How Technology Has Changed the Construction IndustryMarie Donlon | May 10, 2017
To say that the construction industry has changed with advances made in technology is an understatement. Once expensive and time-consuming, construction projects are now happening much more quickly and for a lot less money, thanks in part to a combination of emerging technologies.
Never mind what the internet, smartphones and tablets have done for the construction industry: data and information have become easily accessible for all of those involved in a construction project. Information can be accessed from remote locations and everyone can have the same access to important blueprints or other documentation with a simple click of a mouse. What follows is a list of recent technologies that have changed the face of the construction industry. They are by no means listed in any kind of order.
Construction materials such as plastics, composites and extruded concrete can now be made easily via 3-D printing. Recently, an office building was constructed made entirely of 3-D printed materials in Dubai, the first of its kind. The structure was erected within just a few short weeks.
In addition to the cost benefit of 3-D printing your own materials, 3-D printing also allows for creating more durable materials. Intricate design elements can also be achieved using 3-D printing capabilities. Traditional methods of creating these intricate design elements, usually by hand, can often be time-consuming and costly.
Thanks to the variety of construction software, organizing construction projects has become simplified. There are software programs that do everything from managing critical design information to tracking the productivity of personnel. There is even software to keep paperwork such as licensing organized and up to date. Other software programs exist for billing, time-keeping and creating 3-D plans.
Sharing information about project details has also been simplified. Some of the available software makes it easier to share and access information from wherever you are. There is no need to run back to the office because you forgot blueprints on the drafting table.
Construction software can also allow for some personnel to spend less time at the construction site, thus removing additional traffic or activity from the site. Oftentimes construction sites are dangerous, with an increased potential for accidents with heavy equipment and materials; removing people from a jobsite keeps them away from potential hazards.
Also concerning safety, anti-collision software is available which reduces the number of incidents at a worksite by precisely measuring the position of equipment, equipment weight, wind speeds, etc., foretelling and/or averting potential disasters.
GPS software is also playing a role in keeping the costs of a construction project down. Installing GPS in construction vehicles and equipment can help to keep track of where vehicles are in real-time, preventing the delay of necessary equipment and materials from reaching the site in a timely manner.
Augmented reality is also changing the construction industry by resolving communication issues with solutions like real-time information sharing. Augmented reality also allows for the overlaying of images on the physical site so that potential construction issues can be resolved before ground is broken.
CAD (Computer-Aided Software), a mainstay in construction, helps a construction project come to life before it has physically begun. CAD offers designers an image of what is to come, again providing opportunities for revision before the physical project begins.
BIM (Building Information Modeling) is a 3-D modeling process that replaces blueprints with interactive 3-D models. Instead of the project review process taking place in stages, everyone involved in a project can access the model simultaneously, resulting in fewer mistakes and fewer opportunities for miscommunication. Again, this technology, like most of the other technologies described throughout the article, can address construction issues before they become an expensive and time-consuming problem.
Apps are also available to help simplify all of the paperwork of a project. There are blueprint apps, which allow for intricate renderings of what a project could look like even before ground is broken, also giving real-time access to everyone at once. There are also barcode-enabled apps to track inventory or to place orders.
Automated machinery and robotics are now so sophisticated that they can do much of the heavier lifting at a construction site. Instead of having an employee risk life and limb in demolishing or erecting a structure, a robot can be employed to take on those dangerous tasks. The number of potentially costly injuries and delays in the project may be reduced as a result. Using robots to take on both grueling physical labor and work in tough climates may also help avoid worker fatigue and delays due to inclement weather.
Another benefit of robotic construction: robots can be managed from remote locations. Technicians operating the robots don’t have to be on site. They can control what the robots are doing from almost anywhere in the world.
Automated vehicles and equipment such as dump trucks and bulldozers are also simplifying construction projects. Oftentimes, the dump trucks and bulldozers can be operated by one remote technician, saving time and manpower.
Fuel consumption is another benefit of using automated vehicles. Accounting for human fatigue, a human driver may not get from point A to point B (adding stops along the way in the case of a faraway construction site) as effortlessly as a truck operated by remote control.
Another safety consideration alleviated by the use of autonomous vehicles is hauling dangerous materials and inventory. Again, the physical risk to employees is reduced.
Drones, like robots, offer an additional set of information gathering “hands.” Drones are being used on construction sites to help in assessing job progress, surveying, mapping and gathering information about areas of the project that might be difficult for a human to access. Drones are also particularly helpful in keeping a construction site safe from theft.
Equipped with cameras, drones can capture footage of a worksite that can later help to create 3-D models allowing for pre-construction simulations or for test scenarios and designs.
In the role of information gatherer, drones may also give real-time reports about construction progress and even current weather conditions.
Wearables and Gadgets
It used to be that simple hard hats offered enough protection on a construction site. Technology has changed that with the advent of smart materials and wearables. Hard hats are the accessory of the future, equipped with visors, sensors and special lenses informing you about your environment and potential hazards. Some smart helmets are even equipped with 4-D augmented reality.
Health trackers are also proving useful in cutting back on workplace injuries by alerting the worker that their movements may result in a fall or other bodily damage.
Laser-based equipment is also available (laser-guided excavation and tunneling) for taking precise measurements without having to rely on error-prone human figures or measuring hard to reach areas of the site. Again, the precision helps in terms of time, money and resources, keeping everything on time and within budget.
An industry historically in flux in terms of time and cost has become, with these advances in technology, more consistent, cost efficient, timely and, dare we say, reliable.