The construction industry is adopting new digital solutions at an increasing speed. It is no longer an issue whether construction firms will digitize their strategies, but it is instead a question of when they will do it. New technologies have made it possible to have construction documents at a click. The interoperability between the different project stakeholders makes it easier for various professionals to work on a project. Technology also makes it easier for employees to work on a project and stay within the scope and budget of a project.
Most people ascribe technologies in the construction industry to advanced heavy equipment, but beyond these are the breakthroughs that we use in the office, field, and boardrooms. We funnel a lot of resources into construction projects, and finding ways to leverage this data and increase project efficiency is paramount to ensure a project stays on track. This article will discuss some of the emerging technologies in construction.
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What is construction technology?
According to the Construction Industry Institute, construction technology refers to the innovative tools, software, machinery, and equipment used in a project to assure advancements in construction methods. We use construction technology in all kinds of construction projects, with the latest trends majorly lying on prefabrication, computer software, and the construction of eco-friendly buildings.
New technologies are emerging rapidly, and what seemed as far outlying technology in the construction industry 20 years ago is presently deployed in construction today.
According to James Long LaSalle, startup construction ventures report an average annual increase of 30% in construction technologies globally.
The different types of Construction Technology
Increasing demand for digitalization and construction of more innovative buildings has created the need for construction companies to develop solutions that modernize construction processes. This gives a company a competitive edge by providing cutting-edge technology that integrates new workflow models and strategies. Below are the various technology types used in construction.
Artificial Intelligence (AI)
Artificial Intelligence is a technology that focuses on enabling machines and computers to mimic human action and Intelligence. Like most technologies in construction, artificial Intelligence is used together with other technologies such as wearables, BIM, laser scanners, and sensors for data collection and decision making. On the other hand, machine learning is a subset of Artificial Intelligence that utilizes algorithms to find repetitive patterns and make informed decisions without human intervention.
There is a lot of data generated from construction projects with passing years, and we can utilize artificial intelligence techniques to improve future outcomes of construction projects. We can also use the collected data results to improve machine learning, improve a project's productivity, manage risks, and improve the project's schedule. The biggest hindrance of Artificial Intelligence in the construction industry is developing an organized way for data collection and storage.
Artificial Intelligence helps monitor workers and warn of any arising safety hazards. For instance, if workers don't have their protective gear, AI can note this and inform them through a wearable or smartphone. We also use AI in self-operating equipment in construction.
Most projects also adopt AI when it comes to project scheduling. This is because one can simulate a project numerous times and areas where adjustments may be necessary for maximum efficiency and delivery. This helps maintain a project on schedule and within budget. Artificial Intelligence also uses robots and drones to monitor a project's progress and give real-time actionable data. The use of AI in construction shows improvements in the efficiency and safety of project sites.
The construction space is rapidly adopting drones. They are faster and more accurate when it comes to conducting aerial surveys. Drones are also cheaper than aerial satellite imaging, and they have high-resolution cameras that can be used to create quality topographical maps and models. Their mobility makes it easy to inspect places with poor access, such as building tops and around bridges.
We can use drones on sites for inspection, monitoring work progress, and identifying potential hazards on site. Drones do not eliminate the use of workers, but we need to train workers on how to use them properly. The data collected from drones can be incorporated into AI applications to further increase a project's efficiency.
The ability to conduct tasks remotely is a big win in the construction industry, and therefore the adoption of drones should continue.
The construction industry has not yet fully adopted construction robots, but there are a few tabled designs. Construction robots aim at dealing with labor shortages by entirely revamping labor in construction. The main types of robots are factory robots, collaborative robots, and autonomous robots. Factory robots are suitable for manufacturing tasks as they can efficiently perform repetitive tasks. Collaborative robots work on a job site to perform tasks such as carrying tools. Autonomous robots can scan the environment and make independent decisions for performing complex tasks.
Many people fear that construction robots will replace construction workers. Still, on the contrary, they improve a worker's performance and reduce the wear and tear brought about by years of employment.
