Raising the Inspection Game

23rd July, 2021

On-site construction practice can learn a thing or two from offsite methods. This is especially true with the adoption of digital technologies, post-pandemic working and site and product inspection.

A consortium of researchers is undertaking a project that could pave the way for the mainstream adoption of using digital technologies to remotely inspect construction sites. Construction Scotland Innovation Centre (CSIC), Local Authority Building Standards Scotland (LABSS), Edinburgh Napier University’s Centre for Offsite Construction and Innovative Structures, Wheatley Group, and Homes for Scotland will support a range of trials for the Scottish Government’s Building Standards Division that compare the quality of remote inspection methods with physical checks.

The project will explore the technologies currently being used, and others that are potentially available, for remote inspection – focusing on accessible and cost-effective options, such as smart phones and tablets. It will also develop guidance around best practice, standardisation of processes, and training materials to support the use of remote inspection. Greater adoption and understanding of the options available for remote inspection – along with guidance on its implementation – could lead to more efficient construction projects by enhancing capacity for verifications, supporting quicker service delivery, and allowing greater flexibility over inspections. The initiative builds on the i-Con Challenge, which used advanced digital remote verification techniques – such as virtual and augmented reality (VR and AR) – to identify defects in buildings during the COVID-19 pandemic, when limitations were placed on travel and the ability to carry out physical inspections at construction sites.

“This project could change the way many buildings are inspected, said Sam Hart, Innovation Manager at CSIC. “We now have a year of evidence to draw upon and support our conclusions. While i-Con focused on AR and VR, not every organisation will have access to those types of technologies – it is, therefore, important to gain an appreciation for all the options available, whether it is using tablets, mobile phone footage, or even photos of certain elements of a building.

“During the first part of the programme we will benchmark the success of remote inspection since COVID-19 began. As part of that, we will look at a range of factors, including the carbon savings made through transport not being required, as well as identifying any issues that emerged. Ultimately, with the appropriate quality standards maintained, we want to make remote building inspections much more mainstream, rather than a one-off because of COVID-19.”

“Our remote inspection project is about bringing on-site construction up to the technological level of offsite. One of the fundamental benefits of offsite is the quality and consistency that can be delivered on products manufactured in factory conditions with automated lines and this initiative could be another step towards bringing the standards of that approach on site through the use of technology.

“It could, however, be applied to offsite construction methods in a few different ways. One of those could be to live stream the installation of 95% complete volumetric units on-site, allowing Building Standards to remotely inspect via video, for instance, checking the tolerances and fixings of sole plates on slabs. Another potential application could be in the factory. Manufacturers could provide live streams of their production lines, which could be checked at regular intervals by inspectors. Cameras could be placed at appropriate spots to ensure products are in the correct places and insulation is packed to the right density, among a range of other checks.

“The removal of the need to travel could also be of benefit to both inspector and manufacturers alike. During busy periods, it removes where inspectors are based as a factor – Aberdeen can pick up extra demand from Scotland’s Central Belt if required, and vice versa. That should lead to a more efficient construction process for the industry too.”

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