Technology In Construction Benefits
Technology in construction isn’t discussed as much as it deserves to be. Construction has a positive outlook for the 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 national and local infrastructure deserves 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 for the coming years.
While the future is bright, both the Associated General Contractors and the American Institute of Architects have a few warnings 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 the economy, cost, and labor.
Here’s where technology in construction can make a difference.
Innovation and Technology in Construction
The most well-known existing tech in AEC is Building Information Modeling (BIM) software, which has turned around productivity in AEC. When used to its fullest extent, BIM allows construction companies to take active roles in the early-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 applications integrate construction programs like BIM 360, PlanRoom and Navisworks seamlessly with design programs like Revit. This enables early detection of conflicts, and building teams can address schedule set-backs before they happen. The time savings alone has been monumental. This early integration of the Building Team is the main reason for the success of BIM.
Pre-Fab (Off-Site) Construction
BIM software has influenced an expanding technology in North America: Pre-Fab or 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. Pre-Fab construction is based in integrated project delivery, the real-time collaboration among stakeholders easily identifies what can be prefabricated in off-site manufacturing factories prior to field construction. Of course, the limitation is how many construction companies have the facility space and ability to add prefabrication into their company? For companies that have the ability to take advantage of off-site construction, it reduces the need for skilled on-site 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, 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 can 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 increases.
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 wide adoption. 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 construction capable 3D printers is prohibitive. The startups pioneering this technology are teaming with established large scale construction firms or public universities to propel the R&D.
Increase Knowledge Transfer with AI
The World Economic Forum identified a few factors why technological benefits in construction are lagging on a global scale when compared to other industries. Most of the shortfalls that prevent increased productivity are the result of failure to utilize the existing technology. Specific to construction, these 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 (AI) can duplicate some element of the industry. 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 creativity and institutional knowledge learned 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 a 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 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 need astronomical amounts of data pulled from the cloud to standardize project tasks and streamline the results. Ward explains “if a computer program 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 specifying panic bars to emergency exits. Routine decisions can be made by AI.
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 designed into their programs for security purposes. In addition to that, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is another guide 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.