Paper-based construction inspections are set to become a thing of the past. Emerging new innovative technology-based approaches promise better quality control, enhanced efficiency and greater transparency. Here’s some you may see coming soon to a site near you.
Spatial Nails Compliance
The Australian Capital Territory government has begun using Geographic Information System (GIS) technology to identify active building sites and record and report detailed audit and inspection data. It improves the accuracy of reporting on construction progress and compliance while giving greater visibility of project risks. The breakthrough was recognised last year with the Esri Special Achievement in GIS Award.
“The app is tailored to cover the ACT’s building laws and standards to help monitor compliance,” said Gordon Ramsay, the ACT Minister for Building Quality Improvement.
“This project is helping the ACT Government strengthen the integrity of the building industry in Canberra by giving our inspectors more tools at their fingertips when they are carrying out inspections on apartments and commercial building sites.”
Esri Australia National Business Manager Lisa Dykes said the ACT Government’s solution would serve as a blueprint for other agencies seeking to reduce risks around new building work.
“The ACT Government’s innovative use of GIS technology to create this world-first solution has direct transferable benefits for every government agency, council and construction firm across the country and around the world,” said Ms Dykes.
GHD Digital Innovates with Drones and Probes
GHD Digital in the UK is finding innovative ways to deploy drones as part of inspection processes. For example, a drone carrying an ultrasonic probe and a high-quality camera is used to perform testing. It’s able to assess the thickness and condition of materials in locations, such as smokestacks, structural members and chimneys, in a non-destructive manner. It transmits the gathered data live via a digital interface to personnel working at ground level.
GHD Digital Experience Lead EMEA, Joe Charles, said the company is also using drones with laser scanning technology, photogrammetry and thermographic cameras. They undertake inspection tasks that would otherwise be high-risk tasks for human workers.
Besides eliminating the risk of having to send people to work at height using rope access or a crane, the approach also has cost benefits as you do not need to hire access equipment. A drone team can be more flexible in terms of timeframes for attending the site than a crane and crane operation crew, often completing the survey in a fraction of the time.
The drones can also capture images from multiple angles, which may be otherwise inaccessible. According to Charles, gaining multiple angles and high-quality imagery, or other condition data, allows for building up a detailed record of the asset digitally, enabling easy comparison year on year.
In some ways, a drone can act as an extension to an engineer’s arm. It may allow them to take a measurement or a photograph from a position or angle they would not be able to reach themselves, he says. However, using drones for testing and inspection requires the operators to have, or develop, the right equipment to use with the drone. It is also important to have a thorough understanding of the equipment’s capability and specification, along with training, certification, approved procedures and the knowledge to interpret the data it generates accurately.
X-Ray Vision Superpowers
Thermal infrared imaging technology is also gaining popularity as a building inspection tool. It can provide information about what is happening beneath the surface of a wall, floor or roof. It can also detect hard-to-spot defects, for instance, poorly-sealed fenestration assemblies, leaks in hydraulic pipework within walls, or gaps in insulation installation.
The digital cameras detect the temperature and spectral signatures of different materials as well as capture variations in temperature. For example, if there is air that is colder or hotter than room temperature entering the building due to poor sealing, it will show up on the thermal infrared image. Leaks in pipes within walls will also create a visible temperature variation, as will gaps in insulation. Electrical systems can also be checked and verified as wiring has its own distinctive thermal and spectral signature.
The International Association of Home Inspectors said some of the new devices on the market are also capable of switching from the thermal infrared image to the equivalent standard image, allowing for easy identification of the exact location of an issue. Some suppliers also provide software that helps with a more comprehensive analysis of thermal infrared imagery, for example, ascertaining the specific spectral signature of electrical wire, water pipework or aluminium window framing.
Tech Matches up Design and Delivery for Better QA
Researchers at Curtin University in Western Australia have developed a proof of concept for the use of Building Information Modelling (BIM) in conjunction with Light Detecting and Ranging (LiDAR). This method would verify the quality of completed construction against the approved BIM model and plans. The approach aims to provide real-time quality control and early defects detection.
Experts from Laing O’Rourke’s Engineering Excellence Group have been working on an integration platform that would bring the two technologies together. BuiltView is an automated progressive assurance platform that enables users to document works daily and verify that the BIM design and the as-built components and products match up.
In a presentation to the International Symposium on Automation and Robotics in Construction in 2020, the Laing O’Rourke team said the innovation would reduce the amount of expensive rework on projects, increase the transparency of as-built information and documentation, and enhance site productivity.
Remote Virtual Inspections
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the use of virtual collaboration increased dramatically. Building inspections are no exception. The International Code Council (ICC) identified ways in which the use of Remote Virtual Inspections could be improved, stating it is likely to become a common practice even after the pandemic has passed. The ICC has developed a comprehensive guidebook to recommended practices explaining how to implement RVI effectively.
Los Angeles County in the USA began promoting the use of RVIs for many types of inspections, including inspections of photovoltaic systems, electrical panel changeouts, water heaters, HVAC changeouts, sewer connections, temporary power poles, demolitions, window replacement, pad footings, gas lines, patio/decks, re-inspections, and re-roofs.
The basic process involves using internet meeting platforms with video and file-sharing capabilities. The on-site personnel are directed by the inspector to use a smartphone, tablet or iPad to capture images/video and take and submit any required measurements. The ICC suggests relevant photos, short video clips, and screenshots can be added to project inspection documentation.
The uses of RVI can go beyond required compliance and quality inspections, as according to the ICC, the process can also virtually bring additional expertise into a project team.
“The advantages and opportunities created by RVI locally, nationally and globally are enormous, allowing those with technical expertise in their specific subjects to offer their services across the globe,” the ICC Guidebook says.
“Building code specialists, inspectors and consultants will be able to provide services and consulting from far distances and to help building safety and resiliency anywhere needed at the local, national or global level.”