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Construction and Technology: A Match Made in Project Heaven

Construction and Technology: A Match Made in Project Heaven

Love it, hate it or just plain don’t care, Valentine’s Day is just around the corner. Generally, the holiday is a time to reflect on our relationships, sometimes even the ones we spend the most time with—our jobs. While most people would never associate the construction industry with anything even remotely romantic, the truth is that construction is at the beginning of its own love story—with technology.

Over the past few years, new and innovative technologies have begun to transform the construction industry making jobsites more efficient, productive and safe than ever. Many of these technologies have even carried over to delivering an improved experience for construction clients. So, just what are some of today’s hottest trends in construction and technology and how are they shaping the industry for the better?

From drones, VR and IoT, there’s a whole lot of tech love blossoming in the business of building. Below, we’ll discuss some of the major trends in construction and technology and why they could be important to your next project.

Bringing Love to New Heights: Drone Imaging

Drone technology is beginning to permeate every industry imaginable, from the photography and videography business to even law enforcement. And construction is no exception here; in recent years, construction firms across the globe have begun to implement drone imaging on their jobsites to complete any number of tasks more efficiently and accurately. For example, drones are steadily beginning to replace the need for traditional land surveillance equipment, making it possible to cut back on human error and capture more useful land surveying data than ever before. Furthermore, the use of drones for surveying can cut down on labor and time expenses, making this a smart and cost-effective solution for construction firms that can afford the up-front equipment and training investment.

In addition to land surveying and imaging, drones have also become increasingly common for use in construction site security and monitoring. The equipment can easily be used to increase security at jobsites where expensive equipment is being stored, as well as to keep an eye on workers through the use of real-time monitoring. As a result, this cuts back on the need for costly security staffing and can save construction site managers from needing to physically visit jobsites as frequently.

Other types of autonomous equipment are also expected to take the construction industry by storm in the coming years. Just as self-driving cars are beginning to pave the way for daily commuting and transportation, autonomous construction equipment is making it possible to handle everything from bulldozing to hauling and drilling without the need for operators. And while it may be a few years before this technology becomes mainstream in construction (there is still a great deal of testing and fine-tuning being done), it’s anticipated that this type of technology will increase jobsite safety and boost efficiency. Furthermore, companies will be able to cut down on training costs since the need for experienced equipment controllers and operators will be reduced.

Interested in learning how else drones are used in the building industry, view our drones in construction infographic.

Head in the Clouds: Cloud Computing

The rise in cloud computing among construction firms has been observable for several years, but this trend is still worth mentioning because it doesn’t show signs of waning anytime soon. In fact—quite the opposite. Cloud computing software has made it easier than ever for construction companies to internally share documents (such as blueprints, permits and other essential data) with project managers, supervisors and other workers in real-time–from just about any device. Long gone are the days when employees would need to return to their office computers several times a day to stay abreast of changes, sign and share documents. With the use of cloud computing software, all construction firms need are mobile devices and a reliable wireless Internet connection to stay informed on-the-go.

Cloud software, such as PlanGrid’s construction productivity software, has made it easier for companies to collaborate on drawings, submit plans for approval, share site photos and more. As a result, companies using this type of software can reduce those time-consuming trips to the trailer and improve productivity.

For those concerned about data security, cloud computing addresses a lot of these concerns as well. Many of these cloud-based apps and software incorporate useful features like two-step authentication and the ability to designate specific users to access to certain files—making it easy to keep documents secure.

The increased use of cloud computing is bringing forth a number of benefits to the construction industry as a whole. For starters, it’s making it easier than ever to streamline projects that may have otherwise been bogged down or delayed due to challenges associated with sharing, viewing and editing documents collaboratively. Furthermore, cloud computing software helps to improve the flow of data, documents and information from project managers’ offices directly to their respective jobsites.

A Virtual Love: VR Design

While many people still associate virtual reality with video games and entertainment, VR is being applied in innovative ways—particularly in the construction field. One recent application of VR technology worth noting is in the client experience realm. Thanks to VR, it is now possible for construction companies to provide clients with a “virtual tour” of their properties before ground is even broken. Specifically, VR technology is used in conjunction with blueprints and construction design data to produce a recreation of the building or space in a three-dimensional world. Clients can then don a pair of VR goggles and take a walk through their proposed design for themselves, seeing every aspect of the design from any angle desired.

The use of VR design in construction makes it possible to take BIM and CAD models and show off “finished” products to clients in ways never before possible. Before VR, clients would have to rely on digital renderings or drawings to get a feel for how a finished project would look. By being able to virtually explore a building design for oneself, clients are better able to envision their completed projects and provide useful feedback to designers. And if a client points out something to the designer that he or she doesn’t like, the designer can make changes to the design that will be reflected in real-time.

It is anticipated that this innovative use of VR in construction design will allow for improved communication between designers and their clients, which may boost satisfaction ratings as well.

Senses Your Needs: Sensors and IoT

The increased use of equipment sensors and RFID tags have also recently become popular in the construction field, improving both security and safety-on-the-job. For example, some companies have begun placing RFID tags on their valuable tools and equipment to reduce theft and loss. These tags, as part of the Internet of things (IoT), provide real-time data using cloud-based applications that tell construction managers when a particular tool or piece of equipment was checked out, who checked it out, and when it was returned. This type of system helps to hold field workers more accountable for keeping track of equipment, thus cutting down on losses and replacement costs.

A similar concept has been applied to construction equipment maintenance; sensors that can track everything from fuel usage to diagnostics make it easier than ever to determine when equipment is in need of servicing. Supervisors can set up their sensors to alert them when certain diagnostic issues are found, allowing for prompt service on the equipment before any serious (and expensive) damage is done. The use of this inexpensive technology can help construction firms to cut down on equipment maintenance and repair costs while keeping their fleets in safe operating conditions. Additionally, this also cuts down on equipment downtime, which can have a major impact on the timeline of any construction project.

Sensors serve another functional purpose beyond monitoring equipment: they can also be used to monitor employee work conditions to increase overall workplace safety. There are many potential applications for this type of technology in the construction field. For example, air quality sensors can be placed inside buildings during construction to ensure there are no hazardous materials in the air that could endanger employees. Sensors can also be used to detect potential structural weaknesses and other problems that would present a danger to construction workers. And taking things a step further, it is even possible for sensors to track employees through their work day to ensure they’re getting proper breaks. The potential applications for RFID and equipment sensors are truly endless and can be customized to suit any project’s specific needs.

Falling Hard for Construction and Technology

From drone imaging and unique cloud computing applications to VR design and equipment and RFID sensors, the construction industry’s love affair with technology is improving the way firms across the globe do business from a productivity, safety and cost standpoint. And while some of these technologies may still be a little out-of-reach for smaller firms out there, the good news is that this equipment and technology is becoming increasingly affordable and accessible as popularity and use increases. Within the next several years, it’s likely that these technology applications will become the norm across the industry as even more advanced tech is developed, so startup firms shouldn’t be discouraged by currently high costs.

Only time will tell what new advancements the construction industry will embrace in the coming years, but based on recent trends, these are a few safe assumptions. Regardless of what the future holds, one thing’s for sure: construction and technology make a great pair.

Further Reading:  Civil Construction Projects Have a Productivity Problem: Here’s How to Fix It [Ebook]

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