Technology In Construction Benefits
Technology in construction isn’t discussed anywhere near as much as it deserves to be. Construction has a rosy outlook for the not-so-distant future, and here’s a look at the technology to help get us there faster and cheaper.
The Future of Construction
Construction is on the up and up. Statista (https://www.statista.com/statistics/226368/projected-value-of-total-us-construction/) has placed a monetary value of 1.23 trillion USD for new construction during 2017, and that number is expected to reach 1.5 trillion USD by 2022. The United States currently has strong bipartisan agreement that our infrastructure deserves our federal attention and funding (https://www.constructiondive.com/news/two-years-of-trump-where-are-we-and-whats-next-for-construction/542578/) and we’ve already seen that rhetoric transform into action with the recent signing of the America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2018 (https://www.epw.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/addressing-americas-infrastructure-needs). This Act invests in, among other things, the maintenance and construction of water and wastewater infrastructure in the States. Just this December (https://www.constructiondive.com/news/dot-awards-15b-for-91-projects-across-49-states-and-dc/544268/) the USDOT awarded $1.5B USD for 91 road, rail, transit, and port infrastructure projects. This is all great news for construction firms booking up the coming years.
While the future is bright, both the Associated General Contractors and the American Institute of Architects have a few factors to keep in mind. Chief Economist Ken Simonson at the AGC of America expects (https://www.agc.org/sites/default/files/Files/Communications/Construction%20trends%20%26%20outlook.pdf) manufacturing construction to continue to recover in 2019, “tariffs, foreign retaliation, [and] rising construction costs are major concerns.” Rising inflation in building costs is a significant point of concern. From mid-year 2017 to mid-year 2018, steel prices are up 12 percent, aluminum is up 20 percent, and lumber/plywood is up 18 percent. Combine that with an aging workforce, a shortage of skilled labor to replace it, and concern about possible “federal immigration policies that threaten one of the most reliable sources of labor for the AEC industry,” and any contractor will begin to sweat (https://www.aia.org/articles/205181-despite-emerging-economic-concerns-construc). Essentially, what the evidence is saying: even though the outlook is optimistic, construction needs to be mindful of cost and labor.
Here’s where technology in construction comes into play.
Innovation and Improvement in Construction
The most well-known existing tech in AEC is Building Information Modeling (BIM) software, which has turned productivity in AEC around. When used to its fullest extent, BIM allows construction companies to take active roles in the pre-planning process rather than assume reactive roles later. Even though BIM software has been around for a while, the programs are constantly improving. Specifically benefiting construction, they’re increasing the processing power and cross-program integration. Add-In apps integrate construction programs like BIM 360 and Navisworks seamlessly with design programs like Revit. This enables early detection of conflicts, and building teams have been able to address schedule set-backs before they happen. The time-schedule savings alone has been monumental.
BIM software has influenced an expanding technology in North America: Off-Site Construction. This technology isn’t new, as it’s well established in Europe, Asia, and even making appearances in rapidly growing cities in Africa, but it’s just now getting it’s foothold in NA. As off-site construction (or as American’s generally refer to it, prefabrication) is based in integrated project delivery, the real-time collaboration among stakeholders easily identifies what can be prefabricated in off-site manufacturing factories immediately. Of course, the limitation here is how many construction companies have the facility space to add prefabrication into their company? For companies that have the warehouse or yard to take advantage of off-site, it reduces the need for on-site skilled workers–reducing labor costs–and prefabrication cuts down on material waste–reducing material costs. Construction companies embracing off-site construction are experiencing schedule savings, increased labor productivity, waste reduction, and all while using the same BIM software they were using for complex on-site projects.
Drones have been allowed on construction sites for a couple years now (https://connect.bim360.autodesk.com/construction-drones-fly-freely). Drones render the site landscape for a fast and accurate start to a building project, or scan existing structures to identify maintenance needs not always visible to the human eye. 3D scans from construction sites cut down on time spent checking measurements, project progress, material inventory, and general surveillance. While BIM Software allows for real-time collaboration between stakeholders, drones upload real-time progress. As the cost of drones decrease, the ROI they provide increase.
Realtime Capture LLC., Scott Cooper
Peoria, AZ Site Overview Drone Footage: https://vimeo.com/207677742
3D printing looks like it will offer some relief in regards to cost of materials at some point. Additive manufacturing of 3D printed concrete, polymeric foam, and steel offer solutions to existing construction problems: more efficient use of materials, more output with less man power, and project completion in rapid time. Of course, at the time of this writing, there are real world issues that prevent 3D construction printing from going into effect immediately. The first hurdle is whether or not 3D printing will comply with building codes and standards (https://www.3dnatives.com/en/3d-printing-construction-310120184/). The second major constraint is while 3D construction materials are affordable, the upfront cost of the 3D printer is prohibitive. The startups pioneering this tech team up with established large scale construction firms or public universities to sustain the R&D.
