and free up humans up to take on other roles.


Another application with potential, meanwhile, may be the introduction of waste-collection robots that sort and help recycle useful materials that would otherwise go to landfill. It’s hoped that the increased accuracy of robots when performing this and other similar tasks will help achieve a reduction in waste and, consequently, a reduction in the materials used on construction projects.


Data powering our emission reductions


The use of data and digital innovations are an important part of our work to achieve net-zero carbon emissions in our own operations and in the value chain by 2045. 


I am convinced the years ahead will bring even more exciting innovations that will help us and the industry to cut the carbon in the built environment.