From using your smartphone to aerial drones mapping and surveying the job site, the construction industry is exploding into new territories with the implementation of technology today.
We have transformed one of the largest industries in the U.S., turning it from one of the slowest growing segments into one of the most stimulating, with a steady onslaught of technological know-how.
According to the World Economic Forum, “Wherever the new technologies have properly permeated this industry, the outlook is an almost 20 percent reduction in total life cycle costs of a project, as well as substantial improvements in completion time, quality and safety.”
For many contractors, incorporating futuristic tech into their daily routine may seem a bit farfetched. However, the steady stream of investment in construction technology serves as a reminder that productivity-enhancing technologies can come in all shapes and sizes – from BIM to laser technology and drones, to name only a few.
How big is this growth? Construction technology firms grabbed up $10 billion in investment funding from 2011 through 2017, according to the McKinsey Global Institute. Investors are exhibiting a robust interest in mobile and cloud-based platforms, online marketplaces for equipment and building materials, and solutions utilizing drones and augmented and virtual reality.
In fact, technological improvements are seeping into the industry so completely that even the humble hard hat is changing, with high-tech smart hats coming into the market, alongside new advances that enhance every area of the industry. Tech is making construction safer and more efficient.
Let’s take a look at a number of areas where technology is revolutionizing the construction industry.
Technology starts with materials
When construction teams look to change how work is done, they look at what resources are required to complete the job.
Although traditional building materials such as brick, mortar and steel are still important components of most buildings, technology is changing how materials are created and used.
For example, the science of heat and color has steered paint developers into reconsidering their chemicals and colors for more energy-efficient results. Many home improvement companies already carry cooling and insulating paint meant to maintain internal temperatures.
Did you hear the one about self-healing concrete? By using chemicals comparable to those in human bones, concrete stgructures can “heal” themselves by resealing after a break, in much the same way as human bones fuse together after a fracture. This technology could be vital in regions susceptible to earthquakes, where a concrete crack is apt to grow and usually signifies that the whole structure is unsound.
Construction software helps keeps everything on schedule
Thanks to the variety of construction software, organizing construction projects has been simplified. There are software programs that do everything from managing critical design information to tracking productivity. There is even software to keep paperwork such as licensing organized and current.
Today’s construction management software is intended to boost productivity and keep everything on schedule, proving to be a vital resource in monitoring progress and keeping all participants of the project team completely apprised of real progress versus programmed goals.
Employing construction software can also allow for some personnel to spend less time at the construction site, removing added on site traffic or activity.
As for improving safety, anti-collision software is also available, helping shrink the number of incidents by accurately measuring the position of equipment, equipment weight, etc., to help avert potential disasters.
Among the variety of features that has made this software so important has to do with the fact that it permits the real-time exchange of information. For example, GPS software in construction vehicles and equipment can help keep track of where vehicles are in real time, preventing the delay of necessary equipment and materials from reaching the site on time.
BIM offers in-depth way of presenting building information
Sure, traditional blueprints were quite beneficial for construction workers a few years back, but we now possess a more in-depth, comprehensive way of putting forth building information.
By using building information modeling (BIM), we can now craft detailed intelligent and interactive 3D models, helping construction workers to better comprehend the construction work that needs to be done.
Overseeing every task can be done more cost-effectively using BIM, as it pulls together all the required facts and figures into one combined place, allowing all constructors to work together.
Moreover, the latest improvements in technology have allowed connecting BIM models to devices in the field, where real time-sharing has led to a boost in productivity. Plus, it’s turning out to be rather commonplace for an ever-increasing number of team members to have real-time access to a project BIM model and for that same BIM model to be a prerequisite for the owner.
Laser scanning increases efficiency
Before the launch of all these technological innovations, most methods of collecting geometric data for a construction project were prolonged and time-consuming. Nowadays, those in construction no longer need worry as laser scanning has shown to increase efficiency when it comes to field measurement.
As noted above, all system information is stored as ‘point cloud’ data. At times, people in construction are dubious about the accuracy of these tech devices, but laser scanners have proved to be quite precise in collecting measurements, presenting the true conditions of a construction site.
3-D laser scanning collects critical data
Innovative 3-D laser scanning digitally captures the exact measurements of a building to provide point-cloud data, which is a large set of points on a coordinate. This data can then be embedded into BIM software to establish the exact size and shape of a structure. Understanding the exact dimensions of a project using this form of technology means there is no reliance on human measurements, reducing human error.
