The construction and engineering industry embraces change. After all, it’s what it does! Construction-technology firms raised $10 billion in investment funding from 2011 through early 2017.
You can’t dismiss construction technology as “a fad” or a trailer full of fun new toys. Modernizing processes, streamlining the workforce and eliminating inefficiencies have real, practical bottom-line benefits.
For cost-effective and competitive projects, integrate new technology approaches into your workplace. Here is our ultimate guide to new construction technology. These could have the biggest impact on your business.
Read on to learn more.
Paper Didn’t Go Away
Wasn’t paper supposed to be obsolete thirty years ago? The workplace of the future promised an almost paperless existence. We all know how that went.
Instead, the volume of information increased to fill the available media. Today, the management of documents and knowledge depends on technology.
Enterprise resource management (ERP) developers bring together back-office, design collaboration, and construction management. No one solution currently exists, but several possibilities are under development.
Paper Morphed Into Data
Picture the trailer with file cabinets overflowing with blueprint revisions. Now relegate it to the past. Accounting, finance, and HR switched to computers to store information long ago.
The natural evolution is to use technology to analyze the available information. Valuable volumes of project data on finances, costs, and schedules exist. With tech, it can be at the fingertips of your front line client contacts.
Encourage digital collaboration between the architects, engineers, and general contractors on projects. It increases communication and coordination between professionals. Increase efficiency through control of change-orders.
Careful management of last-minute changes and modification of materials orders increases efficiency.
New Construction Technology Starts With Mobiles
The best use of mobile technology isn’t keeping kids quiet on long car trips. Apps are part of the norm in many fields, including construction. The increased functionality of tablets and smartphones allows for greater portability.
Job sites, offices, and stakeholders are many. They are also geographically dispersed. Tools to increase communication and alignment are vital.
Mobile platforms, including phone and tablet apps to consider include:
- Design management to update blueprints and other project documents while on site. Add markups, annotations, and hyperlinks to blueprints from the job site.
- Mobile document management. Upload documents, track changes to them and record all decisions.
- Performance management information collection. Managers can update and share workforce information from the field. This eliminates costly travel and lost time on the job site.
- Contract management on-site. Tick off checklists or collect information for contract compliance. Instantly communicate negotiated terms. Add real-time video or photo documentation.
This type of technology integrates into your current processes with little upfront investment. Expensive hardware and the latest upgrades are often unnecessary.
Eye in the Sky
Specialized cameras and drones are some of the widespread construction technology available. Site surveys and models created by drone are quicker to complete. They are more accurate than aerial photography or a ground crew.
You can survey and inspect bridges without risk to human life. This goes for tall buildings and other hazardous areas too.
High-resolution cameras and sensors collect data for advanced 3D models and volume measurements. Other types of cameras look for air leaks, water leaks or thermal breaks.
Cameras have another advantage. You can also use them to track safety and loss prevention on a job site and see how people are working. A security guard can only be in one place at one time, but one person can watch many security cameras. This has some obvious cost advantages.
From CAD to 3D Building Information Modeling (BIM)
BIM is like CAD, in the way that it is revolutionizing the creative process. It digitally models what is to be built, layer by layer. It isn’t just a visual model. It also takes the metadata and incorporates changes as negotiated. This allows near-instant rendering of changes. You can visualize impact before the beginning of construction.
In some countries like Ireland, Australia and the United Kingdom, BIM is mandated. The software allows collaboration between trades, engineering, and architects to avoid conflict. Each person works on their piece of the model. The result is rendered together to avoid expensive mistakes.
Using BIM eliminates errors due to repeated blueprint versions and clash management. This way, the model evolves as people contribute as opposed to waiting for the process to wind serially through the stakeholders.
Virtual Reality Takes BIM One Step Beyond
BIM allows you to build a multilayered, static model. Creating games and entertainment with VR is a new technology. To promote understanding of complex projects, use VR in conjunction with BIM.
With VR, you can walk a client or team through the model. Think of the potential to avoid late-stage change orders by anticipating design interactions. This use of VR also allows for imaginative investor updates and pre-sales. Virtual tours offer visualization in ways that a static rendering cannot
Augmented Reality and Wearable Tech
Technology like smartwatches or Google Cardboard is creeping into everyday leisure. Applied to construction, this technology allows real-time labor deployment data (through GPS monitoring.)
In addition, safety checks happen in real time. Imagine reducing risks to workplace safety by monitoring and warning employees. Limit fatigue, noise or heat exposures automatically.
A smartwatch or similar wearable technology can both send and receive data to improve performance. GPS sensors aren’t just limited to people. Expensive assets such as hand tools or construction vehicles can be monitored anywhere in the world with hidden tracking mechanisms.
Augmented reality is still in its earliest stages, but using portable technology to collect and transmit data about the environment, then showing a heads-up display with information and instructions shows great promise. Combined with robotic assistance, jobs get done faster and with fewer errors.
Robots and Artificial Intelligence
Robots are already working at some construction sites. Bricklaying and other tasks are now completed with little or no human interaction. Autonomous equipment can now perform and complete tasks faster than human workers. They are more accurate too.
Artificial intelligence now can replicate a certain level of labor without getting tired. Increasingly, it can copy human judgment, decision-making and take action. Semi-autonomous cranes and material handling for high-rises are already in use.
Even when AI cannot replace a human, supplementing a human is already possible. Augmenting human strength and logic is in the near future. Like the comic book character Iron Man, the exo-suit for construction workers is not far away. Robotic suits that multiply the strength of the wearer are decreasing in price daily. Look for increasing use as the price drops.
Exoskeletons that stabilize the body are already popular in construction. They prevent worker injury while lifting, bending or squatting. Adding actuators and powered “muscles” is not a far stretch.
3D Printing and Advanced Materials
3-D printing direct from design technology could completely change material sourcing. Advanced prefabrication in a controlled environment already happens for certain building components. Carried to the next level, components for a project can be printed at the job site, ready for use immediately.
This can streamline the process and remove waste from the equation. American solid-waste streams are 25% to 40% construction and building-related debris. Printing materials on-site has the potential to significantly reduce transportation costs and waste.
Extruded concrete 3D printing demonstrations have built low-cost houses. These projects can take less than a day and locally source materials. Other promising technology includes supports and bricks made from “green” materials. These include plastic waste, bamboo or recycled glass.
Using materials local to construction reduces waste and limits transportation costs. And that is good for the environment. As the cost of 3D printing becomes more reasonable, expect to see worksite printers.
Looking to the Future Right Now
New construction technology seems like the stuff of Star Trek fantasy. Many advances are 30 years or more in the making. Document management and design collaboration are nothing new. What is new is the pace of change and the growing expectations for efficiency.
Saving time, and costs are of concern to all in engineering and construction. Tools that use data from past and ongoing work help limit project risk. Keeping track of and limiting changes during construction is a challenge. Real-time, mobile apps are making the burden of constant change less onerous.
Camera technology provides new ways to watch and improve safety. Advanced camera deployment acts as eyes and ears. This is especially true in difficult, hard to reach or dangerous areas. Cameras and other monitoring ensure that job site losses are kept to a minimum.
Even more futuristic advances show promise in construction. Ideas borrowed from entertainment, medicine, and other disciplines get used. Artificial intelligence, virtual and augmented reality for construction are all very close. These extensions are possible through the wearable tech and 3D printing available today.
For more insight on current trends, keep reading our blog for regular updates.