It surprises no one in the construction industry when analysts say it lags other industries in adopting new technologies. However, the pandemic may be changing that. For many industries, construction included, COVID-19 has revealed gaps in technologies.
Granted, the pandemic will eventually go away, but the lessons learned will have a long-lasting effect. According to Construction Dive, a Massachusetts-based construction company has discovered technology helps them be flexible during the pandemic.
Companies are being forced to accelerate construction technology adoption to close the gaps. What good is construction technologies if you can’t get worker buy-in? There’s good news on that front.
Growing Construction App Usage
Of the executives surveyed in a Cisco report, 58 percent say the needs caused by the pandemic drove employees to adopt technology they previously shunned. Furthermore, a 2020 JBKnowledge ConTech survey of construction workers and contractors shows 92 percent of respondents use their phone every day while working. Close behind at 83 percent are laptops and tablets at 65 percent.
“For a few months in 2020, the entire world seemed to be propped up by technology, this was a great moment to prove tech adoption is always possible if we are diligent,” writes the report’s authors. “Perhaps 2021 will push construction toward implementing digital workflows.”
The report notes that any challenges the industry encountered were solved by technology like these four.
1. Mobile Apps
JBKnowledge ConTech’s report delves into app and mobile phone usage. It does show a growing number of workers are using apps on the job. Still, they have not surpassed smartphones, the most used device on construction sites.
Electrical Contractor reveals
construction employees use mobile devices for the following:
- Viewing project documents
- Service dispatch and billing
- Creating project documentation like requests for information (RFI)
- Submitting time for payroll
- Viewing BIM models
- Viewing installation drawings
Construction smartphone apps have gained some traction. In 2019, 22 percent of respondents state they’ve used three construction apps. A year later, the same amount used six or more construction-related apps. Here are the most popular mobile apps by category reported by Construction Dive:
- Daily reporting: Procore, Bluebeam Revu, and PlanGrid
- Photo/video management: Bluebeam Revu, Procore, and PlanGrid
- BIM file viewing: Bluebeam Revu, Navisworks, and BIM 360 Docs
- Plan management: Bluebeam Revu, Procore, and PlanGrid
- Safety management: Procore, Bluebeam Revu, and iAuditor
The adoption of mobile apps on construction sites saw the biggest gains. However, it continues to lag in app integration and data sharing. Almost one-third indicate none of their apps integrate data. Almost half manually transfer data using spreadsheets, custom-built integration, or email.
Clearly, the industry has some catching up to do on technology. But it’s a step in the right direction.
2. Business Information Modeling (BIM)
What business information modeling (BIM) does is model complex work processes from the start of the project. It renders the building in 3D. At the same time, it helps architecture, engineering, and construction professionals effectively plan, design, construct, and manage buildings and their infrastructures.
According to National Building Specification, the definition of BIM is “a rich information model, consisting of potentially multiple data sources, elements of which can be shared across all stakeholders and be maintained across the life of a building from inception to recycling (cradle to cradle). The information model can include contract and specification properties, personnel, programming, quantities, cost, spaces and geometry.”
BIM provides more details than 3D CAD does. It can look at quantities, performance, and personnel requirements. Some even integrate a project management component. This allows the individual to use it to oversee the planning, design, and building of a project from start to finish. The project management component monitors costs to keep them under control. BIM managers can incorporate project documentation into the software for context and easy access.
Here’s an example of how BIM can come in handy during the pandemic. A project starts prior to the pandemic. After the dust settles, the client decides to make changes to the building to incorporate contactless technology. No problem.
The BIM manager can modify the building’s architecture and model how it will look and function. It has the ability to run simulations to ensure it works as expected. This shortens construction time, which prevents delays and cost overruns associated with making changes during the building stage.
Although the JBKnowledge ConTech report indicates BIM has not gained traction for five years in a row, many of the respondents in the survey don’t use BIM. Nonetheless, more than half say they have an employee or two who handle BIM or they have a full BIM department. One-quarter outsource BIM in some form.
The most popular features are clash detection and visualization. Additionally, the report states almost 60 percent of respondents use an app for viewing BIM files and managing plans.
