Wearables, robots, BIM, drones and rugged devices are changing things.
It's undeniable – technology encroaches in essentially every aspect of our home and work lives, and that applies to traditionally low-tech industries such as construction. Rapid advancements in technology and the increasing rate of adoption have 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-skeptics of the industry are seeing dramatic improvements (including up to a 20 percent reduction in total lifecycle costs per project) and are implementing a collaborative, networked environment.
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 rigors 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.
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.
Advanced, collaborative BIM
Building information modeling, 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.
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 by concerned about the costs and practical application of this new technology, the potential benefits and high long-term ROI should outweigh these concerns.