Construction’s sluggish start to widespread tech adoption has given way to surging growth, with the construction technology market projected to reach more than $2.7 billion by 2023. This sudden spike in demand can be contributed to companies clamoring to adopt technology like cloud-based construction management, project management software, and other systems designed to help manage and make better use of their data.
Technology has undoubtedly disrupted the entire industry. Manual processes requiring paper and spreadsheets have gone online and have become fully collaborative and accessible from anywhere. Technology has changed the ways companies handle everything from fleet monitoring to expense tracking to scheduling. Each year a different technology seems to step out of the shadows and into the spotlight. For 2019, there are five trends that immediately spring to mind.
1) Virtual and Augmented Reality
VR and AR are quite literally giving construction managers a whole new view of projects, offering immersive 3D models, simulated visual overlays of building systems, and even virtual walkthroughs. With such tools, a manager doesn’t even need to be physically present to conduct a site walkthrough with stakeholders. VR and AR also allow for shared viewing, so workers in the field can bring a supervisor in to see everything from their exact point of view, no matter where the supervisor is physically.
2) Autonomous Equipment
Automation is becoming more frequent on job sites, taking some of the more hazardous or back-breaking jobs off workers’ plates. Robotic systems like Japan’s drywall hanging HRP-5P to the SAM100 bricklaying robot are stepping in to help. Meanwhile,
automated drones are being used to map job sites and conduct inspections, sending the data safely back to land without a human inspector needing to scale so much as a ladder. With cameras or thermal imaging, drones are capable of generating rich, full 3D models in a fraction of the time the work would have taken a team of inspectors. Even heavy machinery is becoming automated, with autonomous equipment being trusted to handle precision tasks like road paving and land grading.
Photo courtesy of Rio Tinto.
3) Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence
Technology has not only gotten faster, but it’s also gotten smarter. In the case of machine learning, systems are able to collect and analyze the enormous volume of data construction companies produce. They are capable of organizing and prioritizing everything for real-time access as needed. This is helping companies cut through the noise and focus in on the meaningful information hidden in all that data, leading to faster problem solving and more efficient project management. Machine learning can be even used to analyze captured images to identify potential job-site safety hazards.
4) Internet of Things (IoT)
A lot of that data C&E firms are relying on machine learning to collect and manage data sourced from the Internet of Things. IoT is typically an array of connected “smart” sensors networked around a central hub. They can be purposed for just about any use imaginable, from monitoring equipment usage and worker locations to keeping track of inventory and materials management. On-site cameras and smart sensors can be linked to construction management software, offering managers a more nuanced picture of a project’s progress. The devices themselves are small and generally not too expensive, so companies can often foray into the world of connected job sites with a relative ease. IoT Analytics estimates the number of active IoT devices will hit 10 billion by 2020 and 22 billion by 2025.
5) Predictive Analytics
Last but not least is predictive analytics, a technology without which no conversation about machine learning would be complete. Predictive analytics combs through mountains of data looking for useful patterns or statistics, which companies then leverage to eliminate guesswork and make educated decisions. Predictive analytics systems can sniff out workflow inefficiencies and even suggest different solutions. There is often more than one way to solve a problem on a project, and such systems provide alternatives that may otherwise go unnoticed. It’s not a crystal ball, but for now, it’s as close as you’re going to find in construction.