What Are the Latest Construction Technology Trends?
October 19, 2020
Visit any construction site and what you’ll see will likely be familiar. Dozens of workers with yellow hardhats and orange safety vests. Cranes hoisting heavy beams toward a steel frame structure. Makeshift tables holding power drills and hammers.
And these days, you may also see computer tablets displaying interactive 3D models, robots methodically performing repetitive tasks and drones flying overhead collecting data. That’s because these are among the latest construction technology trends.
Granted, most of these have been around a while. But it’s the ongoing advancements and adoption within each that contain immense potential for improved productivity, accuracy, safety and profitability.
Building Information Modeling (BIM)
3D adds dimension to blueprints and drawings. BIM adds the details that bring them to life.
It isn’t a tangible thing or even a digital representation. Rather, BIM is a process of linking information to individual elements of a digital 3D model of a construction project. The result is a more robust, more accurate representation of the build.
But here’s the really amazing part. Once items are linked, the model becomes interactive. Click on any object or element of the model to access data associated with it, i.e., costs, dimensions, manufacturers, vendor information, schedules, schematics, RFI, change orders, etc. All this linked data — housed in a digital space called a common data environment — is accessible in real-time through an extranet, server or cloud-based system. So, you’re not constrained by the limitations of specific siloed technologies or software systems. Everything is connected.
This represents a positive shift in collaborative possibilities because updating and sharing information that is immediately available when someone accesses the model ensures everyone is working with the most current data.
Augmented Reality (AR)
Augmented reality enables you to see and interact with what isn’t actually there. Considered a spinoff of virtual reality, AR lets you layer a computer-generated image onto a real-world camera view. So, you’re essentially combining the virtual with the physical.
What would this look like in construction scenarios?
Say you want to show your client what their proposed structure would look like within the planned building site. You could use a tablet to superimpose a 3D model of the structure (or even a BIM model) over a live view of the site.
But you gain a level of visibility that goes far beyond even that. This digitized build model allows everyone to see how it lines up with the project requirements, and where adjustments might have to be made, before construction even begins. Not only that, viewing it within the context of its environment can draw attention to its potential impact on the surroundings. And it can reveal instances where safety considerations must be addressed.
Here’s another example. For workers who need training in operating on-site heavy equipment, AR enables an effective interactive experience complete with superimposed hazards within the job environment. It’s as close to real-life training as you can get without risking injury or damaging the equipment.
Hearing the word robots might evoke images of cyborgs from popular sci-fi movies. But in the context of a construction build, today’s robots are more like machines without the human resemblance. They introduce a level of productivity and safety few other technologies can match.
Consider the amount of repetitive movement involved in common types of manual labor, such as painting, loading materials or laying bricks. Over time, the constant exertion and repetition may lead to injury or fatigue in a human. By taking on some of these labor-intensive routine tasks, robots may dramatically reduce the risk and incidence of on-the-job injury. Not only that, they can more easily sustain a steady work pace without taking breaks or slowing down. This level of efficiency is a nice boost to the bottom line.
With these kinds of positive outcomes, you can expect to see an increased presence of robots on job sites, particularly as robotic technology continues advancing in terms of precision and capabilities.
Naturally, this may also inspire a bit of fear that machines will eventually replace humans. On the contrary, nothing can take the place of skilled craftspeople and the innate knowledge they bring to each project. They are essential to prep the robots before work begins and make quality-check adjustments throughout each task. In addition, pairing robots with humans on the job site could also provide a way to keep job progress going in spite of limitations imposed by the current COVID-19 pandemic or other natural disasters, ensuring project and job security continues to move forward.
While robots stay firmly on the ground to do their job, drones take to the air to do theirs.
These mini helicopter-like devices are often equipped with a high-resolution camera or light detection and ranging (LiDAR) technology. This makes it possible for drones to access areas that are hard to reach, involve dangerous terrain or conditions, or pose safety risks to workers. Think bridges, underground tunnels or the perimeter of high-rise buildings.
With their compact size and agility, they can survey broad swaths of job-site real estate in a fraction of the time – and more safely – than the average human team member might take to complete the same task. In addition, drones can help identify environmental hazards during the pre-build stage, track job progress through snapshots of work done each day, conduct formal site or structure inspections, and even perform quality control for repairs and maintenance.
Much like robotic technology, the accuracy and safety benefits of drones has made them a must-have on many of today’s construction projects.
Incorporating Construction Technology Trends in Your Business
The increased use of these and other technologies will require bringing on a different but related type of human labor; tech-savvy workers who can operate, monitor and repair such tech, plus analyze data and apply learnings from them.
Of course, there are construction companies that have still not explored or invested in the potential of these or other construction technology trends. However, circumstances like the current pandemic may be enough of a disruption to compel them to ramp-up their adoption. For others, it may push them into embracing them as a necessity.
As with almost anything that involves construction tech, there could be a high learning curve, a high price tag or both. But there could also be high profits. The bottom line? Upfront investment now has the real potential to yield better margins — and increased competitiveness — in the not-too-distant future.
And it’s important to note, these aren’t meant to be stand-alone technologies. Using them alongside the right construction software can make your future builds go more smoothly and successfully.
Visit ineight.com/solutions to learn about today’s advanced software solutions and how, together with today’s evolving technologies, they can empower you to grow your business now and in the future.