Technologies such as AI, IoT, blockchain, AR, and cloud computing have already showcased their potential in numerous industry sectors. Now, the introduction of digital technologies in construction is about to change the construction industry forever.
In November 2018, two buildings collapsed in the city of Marseilles in France. While the authorities found six dead bodies in the rubble, many others went missing in the debris, and the search operation became extremely challenging given the heavy rains. Construction deficiencies and failures can be responsible for not just millions of dollars’ worth of property loss but can end up taking several lives too. Such situations can be avoided with the help of digital technologies in construction.
Modern technologies can automate vital operations and create a data-driven and collaborative approach towards construction. Leveraging advanced technologies will give rise to more productive as well as safer construction methods. In any industry, the early adopters of modern technologies always gain a competitive edge over their peers. Therefore, construction organizations need to plan adoption strategies to take advantage of the imminent dominance of digital technologies.
Digital Technologies in Construction
Several industries are already benefiting from the various artificial intelligence applications. Similarly, artificial intelligence is revolutionizing the construction industry too. Digital technologies in construction, such as artificial intelligence, will reshape the construction industry with multiple applications. In Building Information Modeling, artificial intelligence can prove beneficial in planning and surveying. With tremendous volume of curated data, AI-powered systems can create 3D maps, blueprints, and construction plans without the need for any human supervision. Similar systems can also be used to analyze critical construction data to identify industry trends and create strategies to ensure efficient construction practices. Artificial intelligence will also simplify several office tasks with a centralized data system where workers can record sick days, sudden departures, and vacancies. With the help of AI, such systems can track workers’ leaves and the project progress to suggest schedule updates and strategies to compensate for their absence. Another major application of AI is virtual assistants. AI-powered virtual assistants can help engineers and on-site workers with different construction procedures and inform the engineers about the construction deficiencies. For example, a Swedish construction equipment company has launched an AI-powered operator assistance tool that can be used for soil and asphalt compaction. The AI tool maps out trails that can be followed by compactors and records temperature maps of the area. An additional feature allows the tool to adapt to new asphalt mixes and lifts and predicts the density requirement accurately. Likewise, a California-based artificial intelligence firm has developed robots and drones equipped with cameras and LiDAR sensors to monitor worksites, replacing human guards and the scope for error thereby.
While considering the adoption of digital technologies in construction, organizations must pay attention to the potential of IoT. Multiple IoT use cases can be helpful in different construction operations. For starters, IoT can facilitate efficient supply restocking for prefabrication procedures. RFID tags can be labeled on supply materials, which can be counted remotely and the central system will be notified when the supply is running out. On construction sites, many areas can be potentially hazardous for workers. In such areas, machines with IoT sensors can be used for remote operation. Furthermore, wearables like Google Glass can display construction manuals before workers and engineers, without them having to flip through it manually. In the near future, manufacturers may produce construction vehicles with windshields that display critical data and instructions too. Often construction workers waste a tremendous amount of time searching for construction machines and equipment on the worksite. In such cases, IoT sensors can be used to track the location of construction tools and equipment. Likewise, IoT sensors can enable predictive maintenance of equipment as well. Such sensors can monitor the equipment and find defects to avoid expensive equipment failures. IoT sensors can also monitor energy and water consumption at construction sites and promote better conservation strategies.
Augmented reality is relatively younger than other digital technologies in construction. But, with constant research and development, innovative applications will transform the construction sector. Currently, AR enables construction planning by generating 3D models using construction plans. In this approach, the construction staff can gauge what the final design would look like and understand the different parameters and requirements regarding materials, manpower, and equipment. For example, a mobile app can be developed that uses the phone camera to scan 2D construction plans and generates a virtual 3D model displaying how the project would look like upon completion. Similarly, virtual reality can also enable 3D modeling. VR improves collaboration by providing a shared interactive landscape where different teams can access the project plans in real-time. For example, a nonprofit construction organization operating in multiple locations all around the globe uses VR to help the onsite stakeholders understand the project requirements and ensure remote progress tracking.
Several experts already consider blockchain as revolutionary. Blockchain helps create smart contracts that can simplify supply chain management. Additionally, construction organizations can use digital identification for workers, contractors, and engineers with the help of blockchain. Digital identification allows for the collection of crucial information on clients and vendors, which helps build reputation systems. Such reputation systems enable organizations to collaborate with other organizations based on their performance in past projects. Moreover, blockchain helps in payroll management of the construction staff as well.
Several construction companies still use paper for the management of crucial data and documents. Such traditional methods of data processing and management are inefficient as paper documents can be lost or damaged. But, the introduction of digital technologies in construction will eliminate all data management issues. Cloud computing allows sharing critical documents and data in real-time. Due to its online nature, cloud computing provides an easily accessible medium for storing and sharing data when compared to traditional methods.
Future of Technologies in Construction
With continuous research and development, the application of digital technologies in construction is only getting more advanced with each passing day. Newer technologies will lead to the creation of better, more effective and transparent work practices in the field of construction. For instance, with more sophisticated technologies around, 3D printing will make large-scale production feasible too. 3D printed houses, bridges, and other structures will be seen becoming a reality in the future.
Furthermore, IoT sensors can be used to build smart roads that would provide real-time traffic and weather updates to drivers. Such roads will also charge cars and street lights. Furthermore, some construction material manufacturers are developing modular bricks that have inbuilt thermal energy control and additional space for insulation, electricity, and plumbing, which reduce the construction cost. Alternatively, Harvard’s Self-organizing Systems Research Group has programmed small four-wheeled robots to work together like a swarm. These robots have sensors and algorithms that detect other robots and avoid any collision. Soon, the innovation in digital technologies in construction will reduce the labor requirement and give rise to cost-effective and time-saving construction techniques.
Holistic Approach to Adopting Digital Technologies
Deploying digital technologies in construction is a feasible solution for numerous construction related issues. All the digital technologies in construction are either being deployed or prototyped, which makes the applications even more practical. Hence, the introduction of digital technologies in construction is imminent. But, adopting such technologies can be a convoluted process involving multiple technicalities. Therefore, organizations need to consider the following roadmap:
- Hire experienced professionals with niche skills
- Create strategies for effective deployment
- Allocate appropriate budgets
- Generate analytics to gain insights into the various industry trends
- Educate workers and employees about the deployed technologies
- Develop innovative applications to promote productive construction practices
Digital disruption has already made multiple industries way more competitive. Similar situations will be faced by the construction industry when digital technologies in construction become more apparent. Hence, organizations need to realize the potential of modern technologies and not dismiss them as a passing trend.