Can technology help construction?

A number of years ago Modernise or Die was published for the construction sector. Since this point there have been some improvements and changes to the sector but like always more can be done. The sector still has large elements of manual and “how it’s all being” mentality. It’s time to move on from old-fashioned ways. This can be achieved by adopting emerging technologies, digitising the way the sector operates and transforming processes both pre-build and during the building process (and beyond). 

The construction sector, which has been highly manual and old

fashioned for years now, is slowly adopting emerging technologies to transform various processes, from digitizing building plans to

smart maintenance of buildings. This change is helping the sector to improve timelines, cut down costs, enhance safety, reduce risks, and boost profits.

But why change? There are a number of factors driven by two key factors: cost and time. The sector is renowned for low margins and with continuing cost pressures and rising material and labour costs it is creating further challenges. There is pressure then on meeting deadlines. Developers want a building ready for a set time and despite contingency built it, what Covid-19 has shown is that there is more risk than we would have hoped. These factor into areas like productivity: Productivity has not improved over many years in the construction sector, leading to poor profitability amongst contractors. Meanwhile Sustainability is growing as a focus (as part of the wider ESG agenda point) and therefore developing sustainable designs and construction materials, as well as building more energy- and water- efficient infrastructure with a lower carbon footprint is a priority. 

There are a number of key technologies that are really benefiting the sector:

  •  AR: Imagine being able to assess a site without having to actually visit in person. AR allows this. It enables real-time collaboration to solve problems and fix issues without having to wait for a contractor to be present on site. A little bit of a revolutionary step forward. 
  • Robotics: The construction industry is one of the least automated industries that feature manual-intensive labor as a primary source of productivity. There are several robots under development that could change this – bring on the robotic revolution. Robots that lay bricks or even entire streets one at a time. These types of robots dramatically improve the speed and quality of construction work. Demolition robots – safer and cheaper when it comes to demolishing concrete and structural components of a building at the end of its life cycle and of course remote controlled or autonomous vehicles. Certainly a benefit for a skills shortage in the sector. 
  • BIM: Construction companies have been digitising paper based designs using BIM for a while but incorporating too many multiple factors. The use of 2 D drawings for construction planning is prone to errors, whereas 3 D models like BIM reduce cost, improve productivity and prevent construction errors.
  • Drones: Drones are being used in the construction industry to monitor the progress of projects, inspect buildings, and measure stockpiles. Drones can play a more active role at construction sites. A drone based approach can be useful in constructing temporary shelters at speed during emergencies as well as create modern shelters in smart cities in the future. 
  • 3D printing: There are a number of organisations in the construction space that are developing 3D printers that can construct a typical building in a very little time compared to traditional building methods. Construction companies are using 3D printers to minimise the time and costs of their projects by either printing an entire structure or part of it. Companies are increasingly using 3D printed materials in the construction process due to their advantages like better creativity , design flexibility, less material waste, and lower carbon
  • Machine Learning: The concept may seem a dream in construction but ML has been steadily gaining traction. ML can make things more human. Instead of taking humans out of the equation, machine learning lets people do their real jobs more effectively. Improving the design, making an environment safe or extending a projects lifespan through facilities management. 
  • Modular Construction: Modular buildings are generally stronger than site-built construction because each module is engineered to independently withstand the rigors of transportation and craning onto foundations.Building offsite ensures better construction quality management. Manufacturing plants have stringent QA/QC programs with independent inspection and testing protocols that promote superior quality of construction every step of the way. 

So it is clear that emerging technologies are influencing the traditional construction to address bottlenecks, increase productivity, and complete projects within stipulated time and budget. Smart concrete, mason robots, immersive training, real-time site safety, and 3D printed homes are some of the tech-enabled applications changing the face of construction and these changes will simply continue to evolve and enhance the way the built environment is realised. 

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