Contractors and building professionals who plan to build their share in the market should embrace these construction industry innovations
The construction industry faced challenges during 2020 – project delays, labor shortages, operational restrictions, and disrupted supply chains. Dodge Data & Analytics reports commercial construction fell by 16% in 2020 and residential construction also had double-digit declines. While last year felt tenuous, several impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic unquestionably will make the construction industry stronger and more buoyant in weathering the next big disruption. Digitization (converting analog to digital) will continue to lead new construction technology trends. It’s estimated digitization may generate up to 20% in annual cost savings within a decade.
In the last 10 years, contractors slowly have adopted software platforms such as Procore and CoConstruct. Both project management tools aid communication, project management, resource management, and financials between the field and office. But the need for more cooperative tools like these became quite clear last year. With state-mandated shelter-in-place orders, contractors and other shareholders like architects, engineers, and subcontractors needed robust tools to stay connected while being apart.
Decisions can be made faster and more efficiently when updates to schedules, inventory tracking, punch lists, and job reports are streamlined. This agility is crucial for keeping projects on-schedule and within budget.
Using software applications to enhance collaboration and efficiencies is just the tip of the iceberg. Construction organizations are swiftly embracing and implementing three emerging construction technology trends:
- Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality
- Digital Twins
- Modular Construction
The Future of Construction Lies with Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality
Virtual reality (VR), the next advancement in 3D or 4D modeling, develops an entire simulation of the project. This technology transports the user, via sensory devices such as Oculus Rift sets and Vuzix smart glasses, into the environment for a fully immersive experience. Engineers and contractors can inspect the model and interact with it through intuitive gestures. Contractors, as well as other stakeholders, can easily identify potential problems, visualize construction schedules, and improve worker safety. VR, along with Building Information Modeling (BIM), provides architects and owners with a much better understanding of designs, which ultimately delivers better outcomes.
Headaches, extra time, and cost also can be avoided by using augmented reality (AR). How is AR different from VR? AR is different in that it incorporates virtual elements into real surroundings, combining computer-generated architectural designs with physical structures on the project. AR superimposes virtual camera-captured video onto real-world structures using graphic algorithms so the user can move around the space and fully visualize proposed changes.
VR and AR Advantages
VR and AR technologies provide cost-saving efficiencies. Finding problems, from any stakeholder, in the designing phase is better than in the building phase. VR and AR permit clients to make faster decisions because they can see and experience the layout. This has led to improved client satisfaction throughout the building process.
Additionally, because these technologies simulate real-world situations, they provide safer and easier workers’ training. Crain operators and other workers can master difficult equipment without hurting themselves or the gear. Since these innovations are mobile, they also prevent risks like hitting a utility cable or gas line in underground construction. When workers gain experience and the team can plan better, productivity levels increase.
Digital twin technology creates a virtual replica of an existing structure by accumulating physical-world data through drones, robots, sensors, and the internet of things (IoT). Real-time data joins the physical and virtual clone by continuously updating the information transmitted. Using artificial intelligence (AI) software and sophisticated analytics, data is processed to realize, analyze, manipulate, and optimize the building process. The virtual model provides a useful visualization of the project’s building performance, schedule, and operations of the building after it is completed.
While this technology is not new, it is scaling within the construction industry because of massive practical application opportunities. Twinning’s real-time reporting makes it ideal for running simulations and testing scenarios before actually putting resources or capital toward new construction.
Digital twins also improve collaboration by keeping all stakeholders on the same page via the virtual model and can eliminate unnecessary field visits. This has become particularly valuable during the pandemic. Offering real-time, synched access to as-built and as-design models, project managers and teams can more accurately monitor progress.
After the building is constructed, twinning enables facilities managers to adjust and fine-tune building systems controls, temperature, lighting, and more to optimize performance.
Modular construction is the method of constructing “modular” parts of a building off-site in a controlled environment and assembling the pieces on site. Modular buildings are built with the same standards, codes, and materials as architects specify for a traditional on-site building, making them identical to conventional structures. According to National Partitions, more than 75% of contractors, architects, and engineers employ prefabricated or modular construction at least some of the time and use is rising steadily.
Modular Is Faster and Mitigates Risks
Modular construction projects can be completed quickly because off-site building can occur simultaneously with on-site foundation work. Building happens in a factory so there are no costly weather delays. Factory building also promotes a safer indoor environment, which mitigates worker injury risks.
Another big advantage is it is better for the environment because building inside uses less energy and causes less waste. As the work is completed in a controlled setting, monitoring inventory is easier, materials are recycled more, and materials are protected better. This results in less waste overall.
Takeaways for Construction in 2021 and Beyond
These top construction technology trends will grow in prevalence and flexibility due to the increased adoption of these applications. Job sites are becoming safer, more collaborative, and more attractive to younger workers due to these innovations. Now is the time to welcome disruption, evolve old processes, widen profit margins, and wake up to digital and technological offerings that deliver long-term enhanced productivity.
Related reading: The Future of Job Sites in the Construction Industry