Investment in technology helping to drive productivity for Akela

With demand for quality housing growing, the construction sector is having to adapt and think differently about how it can deliver against the backdrop of labour shortages. Over the last six months, Glasgow-based Akela Construction, which delivers groundworks and civil engineering solutions to housebuilders across the country, has investigated new ways to deliver increased output while deploying resources more effectively. Here, director of operations Paul Winters discusses recent investments in new technology.

Challenging circumstances

There is no denying that we need to build more houses across the UK. However, supply simply isn’t meeting demand. The issues surrounding this are complex but a key issue that the industry is facing is a lack of available skilled labour.

Brexit has left a lasting impact and we are now seeing a lack of foreign labour. Skilled and experienced individuals from overseas were an important part of our workforce but we’re now feeling the effects of a reduced talent pool.

The last few years have been tumultuous for the industry but we have seen a steady increase in demand for housing post-lockdown. This means we have to find innovative solutions to work smarter.

Investing in technology to help

While GPS on dozers has been around for a while, GPS on excavators is a newer advancement and one which Akela has embraced since a successful trial earlier this year.

We have been quietly observing how other companies were embracing GPS technology on their plant equipment and took the decision to trial it ourselves in April to support our ground teams with laying foundations for our house builder clients.

Before this type of GPS technology became mainstream, engineers would mark out the foundation lines on the ground and set a datum and depth for the banksman’s laser level. The excavator operator would then take direction from the banksman. With three individuals having to work on the same foundation the process can be time-consuming and labour intensive.

Using this technology eliminates the need for an engineer to mark out each individual plot and a banksman to be working with the excavator. This is because the GPS has already been uploaded with information about each individual plot setting out and depth of excavation.

With sensors attached to the excavator arm, the machine man uses a tablet to guide it to excavate foundations. Using excavators fitted with GPS can make excavating shallow and deep foundations simpler and faster. The GPS technology also gives the excavator the right accuracy and control to cut out embankments, ponds and any other contoured excavation needed. All without the need for an engineer setting up profiles or the need for a banksman.

Game changer

The trial was a real eye opener for us as very quickly we were able to see the impact it could have on our productivity. It meant we were able to free up valuable time and resources which could be deployed elsewhere on site.

Akela initially hired Trimble cab kit display and receivers which was trialled on an excavator for five weeks at Dawn Homes’ Glenavy site in Airdrie.

Our initial trial proved to be so successful that we took the decision to invest in multiple kits and machines which are Trimble-ready, meaning sensors, wiring and cab kits can be interchanged between different machines.

Akela has invested substantially in new GPS technology to support its construction services with fully kitted out excavators expected to be onsite this autumn. Additional investment has also been made to provide expert training and upskilling for its team.

While still providing an essential service, engineers are now able to be deployed to other areas of site. Increasing productivity and freeing up valuable labour is a particular benefit which Akela has experienced as a result of investing in this technology.

With excavator operators now having the information they need to excavate and pour foundations at their fingertips, they have more autonomy to get on with the job at hand. This means they can move into the next job faster and more efficiently.

Over the trial period we were seeing significant time savings when excavating and pouring foundations. This is fantastic. With the technology also enabling our operators to achieve more accuracy.

The 3D design capabilities in the GPS system and real-time monitoring means you can assess accuracy as you progress the works by monitoring material movement and placement.

Housing demand isn’t going away

Despite the challenges for Akela and its housebuilder clients, demand for homes is only continuing to grow. Lack of housing stock is keeping prices high and housebuilders still want to offer their customers a variety of housing options. This is where investment in leading technology is helping.

The challenges we are facing at the moment won’t disappear overnight. We’ve seen first-hand how these are impacting our business so we have taken decisions to adapt and future proof our organisation.

Using new technology, which will inevitably help us do our job more productively, efficiently and safer, is a positive step in the right direction. We’re really looking forward to rolling out the new excavator GPS kits across our sites in the coming months.