CAD improves procurement and performance systems
A mainstay in construction, computer aided design (CAD) has enabled construction to come to life before it has physically begun.
By offering designers an image of what is to come, it improves procurement and performance systems, allowing a host of possible issues to be tackled before physical work begins, significantly reducing the risk of errors and thus reducing the risk of going off-schedule or off-budget
CAD has resulted in a number of significant improvements in construction technology, such as the move toward engineering work stations dedicated to the CAD process. CAD systems can store large numbers of civil, structural and electrical schematics.
It’s a bird, it’s a plane . . . no, it’s a drone!
Drones are popping up everywhere and the jobsite is no different. Officially called unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), drones equipped with cameras have been utilized for several years to collect information in locations that are difficult for humans to access.
Alternatively, drones can sit static and live stream from those hard-to-reach areas, as well as capture a project’s progression through imagery or film.
Drones can be flown above a project, providing a scanned bird’s eye view of its location which help identify the site’s potential dangers. These devices can also be utilized to monitor logistics, deliveries and the workforce. Some companies even take drone footage and convert it into 3-D pictures that can be compared to architectural plans.
Drones can also play a role in monitoring safety habits as the surveillance reveals whether best practices are being followed, irrespective of whether a safety official is on site.
Moreover, drones can also help deter on-site theft. After all, there’s nothing like being on camera to discourage a robber.
Expected advances in drone technology are focused largely on even more advanced cameras and lenses that can better capture clearer images, as well as improved communication – again, in real time – between drones and software on the receiving end.
Mobile devices and apps are most widely used tech devices
No doubt, the most commonly used of all the new technologies in construction are mobile devices. With their easy-to-use apps designed for construction, they allow workers to retrieve, record, share and amend essential information, even while on the jobsite.
Fact is, a number of apps have been created expressly for the construction industry, offering specialized services such as logging blueprints, assigning tasks and real-time collaboration.
Moreover, heavy-duty devices made specifically for field work feature robust construction, screens with better lighting for viewing in both bright daylight or adverse weather, as well as industry-specific mechanisms, including barcode scanners and radio-frequency identification readers. Both are designed to assist in tracking freight, equipment and materials.
How about wearing your tech?
The construction industry has tremendous potential for wearable devices, such as smart glasses and smart helmets.
Let’s face it. Hard hats have always been symbolic of construction workers for many years and it used to be that these plain, unadorned hats offered enough protection on the job site. Nowadays, however, a so-called smart helmet takes this mandatory piece of equipment and makes it a remarkable example of wearable technology, one that’s usually fortified with a translucent visor and special lenses apprising the wearer about his/her environment.
Making use of its sensors and cameras, a smart helmet delivers a range of facts and figures about the surrounding environment and how to best navigate through it. The helmet also offers directives on completing tasks and forewarns of would-be hazards. These up-to-the-minute additions give new meaning to an old mainstay, making it a valuable piece of personal equipment for the foreseeable future.
Another excellent example of the recent progress in safety in construction via technology are wearable motion sensors that workers simply attach to their belts to record any potential injury situation. If someone slips or falls, an automatic warning is directed to a site supervisor advising him/her that someone has hit the ground. The system is able to log valuable information such as from what height they fell, exactly where they fell and who else was in the immediate area.
Other wearables, such as technology-based safety vests (see below), smart watches and health trackers, are being employed to monitor workers’ movements to improve safety, boost productivity and lessen risk.
Wearable safety vests aim to improve worksite safety
One construction firm fashioned a GPS-enabled safety vest that tracks employee locations so to help keep them safer. A few of the vest’s features include:
- Geofencing high-risk, potentially dangerous areas so managers are notified when workers enter them.
- Forewarning workers upon going into a high-risk workspace.
- Ability to trigger equipment to slow or stop workers upon entering such high-risk areas.
While these gadgets increase the amount of safety equipment workers need to wear, they’re generally small and minimally invasive to the work process.
To pronounce that the construction industry has improved with advances in technology is an understatement. Once costly and time-consuming, construction projects are now occurring much quicker and for a lot less money, thanks in part to this mixture of emerging technologies.
Truth is, we’ve only scratched the surface in discussing the technologies in the construction industry in this blog. Perhaps in a future blog, we’ll continue this discussion.
If you’d like to discuss how PDDM Solutions can help you on your next project, simply call us at (724) 788-4048 or visit us at www.pddmsolutions.com