Technology has made a major impact on how the construction industry marches toward the future. The latest advancements have benefitted the industry in countless ways. Overhead costs are lowered, safety rates are improved, and projects are handled more efficiently. Furthermore, the latest tech devices and software programs allow management teams to better keep track of projects and workers remotely.
It's undeniable – technology encroaches in essentially every aspect of our home and works lives, and that applies to traditionally low-tech industries such as construction. Rapid advancements in technology and the increasing rate of adoption has led to safer and more efficient job sites, reduced costs, faster job completion and increased profits.
With the growing number of positive results from high-profile, large-scale construction and infrastructure projects, even the techno sceptics of the industry are seeing dramatic improvements and are implementing a collaborative, networked environment.
Wearables, robots, BIM, drones and rugged devices are changing things.
The construction industry has changed drastically over the last two decades due to technological advancements. By including the latest tech products, companies reduce overhead costs and increase efficiency.
Wearables have become increasingly popular at construction sites. Helmets, goggles, boots and more track worker location, measure health stats and send out emergency alerts.
Robotics and drones have impacted how construction sites are being managed. This type of tech provides low-cost surveys and help dictate the exact material and labour needs for a job.
We're not talking about consumer-grade smartwatches or fitness trackers here. Wearables in the construction industry include tough, rugged devices designed to withstand the rigours and abuses of a job site.
Smart helmets, complete with pull-down visors, are brimming with features, such as a health-monitoring headband, smart front- and rear-facing cameras with depth perception, an array of sensors, and wireless connectivity. The pull-down visors on these smart hardhats allow wearers real-time communication (including quick access to data), augmented reality overlays and the ability to record data.
Other wearables designed for the construction industry include rugged health monitors and enhanced safety vests, all designed to boost worker safety and productivity. Connected hardhats monitor a workers' temperature and heart rate to alert them (and their supervisor) of any fatigue or medical issues while on site. Smart boots and hardhats are also able to track the location of each worker and alert emergency personnel in case an accident occurs.
3D printing and robotics
Robotic building arms and 3D printers are being used to produce building components or even entire buildings. This combination of technology uses concrete, extruded concrete, and plastics to "print" components and buildings of all kinds, and is quickly being adopted on a wider scale.
Dubai is home to the world's first entirely 3D-printed office building. Robots also serve other uses within the construction sector – placing bricks, excavating, demolishing, and accessing areas that are difficult or unsafe for humans. Although entire buildings don't necessarily need to be 3D printed, certain elements can be printed to reduce costs and lessen turnaround times. Multiple building components can be generated with a 3D printer and since the process is computerized, work can be done around the clock. Metal is very costly to print, but moulds are budget-friendly. Successful projects with a 3D printer include demonstration houses, walls and bridges.
Robotics is also being used for mapping purposes. Sensors are able to virtually map the layout of a building as well as any objects inside.
Advanced, collaborative BIM
Building information modelling, or BIM, refers to a single, collaborative computerized system that combines technology and solid work processes. With the ability to connect BIM models to wireless mobile devices, companies can ensure everyone has access to relevant information, including 3D digital representations of building plans. Every aspect of the project can be linked to related data, such as manuals, images or precise specifications.
Augmented and virtual reality devices
Virtual reality and augmented reality tools have changed the way construction sites are developed. With AR devices, real-world surroundings are generated into a virtual space. With an AR program, you blend together with your virtual designs into a real location.
AR also assists in generating accurate measurements. Wearable smart glasses can calculate an area's depth, height and width in an instant. This allows for better project management since you'll be able to create realistic models and get a more accurate estimate of the materials needed and the number of labourers.
Rugged job site devices
Job site wearables haven't quite replaced mobile devices – largely because they can't yet do everything that a handheld device can – but this is changing. Unlike regular tablets and smartphones, rugged devices are waterproof, dustproof and made with heavy-duty materials.
Further, many rugged devices sport industry-specific features, such as barcode scanners for tracking shipments. These devices also allow workers to access the BIM and find up-to-date information whenever they wish.
Unmanned aerial vehicles
Unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, are gaining in popularity. These vehicles can be controlled remotely or fly a preset path to perform site surveys and assess project progress. Advanced models can take aerial video, maps, pictures and 3D images. UAVs are also helpful in monitoring logistics, performing site inspections and assessing as-built conditions.
Although many construction professionals may be concerned about the costs and practical application of this new technology, the potential benefits and high long-term ROI should outweigh these concerns.