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By Duane Craig
October 17, 2016
There is a “massive storm of innovation” coming from Software as a Service (SaaS), cloud computing, mobile devices, and connected devices. All the new insights coming from the data are going to streamline your work, provide early warnings of problems, and give you amazing new perspectives on building. But these aren't the only ones making moves in the industry. Find out what tech is bringing you in the decade ahead...
Of all the potential technology game changers for construction, robotics tops the list. Construction’s long-standing and continuing problem in attracting and maintaining a viable workforce makes robotics more attractive every year. Robotics also offers the possibility of automating tasks that are repetitive and dangerous. When you physically remove humans from this type of work, you improve the risk profile for the entire project. But, robotics are also on the verge of improving the predictability of outcomes as intelligent machines do the work more precisely, quickly, and consistently over any length of time.
Apart from requiring you to up-skill to other types of work, the presence of robots offers to make your workday safer and more productive. For people who have an attraction to technology, managing and maintaining robots will offer new job opportunities. If you manage projects, robots will become a new type of resource in your arsenal. They will offer you new options for scheduling activities that lend themselves to round the clock production. Intelligent machines will also help you free up your human resources for the kinds of work that humans excel at and are necessary for. Overall, you will find a smoother path to improved productivity, safety, and predictable project outcomes.
Closely related to robotics is the technology of 3D printing. Already, companies are printing full-sized, single story houses in a day. And when you consider the potential applications of 3-D printing for harnessing the advantages of modular construction, you can understand wider potential for this technology. In particular, projects like the one underway at the Manufacturing Technology Center in Coventry, UK, promise to take mobile prefabrication to new levels of efficiency. This technology is poised to reduce the time it takes to create complex elements of buildings from weeks, to hours.
When this technology reaches your job site, your work will undergo profound changes. Instead of taking many small pieces and combining them to make the whole, you will assemble much larger pieces, reducing the time it takes to finish activities on the construction timeline. That means you will be working more often with hoisting mechanisms, novel fastening systems, and engineered components. If you manage projects, you will see the construction schedule shift from one that is primarily focused on activities at the job site, to one with more focus on activities off the job site. Assembly and finishing will be primary job site activities, while component manufacturing will occur both on site as well as offsite.
Also closely related to robotics is telematics. This technology promises to make everyday construction machines more intelligent and more capable of completing complex tasks with fewer inputs from human operators. Telematics are already saving construction firms millions of dollars every year by making the management of machines more efficient. The technology is also improving the security of the machines as well as the safety and security of machine operators. The mining industry is actively using telematics to automate large machines, so they are driverless. And many other machines are now operable remotely, using joysticks while viewing the machine and the work on a screen.
Many of these machines are already at your jobsite and this technology makes them easier to use. They are also breaking down less often, more efficient, and more precise. In the coming years, when you need the perimeter trenches dug for a foundation, you will insert something like a USB drive into a slot on the machine. The drive will have all the specifications and instructions the machine needs to complete the task. When you activate the machine, it will go to work and finish the task while you move on to other things. Essentially, whenever you need a piece of equipment for another task or activity, the machine will automatically create for you exactly what you need.
Augmented reality is poised to make your job more precise than ever. Companies are already harnessing it to find potential problems long before they become real issues. In essence, it allows you to see the building as it is, in real-time, while also letting you see how the building will look once the work is completed.
Augmented reality has a place for nearly everyone in construction. For a business owner, using augmented reality for training not only speeds it up, but it also makes it hands-on, greatly helping retention. For project managers, transferring knowledge and specifications to workers on the frontline that are equipped with augmented reality devices ensure that they are working from the most recent plans. They also provide details superimposed over the work area. These new views of the world promise to make your job easier and allow you to complete tasks more efficiently and precisely.
Virtual reality is another game changer when it comes to how your construction job will look in 10 years. But where it is poised to make the biggest difference is not in the day-to-day tasks and activities of the project, but rather in the formulation of those tasks and activities. Virtual reality is already showing clients a very realistic version of spaces once construction is completed. This goes beyond BIM because it allows the person to be in the space at the same time they are viewing the completed space. In that way, people can actually walk through the space and experience the spatial relationships within it. What this means for your construction job is that there will be fewer changes once construction is underway. Having end user input at this level of detail before construction even begins promises to make project scoping and specifications more precise.
The decade ahead is on the verge of delivering more innovation to construction than the industry has seen in centuries. All that innovation is going to change your construction job making it easier, safer, more comfortable, more predictable, and more efficient.
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