Increase Knowledge Transfer with AI
The World Economic Forum identified a few factors as to why when compared to other industries, technological benefits in construction are lagging on a global scale. Most of the shortfalls that prevent increased productivity is the failure to utilize the existing technology. Specific to construction, a few technological challenges are the lack of formal processes, insufficient knowledge transfer from project to project, and weak project monitoring (http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_Shaping_the_Future_of_Construction_full_report__.pdf). Currently, the most efficient on-site processes, historical experience, and expert project monitoring are entirely dependent on companies’ best project managers.
Artificial Intelligence will take the human element of the industry and make it duplicable. But the human element won’t disappear entirely: contractors, project managers, and construction foremen are essential to the continual improvement of this tech with their creative touches from project to project. If we take away the human element completely, and there’s no more innovation.
Adam Ward of Space Group and BIM Technologies makes a case that machine learning is the way to make construction more efficient. In September of 2017, Ward wrote for AEC Magazine that “machines are very good at consuming and analyzing large amounts of seemingly unrelated data and finding patterns in the chaos” (13). Programs learn to recognize data from each project, they predict patterns and behaviors to detect productivity issues, and increase the efficiency of project monitoring and create formal processes. We’re already starting to see the early stages of this in current BIM software, as mentioned earlier. If AI can transfer this kind of knowledge from project to project, that would help increase project productivity in fiscally measurable ways.
In order to amass this information, machine learning will use astronomical amounts of data pulled from the cloud to simplify mundane project tasks and streamline the results. Ward explains “if a computer programme sees thousands of architects selecting a particular type of door handle—for use on a particular door type, in a particular building type, in a particular country—it can use this knowledge to make future recommendations to architects automatically about which door handle they might select” (15). AEC probably won’t be nostalgic about no longer assigning panic bars to emergency exits.
Innovation Begins in the Clouds
In order to take advantage of these emerging technologies to benefit construction directly, it’s vital to be connected to the cloud (https://www.advance2000.com/10-reasons-aec-firms-moving-cloud/). Project data, user patterns, and general industry progress will all depend on information stored and analyzed in the cloud. While this shared information sounds scary, Advance2000’s Compute and Collaboration Hub has been specifically engineered to protect each client’s intellectual property while sharing only the data the client wants shared. Most design software companies like Autodesk have access control functionality integrated into their programs for security purposes. In addition to that, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is another gatekeeper to keep your sensitive data safe.
For more information on how emerging technologies can benefit your construction company’s bottom line, contact us at (800) 238-2621. We can help you build an IT solution that’s crafted to support your BIM software and protect your IP.
“America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2018.” U.S. Senate Committee on Environmental and Public Works. Accessed 14 Dec 2018. https://www.epw.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/addressing-americas-infrastructure-needs
Baker, Kermit. “Despite emerging economic concerns, construction spending projected to grow.” AIA.com, The American Institute of Architects, 20 July 2018. https://www.aia.org/articles/205181-despite-emerging-economic-concerns-construc
Brown, Kathleen. “Two years of Trump: Where are we and what’s next for construction?” Construction Dive, 20 Nov 2018. https://www.constructiondive.com/news/two-years-of-trump-where-are-we-and-whats-next-for-construction/542578/
D., Jamie. “3D Printing: The Future of Construction.” 3dnatives.com, 3Dnatives, 31 Jan 2018. https://www.3dnatives.com/en/3d-printing-construction-310120184/
“Forecast for new construction put in place in the U.S. from 2011 to 2022 (in billion U.S. dollars)*.” Statista.com, The Statistics Portal. Accessed 14 Dec 2018. https://www.statista.com/statistics/226368/projected-value-of-total-us-construction/
Higgins, Adam. “New FAA Regulations Allow Construction Drones to Fly Freely.” Connect&Construct, Autodesk, 21 Sept 2016. https://connect.bim360.autodesk.com/construction-drones-fly-freely
“Reference List of Software Products with Potential Application for Off-Site Construction.” Off-Site Construction Council, National Institute of Building Sciences. https://cdn.ymaws.com/www.nibs.org/resource/resmgr/OSCC/OSCC_Software_list.pdf
Shaping the Future of Construction: A Breakthrough in Mindset and Technology. World Economic Forum, May 2016. http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_Shaping_the_Future_of_Construction_full_report__.pdf
Simonson, Ken. “US Construction Spending, Labor and Materials Outlook.” Agc.org, AGC of America, 4 Dec 2018. https://www.agc.org/sites/default/files/Files/Communications/Construction%20trends%20%26%20outlook.pdf
Slowey, Kim. “DOT awards $1.5B for 91 projects across 49 states and DC.” Construction Dive, 13 Dec 2018. https://www.constructiondive.com/news/dot-awards-15b-for-91-projects-across-49-states-and-dc/544268/
Smith, Ryan E. “Off-Site and Modular Construction Explained.” Off-Site Construction Council, National Institute of Building Sciences. https://cdn.ymaws.com/www.nibs.org/resource/resmgr/OSCC/OSMC_Explained.pdf
Ward, Adam. “Intelligent Design.” AEC Magazine, Vol. 92, Sept/Oct 2017. Pp. 13-15.
