Changing the Construction Landscape: How Technology Improves Workflows

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The architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) industry is not a sector known for quickly adopting new technologies. When change comes, it moves at an icy pace. One area where innovation has fallen behind is in the design of technology improvements, quality control or project management. Some of these tools, like Microsoft Hololens and BIM, have been around for several years, but most construction companies use them sparingly, if at all. The COVID-19 pandemic has been a game-changer on construction sites around the world.

When contractors were allowed to return to job sites after the initial closures, companies had to impose strict guidelines on who could enter a job site and how they could work there. New safeguards designed to keep workers safe and prevent disease outbreaks have discouraged or prevented customers from visiting construction sites in person. This has prompted many construction companies to scramble to find ways to show clients in real time, or near real time, the progress of their projects.

There has been an increase in the use of remotely piloted drones, augmented reality (AR), mixed reality (MR), virtual reality (VR) technology, and building information modeling systems. (BIM). These established and cutting-edge technologies are facilitating a digital transformation that will bring lasting change to construction.

Fly high with drones

Due to travel restrictions, many companies are using drones to give customers the big picture of their projects. Drones can fly over the site and provide a time lapse image, allowing the customer to see the progress and the number of workers on site. And, because this technology is relatively inexpensive, an overview can be performed several times a week to meet a client’s needs. Drones can also be used as part of the final inspection process of hard to reach or dangerous areas of structures.

Breaking reality

AR, VR, and MR are similar and overlap, but there are some differences. Here’s a quick rundown of what each can do:

  • AR is when virtual elements are superimposed on a real environment via screens (computer, smartphone) or glasses (Google Glass). This technology has been around for a few years and is used by everyone from retailers to social media platforms like Snapchat.
  • VR is a fully digital environment that requires a headset and special manual controllers for full immersion. It has been around since the 1990s and has become increasingly sophisticated. It can be used for many different applications, such as allowing a customer to virtually walk through a digital model at the scale of a building.
  • MR is a combination of AR and VR. Like AR, it can overlay digital objects on the real world, allowing the operator to manipulate the virtual object like VR. This is a newer development with many possible applications and is used by Microsoft’s HoloLens.

What is BIM?

Building information modeling is a technology that dates back to the 1970s, but has reached a level of sophistication to become a practical and powerful tool throughout the construction process and even its life cycle. During the planning phase, digital models of a new building can be created which offer many advantages. This gives the client the ability to take a virtual tour of the project to see how it is meeting their vision and needs, reducing overhauls once construction has started. But BIM has gone far beyond simple 3D modeling and can now integrate a significant amount of critical data as it evolves. This may include:

  • Plan information to ensure that the right trades have access to the site at the right time and that the project is progressing correctly;
  • Costing can be integrated with modeling to ensure accuracy and can be kept up to date in real time;
  • AEC companies can include installation information for the finished product. These can include maintenance information and schedules, installation dates, and details on how to configure the equipment to optimize performance.

These features can help ensure that a project is completed on time and on budget, and give the owner all the information needed to ensure that all systems last their intended lifecycles.

A vision of productivity

A latest technology that connects AR, VR, MR and BIM is the Microsoft HoloLens. These connected glasses have many applications that can accompany a project. When connected to a BIM system, someone can walk through a partially completed installation and HoloLens can automatically capture all kinds of data in real time. For example, it can help with invoicing, calculate percentage of project complete, and help project managers keep the operation on time and on budget.

Project managers can also use HoloLens for live tours with remote clients. By connecting to a secure connection, the customer can see the construction progress as well as many different data points. They would also contact the manager to view specific parts of the facility under construction. This saves clients time and potentially money if they are based some distance away from the project construction location.

What does the future hold?

Technologies that are revolutionizing other industries have only just started to be used in the AEC sector, including artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML). There are several practical applications for them, especially when it comes to generating estimates for projects. For example, an AEC could provide the system with about 20% of the information about a project, and the AI ​​could calculate the remaining 80%. And AI is already proving useful for analyzing project performance data to predict delays or cost overruns, and safety data to produce early warnings of a high risk of workplace injuries. .

Finally, AI is used to control autonomous driving equipment to improve efficiency. For example, AI hooked up to heavy equipment like an automated grader using GPS and lasers, where it could level the ground with very high tolerance and precision, resulting in super flat grounds. This could reduce the amount of concrete needed to build a foundation.

Better build

When COVID-19 hit North America, it changed the way many FACs operated. Not only were most customer meetings held virtually, it was forcing these companies to adopt new technologies to provide a high level of service. Many of these technologies positively impact many projects by ensuring that they are costed correctly, built to the correct specifications, and are progressing at the right pace. As they continue to be refined, there will likely be significant advancements, which will help businesses stay profitable and profitable.

Gary Devenney joined construction consulting firm Linesight in 1995 and has experience in the construction industry in a wide variety of industries including data center, civil engineering, residential, commercial, industrial. and leisure, in Ireland and abroad. Appointed at director level in May 2021, he continues to work with Linesight’s major technology accounts in the United States, where he has been based since 2010.

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