The construction industry — a very information intensive industry — has been slow to adopt technology. Until about six or seven years ago, technology was reserved for the back office and typically used for HR, accounting, contract writing, tracking change orders, with nothing to drive the information to the people actually doing the work in the field.
That changed because of several key reasons, explained Kris Lengieza, senior director, business development, at Procore, a provider of construction management software. These include:
- The prevalence of mobile devices and new technologies in our personal lives and the realization that these could be used out in the field.
- The growing labor shortage.
- The need for the industry to be more productive.
- Younger people coming into the industry with new ideas on how to do things.
- The growth of technology and innovation companies.
Nowadays, construction companies are welcoming and embracing innovation. As old methodologies and science converge, new technologies improve efficiency, productivity and profits, he said.
By way of example, Lengieza cited the use of 360-degree cameras — also referred to as photospheres — to capture and document construction progress and check for safety issues, among other uses.
Webcams are being leveraged for enhanced visibility into a job site, added the 15-year veteran of construction industry. Webcams can do a time lapse of a project, track weather data, detect schedule deviations of where a project should be and where it is and more.
Lengieza said drones are being used to survey construction sites and do progress tracking. Drone technology has capability to capture better, real-time necessary data in much less time than traditional methods take.
A big challenge in construction is collecting structured data to be able to do analytics, he noted. Nowadays, big data, cloud computing, labor tracking, project management software, cloud computing, etc., can be used to help understand how projects are progressing, see what projects require immediate attention, identify more efficient ways of doing things and enable faster, better decision making.
Key Technologies for the Construction Industry
According to Lengieza, the following are some of the new technologies evolving for use in the construction industry.
1. Virtual reality (VR) for training: VR training simulations replica situational experiences that can be difficult, expensive or dangerous to do deliver in real life. For example, training an apprentice iron worker how to weld is typically done with him standing on the ground.
In real life, that apprentice might have to go up 30 stories, walk out on a beam, receive a piece of steel and weld it, and that is very a different situation, said Lengieza. You don't want to expose an apprentice to that risk and danger without proper training.
VR also is being used for construction machine operating training, he added. This eliminates the need to transport students to locations and equipment and reduces the chances of damaging very expensive machines.
2. Augmented Reality (AR): This is taking data and information out into the field. It involves using a spatial/virtual reality headset that lets the wearer see and interact with digital content at a jobsite by overlaying holograms or 3D models over the real world.
For example, Lengieza said, a person can visualize what the design of the building is supposed to be, right alongside the current progress of the building to detect any problems or issues.
3. Robotic technology: This is currently being used to automate processes and increase productivity for such jobs as welding, demolition, drywall hanging, brick laying and masonry assistance (lifting concrete blocks) but it is not commonplace, he said. He envisions robotic technology in rover and data collection applications evolving more rapidly in the construction industry.
4. Automation technology: The mining industry is using this technology to have haul trucks respond to calls to the shovel, move into position and haul to dump points, Lengieza said. Development is happening with backhoes, bulldozers, excavators and other construction vehicles so that they can operate themselves and make construction safer and faster.
5. Machine learning: This is being used to more efficiently — and with greater accuracy — analyze and categorize data project data, which in turn helps boost productivity, increase safety and reduce costs, Lengieza said.
A method of data analysis, machine learning is a process wherein computers, by creating algorithms, learn from previous data without being explicitly programmed.
6. Artificial intelligence (AI): This involves layering industry knowledge into machine learning so AI can think like a construction superintendent and, by way of example, make suggestions, he said. However, that is a ways off because there must be enough aggregated data to train AI models and then time has to be invested to evolve those models.
The education session "A Construction Tech Odyssey - From Today to 2025" will be held on Thursday, March 12, 2020 from 9:30 a.m. - 10:30 a.m. at ConExpo-Con/AGG.