Digging, hammering, the clank of machinery. Occasional yells back and forth; maybe the blast of a radio. You’d recognize these anywhere: They’re the sounds of a construction site.
But wait. All at once you hear a series of beeps and pings. It’s true. Technology has come to the worksite.
Traditionalists may blanche, but Bruce Bell, managing director at the U.K. company Facit Homes, welcomes tech whole-heartedly. As Bell explains to the design technology journal Cadalyst, “Modern digital manufacturing techniques have revolutionized the way we make things. [What tech does is] bring more clarity and certainty to creating homes, and provide a better service and end product for the customer.”
It’s not a view Bell came to lightly. Years of research and development, testing and refining have gone into bringing technology up to speed, from building information modeling (BIM) to 3D printing. Bell has found that these processes much more efficiently replace the former, old-school ones.
There’s just one problem. Workers who prefer construction because the jobs take them outdoors aren’t necessarily techie types. The solution, Bell says: Don’t force them to be. Instead, collect worksite data with sensors, cameras and scanners. Cadalyst sums up his findings: “More than a specific use of technology, digital construction is about new construction business models that put digital tools at the heart of construction processes.”
But efficiency isn’t the only advantage to tech. Technology Review reveals that artificial intelligence can dramatically increase safety on the construction site—a much needed improvement, since construction workers are killed on the job five times more often than other workers.
The Boston-based general contractor Suffolk is preparing an algorithm “that analyzes photos from its job sites, scans them for safety hazards such as workers not wearing protective equipment, and correlates the images with its accident records. The company is still fine-tuning the technology but says it could potentially compute ‘risk ratings’ for projects so safety briefings can be held when an elevated threat is detected,” the Review reports.
So what are some of these bells and whistles?
The journal Construction Executive helpfully highlights some of the tech advances for the construction industry:
- DPL Teleatics’ AssetView Tracking System: a small, portable GPS unit that wirelessly monitors and remotely tracks powered or unpowered assets. Improves logistics, inventory management and theft protection.
- Xplore Technologies’ six-inch, hand-held Xplore M60: a rugged android device that out-toughs any mishap, e.g., getting dropped in dirt, roasted in a hot vehicle, forgotten outdoors in subzero temperatures, even dunked in a toilet. Features include: a scratch-resistant display; voice, email and app-based communications channels; and optional barcode scanner.
- Scope AR’s AR platform: offers real-time remote assistance and access to AR guided smart instructions simultaneously. Allows technicians to connect directly with an expert for instant video support.
Then there’s the drone, made infamous in thriller movies like Captain Phillips and Eye in the Sky. But drones are also real-life practical, as Construction Dive explains: “Frequently used to capture images and video to show clients and use in marketing materials, drones are becoming more commonplace on jobsites, with 57% of respondents to a recent…survey indicating their firms use the technology. Beyond capturing images and video footage, however, drones have tremendous data-collecting capability.”
At a 239% usage increase in just the past year, construction is the industry most quickly ramping up on drones, Construction Dive says. Project and technology managers and superintendents are the most frequent users, compiling databases of photos from sites and often transforming them into 3D models. Dive quotes Jordan Olson, virtual design coordinator for Brasfield & Gorrie in Alabama: “We can then use that site model for a variety of purposes, such as project rendering, cut/fill analysis or simple owner communication.”
Cost savings are another advantage, Dive notes. It’s way cheaper to fly a drone over a site than a helicopter. Here are some of the other benefits of going drone: infrared thermal sensors to find HVAC energy-efficiency opportunities; provide information about job progress; monitor security; and monitor worker safety.
Dive cites Hugh McFall, product marketing manager for the drone software company 3DR, who proposes yet another advantage: brand prestige. “…you’re not only trying to change the way your business works, but trying to take a stance and leadership role about what the future of your industry could and should look like,” McFall asserts.
- Cadalyst on how tech is transforming the construction industry
- Technology Review on how artificial intelligence can improve safety
- Construction Executive highlights some useful tech advances for the construction industry
- Construction Dive on the very practical benefits of using drones at your site
- And here’s a rundown of various types of drones, via the Global Agricultural Drones Market Report 2019