On the Leading Edge

The Emerging Technology of Construction

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In 2016, Timetric – a leader in providing market data, analysis, and advisory services to clients in the construction, mining, insurance, financial services, and wealth management sectors – surveyed 150 construction industry executives. The report was released in November and consists of input from professionals such as architects, contractors, and surveyors, among others.
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The report was entitled Market Insight: Emerging Technology in Construction and centered on engagement levels with technological innovations in the construction industry. A total of nine new technologies were profiled including augmented reality, mobile applications, cloud technology, autonomous vehicles, 3D printing and even the use of drones.

At no time in history have so many advances been available to the construction sector. Many were designed and created to make the building process faster, more efficient, boost productivity, improve scheduling, increase effective communication, and make job sites safer for boots-on-the-ground workers.

These inventions and many others will undoubtedly have a profound effect on the construction industry in the months and years to come in areas from increasing accuracy to furthering safety and streamlining processes. Technology continues to become more readily available to builders, architects, workers and others in construction. Pencil and paper have given way to mobile ‘offices’ in the form of rugged tablets, which can withstand foul weather with ease.

Deliveries of materials can be accurately tracked through GPS, and wearable ‘smart’ devices ensure successful communication. For an industry in which many of the materials used over the decades have remained the same – namely wood, concrete, and metal – exciting new technologies are rapidly gaining acceptance, building information modeling (BIM) among them.

BIM was once the domain of large construction companies with deep pockets but is becoming more affordable and necessary to the entire building process. The 3D model-based process provides tools to construction professionals like engineers and architects to generate, design, plan, construct, and manage digital representations of buildings and infrastructure.

It originated in the 1970s and became popular in early 2000s. It has been defined by the US National Building Information Model Standard Project Committee as “a shared knowledge resource for information about a facility forming a reliable basis for decisions during its life-cycle; defined as existing from earliest conception to demolition.”

The industry was largely dependent on two-dimensional drawings in the past. BIM goes well beyond ink and paper, augmenting spatial dimensions of width, height, and depth, with the ability to use design tools to extract data.

BIM has the ability to stretch throughout the entire life cycle of a structure, with processes covering everything from construction management and facility operation and more. It is now more of a necessity to the building process than a luxury and is soon to be joined by other technologies which will make construction faster and less costly.

For the past few years, drones have been in the news. Both loved by hobbyists and reviled by others as an annoyance or flying privacy invaders, the unmanned aircraft are basically flying robots controlled remotely through sensors and GPS.

They had been used in the past by the military, but prices have dropped so dramatically that they are affordable and they are employed by a number of industries today. The strength that comes from using a drone is limited largely by the imagination of its user.

Drones are rapidly becoming embraced by the construction sector for a range of purposes, many of them to bolster profitability and reduce waste.

When connected to the appropriate software, these little flying machines are used to check materials are delivered to the right location – vital to the success of large-scale projects – and can track progress on a work site through 3D topographical mapping and the monitoring of supplied materials, instead of physically deploying an employee.

A drone can fly overhead to provide real-time data necessary to building success. The benefits of reasonably-priced, camera-mounted drones are significant and are also seeing increased use to survey large and complex sites.

When it comes to communication, tremendous advances have been made in the construction industry since the days of two-way radios. Smartphones are widely used, and some speculate they will be replaced by phablets, a melding of the words ‘phone’ and ‘tablet.’

Phablets are mobile computing devices created by manufacturers such as Samsung, Sony, Lenovo, and others. Small enough to fit in a pocket but big enough to be used on construction sites with screens measuring six inches and larger, phablets can be outfitted with micro SD cards and even fingerprint scanners.

Laptop computers, tablets, and phablet technologies are finding themselves joined by other devices, namely wearable biometric devices that provide valuable information on employees in real time. These are growing in number and popularity.

These products are worn by workers to increase accuracy, productivity, and safety. Wearable devices such as wrist bands or vests are designed to monitor in real-time key indicators of an employee’s health, such as pulse and changes in skin temperature, which can assist in determining if someone is ill. The technology can contain sensors able to detect toxic gasses.

Some of the most futuristic devices are found from Daqri which delivers best-in-class technologies designed and made to withstand challenging conditions. The company’s devices focus on gathering information and Augmented Reality (AR) through Smart Glasses, the Daqri Qube, and the Daqri Smart Hud.

Promising to deliver “new possibilities in the working world,” the company’s Smart Helmet boasts an array of computer technologies for the twenty-first-century worker.

It is powered by a sixth-generation Intel Core m7 processor, which allows for high-performance multimedia and augmented reality (AR) applications. It also has a high-speed, wide-angle tracking camera, three sensors (integrated RGB camera, infrared light projector, and stereo infrared cameras) that work in unison to provide depth, and an integrated absolute scale thermal camera providing “persistent passive thermal monitoring of industrial equipment,” which then overlays data onto the visual AR display to scan for thermal anomalies.

The Smart Helmet provides a high degree of brightness, making it ideal for indoor and outdoor use and has been ruggedized to meet the demands of construction and other industries, truly making it the next generation of hardhat. The Smart Helmet, along with Daqri’s other devices like its lightweight, precise Smart Glasses and even a biometric fingerprint sensor for quick log-ins, is crafted to be comfortable and highly durable in industrial environments.

Like some invention by billionaire Tony Stark – the alter-ego of comic book superhero Iron Man – wearable exoskeletons from Ekso Bionics are being worn by those affected by strokes or spinal cord injuries to increase mobility, accelerate recovery, and help to restore independence.

EksoWorks products are designed and manufactured to reduce the physical burdens placed on the human body. The Ekso GT™ wearable – it weighs only sixteen pounds – exoskeleton is currently being used in over 130 rehabilitation centers across the globe to help people to walk again and is now being used by some companies in the construction industry.

Through a series of counterbalances, the exoskeleton distributes weight to make lifting objects easier, while protecting the wearer against fatigue. Best of all, EksoWorks also helps prevent workplace problems such as strain and other problems, resulting in less time off from lost-time injuries (LTIs), thereby allowing construction companies to complete projects faster, safer, with improved workmanship, and within budgets.

From Smart Helmets and drones to GPS, wearable devices, 3-D modeling, wireless offices, virtual design and construction (VDC), 3-D printing, big data and bionics, construction sites worldwide will see an increase in these and other technologies. The overall building process will become faster, more streamlined, and less wasteful, with improved budgeting and fewer work-related injuries.

Due Diligence

The workplace is where we spend one third of our lives. Work is intricately woven into every aspect of daily living. And self-preservation in the workplace – physical, mental, emotional and spiritual, can change everything about it for the better.

October 18, 2019, 9:01 PM EDT