Is demolition about to get the respect it deserves?

24 February 2021

Ask anyone outside the demolition industry what our engineering profession does, and they will no doubt describe scenes full of dozers and excavators, maybe even cranes and balls, pulling down tired buildings, plant and other assets, to make way for something more exciting.

Perhaps with a little latitude, they would not be wrong, strictly speaking. But would they understand the lengths to which we go to ensure hazards are mitigated? Methodologies are designed and validated? Communities are engaged? The environment is protected?

Richard Vann, managing director RVA Group Richard Vann

I believe the answer is “no” – and why would they?

Compare that to the perceptions that exist surrounding the role of a construction consultancy or architect. Admittedly, a layperson perhaps would not describe the technicality of these professions in depth either. However, I bet they would be more likely to acknowledge the design acumen, planning rigour and project management prowess of such teams.

This is not to take anything away from such a summary. These are highly skilled individuals bringing innovative new buildings, facilities, structures and processes to market. But what if they weren’t the only people to kickstart the lifecycle of such an asset?

Economic shift and the closed loop society
The ongoing economic shift to a more closed loop society means that we are increasingly trying to preserve the world’s resources and prolong the part they play in the value chain.

That is why in product design, for instance, savvy brands are now pioneering goods that do not just look and perform great during their useful life – they are engineered for ease of safe, cost-effective reuse or recyclability as well. Naturally, experts from the waste industry are consulted as part of this process, which means the supply chain becomes less linear and more circular.

So, what does this have to do with the demolition industry?

As a demolition consultancy, we are often hired to deliver works execution services and, in the United Kingdom, we act as Construction Design and Management principal designer for many of our clients – a role that we see as integral to the project management structure. However, as with most undertakings, the quality of inputs at the earliest possible stages of an assignment will influence the level of success that can be achieved.

Pre-build asset management
Some forward-thinking organisations may therefore seek front-end engineering support much earlier in the lifecycle of a project – and I am not just talking about feasibility and options studies. We are often asked to deliver pre-build asset management and retirement provisioning services for high hazard plants, for example – a process which provides the foundations for a robust financial management tool that owners can use to confidently accrue adequate funds for the asset’s eventual end of life decommissioning.

This has the potential to be far more than a budgeting exercise. It can help when periodically assessing the plant’s ongoing viability against future liabilities, evaluating the business case for retrofitting and maintaining cost awareness for the acquisition or divestment of assets, to name just a few benefits.

But the value of this type of service – and indeed the demolition profession – would be amplified if the data to support the planning and programming of the asset’s retirement was considered during the pre-construction phase of a plant.

Firstly, the longer-term costs associated with the eventual decommissioning of the installation could have a significant impact on the asset’s profitability across the entirety of its lifecycle – costs which could be better controlled with more of the closed loop collaboration described above.

Secondly, if the decontamination, dismantling and demolition of an asset are considered before it has even been constructed, there may be ways to ease some of the practical, safety and environmental concerns that may otherwise arise further down the line.

It must be noted that such collaborations are already taking place in industry, but not to the degree that they should be. I hope that ongoing supply chain dialogue during 2021 and beyond, will change that.

We can close the loop in our world too.

  • Article first published in the January-February 2021 issue of Demolition & Recycling International
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