What’s in the pipeline for 2021?
2020 brought many challenges to the mechanical pipe joining sector and the construction industry as a whole, but as we wave goodbye to a grim year, we can say with certainty that the industry attained great achievements.
Accelerations in the adoption of innovative technologies – from 5G to BIM – and new products have fast-tracked the construction industry into positive change. An example is the comeback in economic output – ONS figures showed construction output fell by 35% in Spring but then revived up 42% in the third quarter. 1 What’s more, in June the UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, confirmed he is looking to the construction industry to drive UK recovery from the economic downturn induced by the Covid-19 lockdown.
With a vaccine roll out well underway and the delivery of many construction projects on the horizon, there is much to look forward to in 2021. So, with 2020 behind us what’s in the pipeline for our industry?
A digital future
The release of the construction playbook in December revealed the Government’s plans for industry reform through modern methods of construction and digital technologies – all designed to speed up the delivery of projects. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that enlarging the digital phase of building development’s footprint will play an important role in the year to come.
As customers inevitably start designing the majority of projects through technology like BIM, it is likely we will see standardisation – a modular approach applied to different projects to affect speed, quality, and safety – play a much larger role, especially as contractors seek greater performance at no extra cost.
With the benefits of digitalisation clear to see, Victaulic has positioned itself at the forefront of using BIM technology and even developed an add-on to Revit® and AutoCAD® to enable engineers to design faster and more efficiently.
Digitalisation isn’t just confined to the jobsite: the sector has transitioned from normal office life to remote working. I’ve seen colleagues acting admirably in their speed to stand up work-from-home solutions quickly. I expect that to continue into 2021, with many organisations continuing to put the right infrastructure in place to support flexible working, digital learning, enhanced video calling, and live presentations.
In 2020, where digital infrastructure became more important than ever before, data centres played a central role in enabling digital commerce and online meetings. Already recognised as a key technology, the past year has further highlighted the importance of data centres in keeping digital business operating and growing.
With data centres emerging into the spotlight across Europe, a growth trajectory caused the industry to scale up. And as we go into 2021, operations continue at full throttle, leaving operators with the task of keeping systems cool and fire protected.
Engineers can ensure the piping systems for their data centre design serve their best purpose by taking a holistic approach to installation. Increasingly, especially within a spate of new data centre projects taking place across Europe this year, we expect to see contractors considering both cooling and fire prevention as part of the same supplier.
Our position as a full-solution provider means we can offer a complete suite of products to data centres using Victaulic’s grooved mechanical piping system. When considering the system, it’s important to know which solutions are designed to be mission critical-ready. Traditional pipe joining technologies, like welding and flanging are challenging to adapt in an operating data centre and require longer system downtime for maintenance. Solutions based on grooved mechanical couplings offer a more reliable, durable, and adaptable piping system that can be assembled simply and quickly.
Distribution and logistics
Another trend set to gain momentum in 2021 is the distribution and logistics centres. In a world tending towards e-commerce and online retail – pushed further by lockdown conditions – warehouses are both increasing in size and put greater importance on their contents. Fire prevention takes on special importance within the logistics sector and needs to play an important role in these right from the planning stages.
The particular conditions in warehouses and logistics centres increase the risk that fires will spread rapidly: narrow alleys, high bay systems, a concentrated volume of goods within a tight space, and flammable packaging materials are all conducive to fire development.
It’s great to see a market which generally takes a traditional approach to fire protection, now seeking innovative technologies that address age old piping challenges. For example, it’s not uncommon to see some of the forward-thinking companies adopt innovative products that simplify and accelerate system installation, and we’re definitely seeing this in the distribution and logistics market.
Last but certainly not least is the lack of skilled labour. Particularly rife within the UK market, but certainly not a foreign concept on the continent too, we’re seeing workforce shortages due to a number of contributing factors and circumstances. For example, the UK construction workforce is an aging one, with over 20% of our tradespeople being over fifty and 15% being in their sixties. Although there are endless opportunities in various roles, many young people are simply not choosing a career in construction. According to YouGov Omnibus research, only 3% of young people aged between 18-24 have searched for a job in the construction industry.
As a result, much of our product development is being driven by the need to simplify installation processes through Installation-Ready TM technology.
2021 and beyond
The sector has been through an unprecedented period, and we need to provide exceptional support for our customers to ensure they can support their operations and carry out projects successfully in their own developing industries. It’s also important that businesses remain acutely aware of their responsibilities towards staff especially as digital technology, new product innovations and flexible working takes hold.
We look forward to seeing how both our industry and the wider construction arena continues to innovate and adapt for the challenges and opportunities ahead.
Sebastian Matijasevich is Commercial Sales Director Europe and Graeme Leonard is Commercial Sales Director Fire Protection at Victaulic