Weather is a recurring theme in our lives, a conversation that invades our days – the climate around us that conditions us.
Weather changes our landscapes, the terrain, and everything we know in the world. A weather event like rain can help crops and a country’s economy; the sun and heat can completely change its inhabitants’ way of life. In the most extreme cases, the weather can be devastating for the Earth with hurricanes or earthquakes, destroying life as we knew it.
Like time, construction and engineering change our landscapes. Infrastructures are a part of our environment, integrated into our habitat. They blend in so well that we sometimes don’t even notice them. They aim to improve our quality of life, connecting us and building metaphorical bridges.
As such, the climate also significantly impacts infrastructures, both their construction and maintenance. We can see how engineering has adapted to weather conditions in different areas over time.
The clearest instance of climate impact on infrastructure can be seen on roads. Throughout history, ever since the Romans built their first roads joining all their territories, roadway design has always accounted for factors like rainfall, climate type, wind, and temperature. These considerations are involved in both construction and subsequent maintenance.
It was a Roman architect, Vitruvius, who laid the foundations for building construction in the 1st century BC. In his work De Architectura, he analyzed the major role played by the climate. The tome’s ten books bring together all of antiquity’s architectural knowledge. In the sixth book, we find information on weather conditions, which first began to be studied and applied at that time in the Roman villas. Vitruvius understood the importance of considering climate when building the Roman streets and their layout.
Ever since then, climate has been a fundamental factor in the planning phase of construction. We can see how each building and infrastructure is adapted to an area’s climate.
Measuring the weather first
As time goes by, the processes for measuring climate’s impact on construction have been changing and evolving with the implementation of new technologies. Despite all the advances, though, measuring the impact and risks posed by weather conditions first continues to be quite difficult in construction and building. We know what the conditions are after the fact, but it is extraordinarily difficult to determine them in advance, making construction all the more difficult.
Climate change also makes forecasting weather patterns harder; with the increase in more extreme weather conditions, planning and operating are increasingly difficult in the construction industry.
Faced with this challenge, our team set out to find a solution. Thus, the Weather Ledger project was born in April 2020 in the United Kingdom. This pioneering project by Innovate UK was funded by the Transforming Construction Challenge. We’re working on it with EHAB, Clyde & Co, Connected Places Catapult, Digital Catapult, and BAM Nuttall to develop a tool that can determine all climatic risks before starting construction on our projects. It draws on the latest technologies, such as the Internet of Things and Distributed Ledger Technology. Over the 12-month duration of the project, our goal is to develop a solution that makes it possible to collect information about the climate conditions, exchange information, and manage contracts in relation to adverse weather events for projects.
As a result, we developed a Smart Contract Tool that will be highly useful for managing each project’s contracts and clients. This app automates tender negotiation processes with clients, and it can shorten this process from 12 weeks to just 2 days. It measures all of the weather conditions and weather-related claims automatically through the app, which collects information from the sensors installed onsite. It sends this data to the contractor and the client in real-time, optimizing a process that was, until now, manual and had to be reviewed by one person.
This means that all climatic risks can be measured in advance, and it is very useful in the project’s bidding phases because all of the actual information can be given to the client in advance. This allows for better decision-making, savings on costs related to disputes in contracts, and better use of time in construction.
Health and safety
To optimize the process, we’re developing a mobile app so that all engineers and operators can have access to up-to-date records on the project in one place. There aren’t only on climate conditions; they also relate to health and safety, inventory, tools, and so on, making it possible for all of the records that were, until now, filed on paper to be stored more securely.
It also lets the contractor take photographs and share them so the client can see progress as it happens. They’re logged in the app once construction is finished, allowing all of this data to be accessed for future projects, and learning can be stored to automate processes in the future.
This app will not only help manage project records in a more controlled manner; it will also simplify the claim process, allowing surveyors to have all the information more readily at hand and not miss any important data when assessing prices, delays on the project, roadblocks encountered…
In addition to the app for mobile devices, we’re developing a web page that will focus more on planning the project and any weather-related delays.
This will let us measure whether our activities may be at risk of delay due to weather conditions and estimate the number of days more precisely. These estimates will optimize processes and allow us to plan for preparing our programs, move our activities, and assess the risk at each construction site.
To date, we’ve installed sensors to test the app on our HS2 project. We’re analyzing its potential, which will undoubtedly strengthen our commercial position, give us greater control over construction, and respond to one of the greatest challenges in construction: anticipating climate risks.
At the moment, we’ve geared the project towards NEC (New Engineering Contracts) in the United Kingdom. However, we intend to continue developing it for implementation in all sorts of countries and contracts.
With this innovative solution, we want to set a precedent in the construction industry, optimize time spent, reduce the odds of client-contractor disputes, offer better collaboration and coordination between the two parties, improve project delivery times, and add value to related industries.