The needs of the modern AEC firm are ever-evolving. As technology continues to become more sophisticated, it increasingly lends itself well to the collaborative and often geographically dispersed teams of the AEC industry.
I have the unique opportunity to work for a company that has over 75 clients ranging from just two employees to 1,000 solely within this unique industry. Because of this, I have had the privilege to assist in solving the technology challenges that firms face on a day-to-day basis. Whether it’s DR and backup, data archiving, collaboration or BIM — my team and I have helped our valued AEC firms come up with the best IT solutions possible.
With that said, I have a unique perspective on technology as it relates to the AEC firm. From experience, I categorize technology for AEC into three main categories: Infrastructure, Design, and Knowledge Management.
Let’s take a look at what each category entails:
Infrastructure technology keeps you running day-to-day. This is the behind-the-scenes technology, the “plumbing” that supports daily operations. You never notice it (until it fails), but it is very important to the stability of your operations. Infrastructure technology supports system stability, remote access, mobility, collaboration, facility support, and sustainability. Infrastructure technologies RUN the business.
Examples of Infrastructure Technology:
- Desktops / Workstations
- Networking (Local Area and Wide Area)
- Remote access
- Video conferencing
- Mobile Devices
Design technologies are the tools used to manage and administer projects. BIM is the essential design technology.
Design technologies support mobility and collaboration. This includes the ability to work outside the office, the ability to connect to the network from anywhere, and the ability to collaborate and work with both internal and external project teams.
Design technologies author and document your projects. These tools also communicate design solutions to your clients. Design technologies GROW the business.
Examples of Design Technology:
- Authoring (Revit / AutoCAD)
- Project Information Management (PIM)
- Collaboration tools
- Analysis tools
- Visualization software
- QA / QC / risk management
- Quantity take-offs / estimating / commissioning
- Construction administration
Knowledge Management (KM) is a key business support technology for AEC. It defines what you do, how you work, how you stay productive, and how you promote innovation and creativity at your firm. Knowledge Management is recording, storing, and retrieving knowledge and information, and documenting and sharing best practices.
Knowledge Management technologies provide access to information. Web technologies such as blogs, intranets, wikis, and social media help build and market the collective knowledge of your firm. In addition, training is a key part of Knowledge Management. Your staff needs adequate training and more importantly the ability to save, seek, and find information.
Examples of Knowledge Management:
- Network folder organization
- Project information access
- Design and technical libraries
- Best practices and procedures
- Historical project data
- Business intelligence
- Collaboration and communication software
- Digital asset management
- Project process documentation
All of these KM technologies contribute to team and organizational knowledge flow, which is essentially the transition of the managed knowledge from where it’s stored, to where it needs to be applied. Naturally, knowledge must and does flow through the design process.
Here’s a look at the basic knowledge flow for collaborative AEC teams:
Knowledge Management technology can make your firm more competitive in the marketplace by increasing your expertise and providing better service to your clients. It’s safe to say that KM Technologies TRANSFORM the business and ensure every team member has the information, education, and overall knowledge to perform optimally.
The Technology Life-Cycle
Any of these technologies can provide a competitive advantage for your firm, but you must weigh each against the technology life-cycle (TLC).
Within each of these categories of technology there are new solutions and products that initially provide a competitive advantage. Early adopters and more tech-savvy firms take advantage of new technologies to gain a competitive edge over their peers. But they also accept the learning curve and higher costs associated with new technology adoption. Right now, AR and VR technologies are examples of competitive advantage technologies.
As technologies become generally accepted and widespread, their use instead becomes a competitive necessity. By this time, most firms have heard of or are already using these technologies and they are required if you intend to keep up with the competition. These technologies don’t provide a competitive advantage, but if you don’t use them you run the risk of falling behind the competition. CAD and BIM authoring tools are good examples of competitive necessity technology.
Finally, as technology ages and is replaced, it becomes a competitive disadvantage. If you continue to use older, outdated technologies, your company falls behind the mainstream, and you actually lose productivity by not replacing old technology. Are you still using AutoCAD 2004 on 10-year-old workstations and CRT monitors? Sure, you can, but you are paying a steep price in productivity and are at a competitive disadvantage to your peers.
In today’s technologically-driven world, it’s no secret that technology adds value to your products, provides additional marketable services, supports decision making, increases productivity, and provides timely financial data. This demonstrates to your clients a leadership role in the use of technology applied in the design profession.
The three categories of technologies featured in this article — infrastructure, design, and knowledge management — form the basis for understanding the IT needs of an AEC firm. Any experienced IT firm, like Advance2000, will work with you within this framework to build a comprehensive IT strategy to run your IT operations, and, in turn, keep your entire business operating efficiently.
With over 75 AEC clients ranging in size from 2 to 1,200, Advance2000 understands the unique technology needs of AEC. Whether it’s backup, DR, data archiving, collaboration, or BIM, we have experience solving the technology challenges facing your firm. We work with Autodesk, Bentley, Dassault, Deltek, Newforma, Primavera and many other AEC-specific vendors.
Ready to explore how we can help you strategically run, grow, and transform your practice?