Though we have not been widely adopted robots in construction, other futuristic technologies are taking center stage, and robots will impact the construction industry in the foreseeable future. We can use robots for simple repetitive tasks like bricklaying and tying of rebars. Humans will still be present to set them up on site.
Construction wearables are gaining rapid adoption in construction due to their numerous productivity benefits. The construction industry is one of the riskiest industries. Many falls, collisions, and accidents annually lead to deaths and injuries. Construction wearables try to address this issue by providing workers with additional safety measures.
These construction wearables include smart boots, a smart hat, and power gloves. Smart boots detect workers at risk of collision or falling. Power gloves improve a worker's skill while handling tools and smart hats help prevent head injuries.
Wearables come fitted with location trackers, Voltage detectors biometric, and environmental sensors. They can monitor repetitive movements and the likelihood of slips and falls. The other wearables, such as goggles and smartwatches, help improve individual workers' safety. They can track fatigue, heart rate, body temperature, and other signs that show an employee is suffering from burnout or exhaustion. Therefore, the wearables can reduce project delays and prevent additional exposure of workers to severe weather.
Safety is always a hotly contested topic in construction, and rightly so. It is essential to take a proactive method in keeping track of worker safety. Using wearables helps impacts projects helping stakeholders and team members navigate safely with fewer incidents.
In traditional printing, the digital designs are limited to flat printing, but in 3D printing, we can use various materials to replicate an entire structure. 3D printing is also referred to as additive technology, and it involves making layer-by-layer creations of a model. The construction industry has not yet fully adopted 3D printing, but this new sphere's potential is evident.
3D printing improves the material used on a project. We can reduce wastes using 3D printing compared to the traditional methods; 3D printing also increases the construction speed. This is because it will be faster to replicate a building in its entirety and eliminate otherwise costly mistakes.
This new technology has also reshaped material sourcing for prefabrication materials. We can print the materials for a project and transport them to the site ready for use. This makes procurement of materials faster, leading to savings in time and cost. There is a reduction in transportation costs and savings on storage costs. As much as 3D technologies are a breakthrough in construction, they face challenges in mass production. Very few 3D printers can produce on a large scale, and the ones that can do it are pretty expensive.
Augmented and Virtual Reality
Augmented Reality acts as a digital information overlay that helps one view the information of a project. Virtual Reality is the use of technology to simulate a new environment. Both these technologies are being adopted in construction. When paired with other technologies such as BIM, they have made it possible to improve designs, communication, and collaboration. Architects can also easily showcase their projects to clients. These virtual environments help in clash detection and reduce the chances of having change orders before construction commences.
This technology is also crucial in safety training and the installation of new building systems. Traditionally, workers are trained on the field. Still, with Augmented Reality, it is possible to expose workers to different scenarios to know what to expect and keep safe as they learn.
Augmented Reality is still at an infancy stage in construction. However, there is enormous potential here in improving the safety and efficiency of projects. It also enhances workers' time management as it allows them to call up checklists, project documents, and information at a click.
Cloud estimating tools
Cloud estimating software is designed to accurately develop the material, labor, and cost estimates for a project. There are various cloud estimating tools, with the most popular among them being ProEst. ProEst can optimize the estimation process through collaboration and increase new relatively unavailable capabilities in traditional estimation methods.
Cloud estimating software are easier to access compared to offline estimating tools. They are convenient to access as anyone with an internet connection can access them from any device. On the other hand, offline estimating tools confine you within office premises. They have better functionality as not all design team members need all the features that come with offline estimation tools. It is easy to turn off unnecessary devices and only use critical ones with cloud estimating software.
There are very many communication channels that you can adopt when using cloud estimation tools. Construction projects are highly fragmented, with many teams involved. Cloud-estimation tools address this gap through the synchronization of data from all team members, and these tools also allow for the storage of large volumes of data online. The data can also be remotely accessed.
Building Information Modelling (BIM) technology
BIM technology refers to the process of creating a building's model before construction. Building a model representation of a structure makes it easier to detect and eliminate risks before they occur. The use of BIM also streamlines the procurement processes of materials and overall project efficiency.
