Where it’s at, the benefits, and what to watch.
Over the past five years there has been an acceleration of technology designed to help make construction projects more efficient, accurate and cost effective. The likes of artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), robotics, 3D priming and building information modeling are transforming the sector in new and innovative ways.
It’s not surprising that technology has made its way into the construction industry - this sector has a significant impact on billions of dollars worth of infrastructure and millions of lives and technology has proven time and time again that it can bring enormous time, cost, safety, and accuracy benefits in almost every industry globally. However, because there's so much at stake, there is zero tolerance for increasing risk in the buildings and projects being undertaken. So while it’s imperative that as an industry we are striving to continuously improve the way we do things, we must also be certain that any changes in processes, products, and technology are robust and will stand the test of time. The flipside of this, of course, is that new technology is incredibly exciting and absolutely necessary for the future of construction. It wasn’t so long ago that frames premade in a factory and shipped to site seemed like something out of science fiction, and now we are using data and artificial intelligence to run projects and increase efficiency!
We talked recently about how technology is enabling the construction sector and what it takes to go digital. Today we’re going to cover off the most common technologies used by construction companies, and the value they provide.
Building Information Modeling (BIM) BIM is one of the core processes at the heart of digital transformation for architecture, engineering and construction. Supported by a range of technologies and tools, BIM is the process of creating and managing information for a built asset. While the concept of BIM has in fact been around since the 1970s, it only became an agreed term within the last twenty years, with international standards launched even more recently.
Some of the key benefits of BIM include improvements in onsite collaboration and communication, coordination of trades, model-based cost estimation, pre-construction visualization, cost management and mitigation of overruns, scheduling, sequencing, safety and facilities management.
While the advantages and benefits of BIM are vast and becoming more widely understood, its uptake across the construction sector, however, has been slow and fragmented, and solely limited to large commercial buildings and projects. This is mainly due to concerns around interoperability between software, file sizes and concerns about IP rights.
Our take on BIM is that there’s a lot of value it can add across multiple aspects of the end-to-end process and it will eventually become a key technology within the construction industry. It’s been touted as the next big thing for more than a decade now and has a strong and vocal proponent group - it would certainly take a brave person to bet against it!
Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) RFID is a form of wireless communication that uses electromagnetic fields to automatically identify and track tags attached to objects. In the construction sector, RFID is being used to manage assets, reduce theft and improve efficiencies.
Construction sites typically have hundreds or even thousands of high-value tools, inventory, and assets. RFID enables these items to be tagged and tracked, minimizing opportunity for theft or loss. But it’s not just objects that RFID can track, it can also be used to measure the amount of workers on site, and their movements to enable more effective scheduling and timekeeping.
RFID technology is already well embedded in the construction industry and this is unlikely to change. However, challenges are likely to arise as more RFID capabilities are included natively into devices and equipment and unless agreed protocols are strictly followed, the industry risks losing some of the ubiquitous interoperability that has driven efficiency gains to date.
Robotics and automation technologies
Automation and robotics are being utilized in many different industries in many different ways, but essentially they can add significant value within processes that are time-consuming, repetitive or require high degrees of speed and accuracy.
Within the construction sector, the scope and scale of automation is very broad; it can enhance the initial planning stages through budget optimization and robust scheduling and increase operational efficiencies during the build.
Some examples of automation technologies include:
Virtual reality, which simulates a realistic project environment to interrogate structures and components of the build to enable planning prior to commencement.
Drones enable automatic monitoring of worksites to scan for potential hazards, pre-inspections and other site monitoring as required. Signals are sent to a centralized control system, from which appropriate action can be identified and taken.
Autonomous machinery such as forklifts and diggers are starting to appear on large worksites to transport materials. Paths are programmed into the machine via GPS capabilities, or workers can control remotely
While robotics and automation technologies undoubtedly bring a range of cost and efficiency benefits, they are still not widely used in construction. Largely this is due to the unpredictable and fluctuating nature of a worksite. Robots in particular are typically confined to a fixed workspace that is not subject to things like weather changes, and therefore there are additional technological challenges to overcome. So, while this tech is on the horizon, widespread adoption is likely still a long way off.
Transforming estimation with artificial intelligence This is the space Building Engineering & Design Co plays in, and we’re seeing the enormous benefits artificial intelligence is bringing for frame and truss manufacturers, builders, architects and, of course, the ultimate customer, the home owner themselves. From any PDF plan, our tech creates a file that can be read by every major CAD software (in other words, we turn 2D pdf files into data rich 3D models). This is a huge leap forward and brings enormous time, cost, and accuracy gains.