The business environment is in a constant state of change. Technological advancements are the primary drivers of this change. In the construction industry, companies that are willing to embrace these new technologies will be the most successful. Selecting the right technologies for your company can be challenging given the incredible number of options to choose from. This article provides an overview of some of the most impactful new technologies that are transforming the construction industry.
Technology innovation is impacting the construction industry in three key areas: construction materials, project design, and the build process.
Sustainability, safety, and cost reduction have been the main drivers of technological advancement in construction materials. Water-conserving plumbing fixtures, recycled materials, high-efficiency pumps and motors, LED lighting, and energy-efficient paints and coatings are just a few examples of “green” materials that can minimize the impact of construction on the surrounding environment and reduce utility bills. While brick, mortar, concrete, and steel remain staples of the construction industry, technology is changing how these essential materials are manufactured and used: self-healing concrete repairs its cracks and lasts nearly 200 years; bricks made of wool and seaweed are stronger and more energy-efficient than traditional bricks; alternatives to glass, such as translucent wood, increase material strength while using biodegradable compounds; prefabricated walls, frames, and structures reduce costs and improve sustainability with less waste. Cutting edge building materials that can generate clean energy are also becoming increasingly prevalent. Scientists in Canada are developing a material to spray on concrete that increases its strength. The developers claim that concrete treated with this material could withstand a 9.1 magnitude earthquake. It also reduces the amount of concrete used by over 50 percent. Considering the amount of carbon dioxide released during the cement production process, this would drastically boost sustainability.
Several studies have estimated that material waste and rework account for one-third of construction expenses. Simultaneously, the sheer mass of data and information generated during a construction project is dramatically increasing project complexity. Given these factors, efficiency, accountability, and effective project planning are critical for the financial success of construction projects. New technologies that streamline the project management process reduce waste, improve productivity, and clarify roles and responsibilities. These tools improve resource scheduling, performance tracking, equipment maintenance, data management, and reporting. Collaboration software significantly improve the productivity of large project teams. Building information modeling (BIM) is leading the way in this area. Connecting BIM models to wireless mobile devices ensures that everyone has access to mission-critical information. The field of predictive analytics has improved immensely with advancements in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning. Predictive technologies help companies reduce risk by optimizing project management at all levels. Virtual reality devices are quickly becoming a vital part of the preconstruction process as they help construction teams visualize potential outcomes and make necessary adjustments before committing to investments in materials and labor. Furthermore, these tools allow designers to be more creative and experimental without increasing project cost or complexity.
The Build Process
New technologies that improve productivity and safety on the job site, ranging from wearable technology to drones, are plentiful. Drones can perform job site surveys, assess project progress, and take aerial images and videos. There is a wide array of wearables, from hard hat attachments that improve safety by detecting worker fatigue, to visual accessories that capture and transmit visual images for remote viewers. Wearables not only boost worker safety and productivity, they also connect site workers with technical and supervisory team members to improve coordination and communication, allowing workers to have their hands free as they work through issues with remote coworkers. Sharing work environment information in real time enhances training, instruction, and verification of practices and materials. Exoskeletons increase worker strength and stamina while limiting strain on the body. Most wearables feed data to customizable dashboards. This allows project leaders to evaluate performance quickly and take proactive steps to reduce cost, avoid delays, and minimize the potential for accidents and injuries.
The list of new construction technologies is extensive. Below is a short list of high-impact technologies to monitor and consider incorporating into your construction toolbox.
These technologies are already transforming the construction industry. If you’re not already using them, you should strongly consider incorporating them into company processes in 2020.
What Is It?
Virtual reality and augmented reality are rising technology trends in the construction industry. Augmented reality is a form of virtual reality in which a real-world environment has overlaid virtual elements. Using advanced cameras and sensor technology, VR/AR software digitally creates a simulated real-world experience. The technology is widely used in video games but is quickly becoming a mainstay in the construction industry due to its ability to improve efficiency, accuracy, and job site safety. VR/AR technology continues to evolve and mature, and as the adoption rate in construction increases, it has the potential to dramatically change the future of the industry.
Why is it Important?
There are dozens of applications for virtual/augmented reality in the construction space. Many companies are developing VR/AR tools for both the planning process and project site. The technology provides a low-cost way to visualize a completed project and make critical changes before substantial investments are made. VR/AR prevents problems before construction begins and fosters greater creativity during design phases. VR/AR technology improves almost every aspect of the construction process, including:
- Project planning: Using VR/AR software combined with 3D modeling and building information modeling (BIM), companies produce detailed, interactive models of projects during the planning phase.
- Automated measures: Workers on the job site wearing VR/AR accessories use them to measure workspaces and structures.
- Project modifications: Using a headset or mobile device, workers can view virtual construction plans and make modifications.
- Onsite information: Pipes, outlets, switches, ventilation, and other structures can be seen on VR/AR headsets or mobile devices.
- Team collaboration: The technology enables users to collect and share construction site information, including notes, pictures, and videos, in real-time with remote team members.
- Safety and training: VR/AR software enables employees to go through virtual drills, procedural instructions, and safety scenarios.
Below is a link to an article detailing how VR/AR technology is benefitting the construction industry: https://www.bigrentz.com/blog/augmented-reality-construction
What Is It?