3. Robotics and Drones
Initially, many eschew the thought of using robots and drones. They fear these technologies will replace jobs, but that’s not what they’re doing. Instead, the automated machines can increase productivity and accuracy while reducing overhead and waste. Besides, construction has a labor shortage. These automated systems fill in the gaps allowing workers to focus on high-value tasks.
As an example, the average bricklayer can put down about 500 bricks per day. In just one hour, a robotic one like Construction Robotics’ Semi-Automatic Mason (SAM) can lay 380 bricks. When SAM100 and the mason collaborate, it boosts productivity by three to five times and cuts the amount of lifting by 80 percent.
Robots like this take over the repetitive and heavy-duty tasks while workers manage and load them. As for heavy loads, a Robo-Carrier can move heavy pallets and a Robo-Welder can weld steel columns.
Drones, on the other hand, can help solve unexpected geological problems that have the tendency to cause schedule overruns. A construction site can use drones to obtain more accurate survey estimates of geological conditions.
A drone can help management conduct site inspections, review the progress, and check on materials, machines, and workers, all without setting foot on the property. Managers can also use them to scan the jobsite for potential hazards to improve safety. With drones, companies can reduce overcrowding on a jobsite while gaining useful information.
4. Artificial Intelligence and Video Surveillance
Once upon a time, video surveillance was a passive tool. That is, until artificial intelligence entered the picture. Without AI, video cameras were just eyes on the property. They required constant monitoring to catch suspicious activity before or as it happened. If no one watched the cameras, then it took noticing something suspicious happened after the fact. The manager would go to the video surveillance equipment and slowly search for footage to figure out what happened.
Now when you combine artificial intelligence and video surveillance, you get amazing construction technology that can do a lot. In adding AI, video surveillance gains a brain. It allows the video surveillance system to monitor for specific scenarios and react.
The short version is that AI has programming telling cameras how to analyze what they see in the feeds. As soon as they recognize a scenario, they know what to do because of the instructions it gets from AI. Intelligent video analytics takes construction security to another level.
Here’s a great example that shows the power of AI from The Verge. A person in Idaho built a dam. To ensure compliance with environmental regulations, it required counting the number of fish going over the top of the structure.
Before AI, someone would stand watch and count the fish. This process makes it too easy for human error to occur and result in an incorrect count of the fish. The person could lose track, miss a fish, or incorrectly remember the count.
Enter video surveillance with AI. Idaho had a system built that could identify the types of fish that swam to the top of the structure. Applying the same concept, this process works for a business that wants to use video surveillance to deter crime or count the number of people on the jobsite to maintain safe social distancing.
The construction company works with a security consultant who enters many scenarios in the system. Artificial intelligence scans for these scenarios. When it has a match, the system follows the instructions on what to do next.
A common scenario is to monitor for people approaching the site after working hours. As soon as the system flags this, it alerts the on-call monitoring operator. The operator reviews the feed and responds by issuing a warning over the speaker or calling law enforcement.
Additionally, AI gets smarter by learning from the operator’s feedback. The more feedback the system gets, the more accurate it becomes. Teaming AI with human intelligence greatly reduces false positives and mistakes.
Investing in Construction Technology
Of course, no company should adopt construction technology for technology’s sake. It’s important understand why they should make the investment in technology.
“Our philosophy on technology set us up to adapt,” Jack Moran, director of VDC services for Consigli tells Construction Dive. “We have always taken the approach that every time we look at a technology we look at it through the lens of, ‘Is it going to help us build more efficiently, more safely, provide higher quality experience for our owners?’ So, that philosophy helped us to very quickly adapt technologies that we already had to the situation because we always think of them in a very practical sense.”
Advances in automation and construction technology help employees do their jobs better. Together, they will revolutionize construction productivity and increase safety. Plus, technology alleviates the problems that come with the labor shortage. Business becomes more efficient with its resources.
The right construction technology investment can mean the difference between finishing on time within budget and late with cost overruns. If you’d like to learn more about construction security, download your copy of the free construction security guide or contact us