We can use BIM to eliminate the need for change orders and identify the anticipated challenges in construction. The interoperability of BIM software used in construction improves communication among the project stakeholders by providing an updated and central reference system. BIM is also important in building management after construction as it allows for valuable building details that can be used to increase the lifecycle of a building.
Apart from its use as a collaborative tool, contractors use BIM technologies in prefabrication, project scheduling, quantity takeoffs, and clash detections. They make it easy to understand a project's scope and additional components that one may need to include in cost estimation. It is possible to make real-time changes on BIM models, thus constantly updating team members with the latest information on a project.
BIM is one of the breakthrough construction technologies in construction, and it is used in collaboration with other technologies like Artificial Intelligence and construction scheduling software. Data processing through AI software makes it possible to create rich as-builts and improve a project's operations upon completion. In countries like the United Kingdom, BIM is mandatory in government construction projects. Due to increased demand, there are global initiatives to increase the adoption of BIM software.
As discussed earlier, Virtual Reality makes immersive project visualization possible in BIM, leading to greater acceptance for BIM. One can walk through a BIM model and even take photos to the design team for review and clarification.
Some popular BIM software includes Autodesk Revit, Navisworks, BIM 360, and Tekla BIMsight.
Mobile and cloud technologies
Cloud technologies have been in use in construction for a while. Mobile devices are now leveraging cloud technologies, and you can share a lot of data from virtually anywhere. To remain competitive in your field, you need to have a reliable and easily accessible cloud solution. Cloud solutions are also easy to operate by project managers as they can easily access information from data analysis platforms and other connected devices. Cloud storage and data processing are some of the few advantages we can harness from cloud technologies.
Modular, offsite, and prefab construction
Lately, a considerable percentage of construction projects are from prefabrication. Prefabrication eliminates most of the inefficiencies at the site from poor quality. One of the advantages of prefabrication is the savings on time. Since the materials have already been fabricated, the only remaining step is assembly. One can also have significant savings on costs as they can get considerable discounts on materials.
Modularization is another form of offsite construction that resembles prefab construction. However, an entire project is prefabricated and delivered to the site in modular construction. These technologies can produce buildings way faster than their traditional counterparts.
Many progressive companies are now implementing these strategies to improve their operations. These technologies are also eco-friendly as they make it easy to recycle materials.
One of the primary pain points of concrete is the deterioration brought about by age and cracks. The development of self-healing concrete is still early, but it gives an excellent solution to concrete deterioration problems. Concrete is one of the most widely produced materials annually, with a production of about 4.5 billion metric tons. A key to the deterioration problem is a tremendous breakthrough.
Facial recognition and biometrics
Facial recognition uses graphic information for capturing various data points that are individual-specific. This information is stored in a database where scans are matched to individuals. Facial recognition and biometrics are essential for monitoring and controlling the workforce's productivity. With progressing technology, facial recognition and biometrics can revamp project controls, payroll systems, and optimization of resources. There will be a lot of savings on labor and costs.
Internet of Things (IoT)
IoT provides new insights for project teams to capture a large amount of data in real-time. It embeds software, sensors, electronics, and network connections that allow for data exchange on the internet. IoT optimizes job site conditions and supply chain interactions. It is applied in green buildings to shut down systems when they are not needed. They can also open and close windows automatically to give optimal light levels.
This new technology also helps with the predictive maintenance of buildings. Sensors can send notices of abnormal patterns and alert workers to avoid unnecessary downtime.
The emerging technologies in construction have a positive impact. These developments seemed far off and unachievable for years, but we can see them in use today. Technology deals with inefficiencies, boosts productivity and safety and attracts young and tech-savvy workers. To remain competitive and relevant, they need to rethink their traditional solutions for successful project management. It improves operations and assures investors a maximum return on investment.
A digital strategy assures the long-term success of a company and its projects. Investments in technology sometimes seem expensive, but failure to invest acts counterproductively on a company.