Building Information Modeling (BIM) is the process of creating 3D models that can be used for document management, project coordination, and simulated workflows throughout the entire life cycle of a project. BIM is used to design and document every detail of a building’s structure. BIM models are used to assess different design options and create visualizations that help align project stakeholders during the project approval process.
Why is it Important?
- Increased stakeholder alignment, efficient workflows, 3D visualizations, and improved project outcomes are some of the benefits of BIM processes. A recent study by Autodesk, a leading provider of BIM software, showed that the technology benefits construction companies and their clients in the following ways:
- Reduced document errors and omissions by over 60 percent.
- Reduced task repetition by nearly 40 percent.
- Reduced construction cost by over 25 percent.
- Reduced project duration by over 20 percent.
- Reduced claims and litigation by nearly 20 percent.
- Due to the substantial benefits of BIM technology, industry analysts estimate that over 70% of construction companies have already acquired the technology (source: BIM Community). If you have not yet incorporated BIM into your company processes, you should consider doing so.
Below is a link to an article with more details on the benefits of BIM technology: https://www.autodesk.com/redshift/building-information-modeling-top-11-benefits-of-bim/
What Is It?
Drones, also known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), are aircrafts without a human pilot. Drones can operate via remote control or autonomously through an onboard computer. Drones have become mainstays on construction sites due to their ability to efficiently collect aerial imagery. They significantly lower project cost and save time by enabling workers to more easily develop construction plans, track the progress of a project, and identify issues that may arise during the building process.
Why is it Important?
- Due to the relative ease of integrating drone technology into the construction process and its substantial benefits, drones are now operating on most construction sites. Construction companies should take full advantage of the extensive benefits brought about by drone technology. Here are several ways drone technology can improve profit margins:
- Increase sales through marketing – drone photography is an invaluable sales tool, and a strong drone program can set a company apart from its competition.
- Improve stakeholder visibility and increase client confidence – drone footage helps stakeholders view progress and visualize the final project.
- Expedite the project planning phase – drone surveys help put virtual designs in the context of real conditions.
- Improve asset and material management – drones help monitor the job site for suspicious activity and can be used to ensure there are adequate material supplies.
- Improve quality and minimize task repetition – drones dramatically improve the ability to complete quality inspections. Frequent aerial reviews catch mistakes before they happen.
- Improve safety – drones can perform inspections in dangerous areas and identify potential hazards before they cause harm.
- Mitigate litigation – drones improve project documentation and in turn reduce the chance of litigation while improving defensibility.
Below is a link to a guide to starting and optimizing a drone program:
The following technologies could be transformational soon but are not yet ready for widespread adoption.
What Is It?
Blockchain technology is among the most disruptive technologies of the past decade. Its power to record, enable, and secure an immense quantity and variety of transactional information offers tremendous organizational opportunities to the construction industry. It allows for better execution of large projects in a cost-conscious, risk-adverse sector that includes large teams of contractors and subcontractors as well as a complicated maze of building codes, safety regulations, and building standards. Blockchain is a distributed ledger technology that creates a history of digital transactions in a highly transparent and permanent manner. A simple analogy to blockchain technology is Google Docs. When a Doc is created and shared with a group of people, the document is distributed, not copied or transferred. Everyone has constant access to the document. Modifications are captured and secured in real-time, and all updates are decentralized and completely transparent. Blockchain is essentially a super-charged version of Google Docs.
Why is it Important?
- Blockchain technology will eventually have an enormous impact on project management technology. Some examples of its application include:
- A reputation ledger that tracks subcontractor performance in order to identify reliable subcontractors for a project.
- Smart contracts that define tasks and trigger milestone-based payments.
- Aggregation of data into a shared project dashboard to improve workflow management.
- Maintenance of a shared with an end-to-end record of the construction process including all inputs and assets, including warranties and maintenance checkpoints.
- Streamlined inspections with automated material tracking, testing, and code-compliance monitoring.
Below is a link to a Harvard Business Review article about blockchain’s future impact on the construction industry: https://hbr.org/2019/07/how-blockchain-will-change-construction
What Is It?
Robots designed for construction work are currently being developed. In response to the labor shortage in the construction industry, researchers in several countries are designing robots capable of performing basic construction tasks. Some of these robots are intended to work alongside human workers and improve productivity by carrying out tasks that would typically be considered busywork. Other researchers are developing prototypes of humanoid robots capable of completing more complicated tasks, which could, in theory, replace human workers. Below is a link to an article about a Japanese prototype currently in development: https://www.theverge.com/2018/10/1/17923442/aist-japan-humanoid-robot-drywall-hrp-5p-construction
Why is it Important?
Robots are already used extensively away from the job site for simple tasks, such as building prefabricated walls, components, and structures. The use of robots on the job site could significantly reduce costs, improve productivity, and increase safety. It could also help address the ongoing challenge of finding and retaining qualified construction workers.
This article began by discussing the importance of adapting in today’s fast-paced, ever-changing, business environment. Construction companies that are willing to embrace new technologies will be the most successful. Picking the right technologies for your company can be challenging. The first step in meeting that challenge is to broaden your awareness of new and emerging technologies. Hopefully this article has helped in that regard.
About Western Pump
We are a general and specialty contractor serving the petroleum and transportation industries, as well as mission-critical infrastructure. Western Pump provides a wide range of construction, maintenance, and compliance services to private and public customers. We have completed work for government agencies, private developers, major oil companies, educational organizations, and general contractors.