As communities shift their focus to building “smarter” cities, a huge opportunity exists in the construction industry. In fact, 37 percent of municipal leaders prioritize “smart buildings” as an area for future investment, according to Smart City/Smart Utility, a 2017 Strategic Directions Report by Black & Veatch.
Efforts to evolve toward a more connected, integrated infrastructure will not only jump start new builds, but spur a need to retrofit existing buildings with smart components.
Technology: No Longer Optional
As a result, the construction industry is on the brink of evolution as it faces the next generation of data-driven projects. Although traditionally slower than other industries to adopt new technology, the construction industry is making progress toward smarter systems and processes, and is beginning to see tangible results as modern jobsites transition from science fiction to reality.
With 50 billion connected devices driving modern life—a number that is expected to grow to 200 billion by 2020—technology on the job site isn’t an advantage anymore, it’s a priority. As technology becomes cheaper and more prevalent, a number of new developments will impact the industry in 2017 and the years ahead.
A New Operational Approach
As “smart” initiatives cause construction projects to become larger and more complex, expect to see a fundamental change in how companies approach day-to-day processes. Technology will play a greater role as companies take a more systemic approach to planning, executing and managing projects. Data will reign, and the industry will embrace the equipment and technology that enables them to not only collect information, but manage, assess and apply it to do their jobs more efficiently.
Data analytics and cloud-based plan management will be a big trend in construction efforts going forward. Data provides a traceable record while analytics tools allow project managers to run projection models and forecast activities in real time. Data analytics will allow the industry to take on greater advancements through augmented reality—meaning that project managers can augment real-time information with situational data, driving awareness and allowing them to take informed action in the field.
There will also be a greater shift towards using cloud-based technology. The cloud facilitates a direct link between all stakeholders—from engineering to construction to procurement—allowing them to manage projects synergistically, in the field and the back office, while providing greater transparency. Arming managers with this understanding will allow them to proactively redirect crews, sidestep unexpected issues like environmental impacts, update plans and adhere to project schedules.
Data collection through embedded sensors will become standardized and have the greatest impact as their plummeting costs encourage increased use in construction. Embedding signal devices in features such as turbines, pumps and filters directly informs repair and replacement by allowing operations and maintenance personnel to collect data such as vibrational anomalies or spikes in energy usage. Sensors allow vendors to remotely update equipment with warranty data or recall information, while attaching RFID tags or QRC codes to materials helps control and maintain stock levels.
A slew of new technological developments are already making their way into construction-focused applications. Drones equipped with photogrammetry and LIDAR (3-D laser imaging detection) open avenues of data collection by capturing site imagery, speeding up a typically time-consuming process and allowing companies to manage projects and communicate progress more effectively.
Laser scanning costs have come down significantly, and now companies have the ability to locate scanners on floors to validate work in near real time. Physically tagging units or specific areas of a construction site can communicate associated information such as drawings or material lists.
Location Sensing and 3-D Printing
Location sensing will also drive change, as tablets can be used in the field to scan a quick response code (QRC) and trucks armed with a global positioning system (GPS) provide a connection to the home office. Meanwhile, greater advancements in 3-D printing are advancing into scalable projects, allowing for greater model-to-machine construction efforts.
Autonomous Machines and Artificial Intelligence
Autonomous vehicles and robotics have a direct correlation to safer jobsites by enabling traditional construction operations such as robotic welding and brick laying to be performed remotely. Another trend is using artificial intelligence (AI) to complete tasks that are time consuming and costly—for example, leveraging AI to assist with labor-intensive initial yielding surveys.
Technology’s Impact on Safety
Safety will remain a critical priority going forward, but expect to see technology play a greater role. For example, safety issues could be location-based, enabling crews to receive site-specific hazard notifications. Storing this data in the cloud allows it to be shared across personnel and projects, allowing for more targeted and effective safety solutions. This builds awareness directly into the workflow, saving time and resources.
These trends and shifts tie into a fundamental change as the industry continues to evolve toward systems-based approaches where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. With infrastructure growth expected to increase, projects will get more and more complex, and managing that complexity will become critical.