Construction represents 13% of the world’s GDP, according to the McKinsey Global Institute However, even when construction is the largest industry in the world, it is characterized by tight profit margins and high risk. To stay competitive, contractors must constantly find ways to improve their efficiency, and technological innovation is a viable strategy.
Construction technology or “contech” is a promising industry, and McKinsey estimates a potential profit of $265 billion for innovators in this area. The potential value of productivity gains in construction, which includes contech, has been estimated at $1.6 trillion. This article will discuss several technologies with promising applications in the construction industry.
Building Information Modeling and Digital Twins
The building design process became much more efficient with computer-aided design (CAD). However, 2D software has limited capacity to represent three-dimensional projects, especially when they involve complex architecture or mechanical layouts. Conventional blueprints can become confusing when they are used to describe complex geometries and specifications.
Building Information Modeling or BIM takes the design process to a three-dimensional space while adding technical specifications directly to components in the building model. Navigating a smart 3D model that looks like the finished project is simpler than interpreting 2D drawings and long specification documents. The applications of BIM extend beyond the construction stage since a smart building model is also useful for operation and maintenance.
- One of the most promising functions of BIM is clash detection and resolution, which consists of finding location and specification conflicts before starting construction.
- This way, owners and contractors can avoid change orders – correcting finished work is much more expensive and time-consuming than correcting design errors.
A digital twin is an exact replica of a building in a virtual environment, and the concept is based on BIM. Digital twins can be updated with the observations of maintenance personnel, or automatically by using a sensor network. Digital twins can also be used to simulate building upgrades before investing capital, allowing better decisions.
Drone Supervision and Wearable Technology
Construction sites have many risks, which include work at height and heavy equipment. Since a building project involves many skilled trades, project managers must also ensure that subcontractors don’t create risks for each other. Currently, the risk of COVID-19 infection has been added to the list of hazards, especially when workers must collaborate in small spaces.
Drones and wearable technology are a promising combination. When supervisors and project managers use drones to oversee projects, they avoid direct exposure to physical hazards, while observing work-in-progress from any angle. This allows early detection and correction of errors, and hidden risks can be identified more easily.
Wearable technology has two main functions: providing direct warnings to workers when there are hazards present and sending remote notifications to project managers. During the coronavirus outbreak, wearable tech can also be used to monitor social distancing more effectively. For example, wearable devices can detect when they are close together, instructing workers to spread apart.
Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality
VR and AR have applications in design, construction and facility management. Virtual reality can be used to simulate a building during meetings, allowing better decisions in design and planning. Augmented reality is useful for construction and maintenance tasks since it can overlay technical information in the field of vision. For example, AR can display markers on components that are involved in a specific task, combined with warning markers for hazards like voltage or high temperature.
In particular, AR can improve coordination among skilled trades. For example, the location of air ducts can be displayed for electricians and plumbers, which helps prevent location conflicts and rework. AR also improves efficiency, since displaying information on the field of vision is more effective than checking plans and specifications.
Construction is a multi-trillion-dollar industry, but it involves fierce competition and significant risks. Contractors cannot afford to ignore technology since it offers two major benefits in construction projects: cost reduction with improved efficiency and risk mitigation. There is a $265 billion opportunity for “contech” according to McKinsey, and early adopters can capture a larger share of this profit.
Building information modelling and digital twins are useful not only as design tools but also for construction management and facility operation. These technologies can be complemented with drone-based supervision, wearable technology, VR and AR. Project personnel can use these tools to complete work more efficiently while avoiding workplace hazards.