When it comes to healthcare projects, funders and providers are looking for certainty in programme and cost, while still achieving facilities that are flexible and sustainable in the long-term.
Using smart construction approaches can have a significant impact on schedule, cost, safety and sustainability of healthcare projects, and could lead to better long-term outcomes for patients and staff.
In this article Aurecon’s Building Leader, Western Australia, Gillian Forde, unpacks four key trends in smart construction and how they could be used to Reimagine Healthcare Infrastructure and improve its flexibility and sustainability.
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Prefabricated, modular construction is a design and construction approach that involves manufacturing components off-site and assembling them on-site. The technologies have existed for a long time but haven’t been used widely in health infrastructure. With the health sector now challenged by the speed and flexibility required to respond to the pandemic and the need to update and replace ageing assets to meet increasing demand, modular construction could help to ease these pressures.
There are many benefits to modular construction. It is a faster and more efficient way to construct, that also improves safety and reduces noise, waste and dust on-site. This is a clear benefit, particularly for the expansion of healthcare facilities.
This was exemplified during the expansion of the Monash Medical Centre Emergency Department in Melbourne that used prefabricated modules to provide additional accommodation quickly and efficiently to treat and isolate patients presenting with COVID-19.
Modular construction also improves scale and optimisation. This scalability allows the asset owner to extend the facility in accordance with changes in demand, regulation, or to respond to specific public health events.
It also makes it easier to maintain operations during construction and allows health infrastructure to adapt to future requirements and technology.
The rise of 3D printing also means that the creation of prefabricated components off-site can be further streamlined. In healthcare, 3D printing is already revolutionising the manufacture of prostheses, organs, medical devices and, as we witnessed during the COVID-19 pandemic, surgical masks and face shields. So, why wouldn’t 3D printing be explored in the context of the construction of healthcare facilities?
Design for Manufacture and Assembly (DfMA) focuses on prioritising both the manufacture and assembly of components in the construction phase within the design phase. It effectively combines design, manufacturing and construction as a seamless process, enabled through sophisticated modelling and workflow strategies.
This can have the effect of significantly reducing time and costs, and processes become streamlined. It also improves on-site safety and reduces the risk of errors, as building occurs in the controlled environment of a manufacturing facility.
As a form of design and construction, DfMA is seldom used in the health sector, but is starting to be recognised as providing a more standardised, systematic and streamlined approach for capital projects across other industries, as demonstrated in the design and delivery of CommBank Stadium, that enabled fast and efficient construction within a very tight two and a half year timeframe.
Adopting DfMA as a viable design and construction approach for healthcare infrastructure could see some of these benefits realised.
Automated construction techniques can deliver significant benefits such as reducing construction time by creating efficiencies, improving accuracy and increasing on-site safety. However, to take advantage of the benefits of automation, construction needs to move from a ‘craft’ approach, to the use of standardisation and prescriptive solutions and systemisation where this work can be undertaken by technology.
Using automation not only makes construction easier and safer, but can also assist with building operations and maintenance, driving down short- and long-term costs.
In a healthcare setting, using automated construction techniques could mean being able to deliver much needed access to health services quickly, which is vital in pandemic events and natural disasters, as well as opening more access to healthcare in regional areas.
Blockchain is a decentralised database that securely records transactions and, given the data is resistant to modification, is being explored increasingly to improve supply chains. Blockchain allows the creation of smart contracts along the supply chain to increase trust between project partners, making the process of construction easier, cheaper, safer and faster.
Blockchain can be used to connect the supply chain from planning to documentation through smart contracts. When connected to other digital design and construction software, blockchain can also enable greater collaboration, transparency and real-time sharing of data and design changes.
Payments can also be facilitated via blockchain to automatically facilitate invoicing and receivals on completion of pre-determined milestones. It could even be applied beyond construction to understand healthcare asset efficiency, as well as help to streamline building maintenance.
Gillian Forde is Aurecon’s Buildings Leader, Western Australia, with more than 14 years’ experience delivering engineering solutions for a diverse range of projects across international markets. As a structural engineer, Gillian has a record of implementing innovative ideas and applying technical skills and creativity to challenge the status-quo and deliver better outcomes for clients on projects across health, education, commercial, residential, transport, Defence and public infrastructure.
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