Traditionally speaking, the construction industry has been slow to change, particularly when it comes to adopting new technology. But a number of market forces have shifted the thinking around digitizing operations in an effort to cut costs, minimize overruns and boost efficiency.
The first and most obvious digital transformation overtaking the industry is around big data. Construction is awash in paperwork at every level, from billing documents to blueprints to materials tracking to supplier information and labor scheduling. Effectively managing this data and bringing it under a unified platform accessible by everyone who needs it, in part by leveraging cloud-based data environments, enhances collaboration, reduces the possibility for mistakes and provides opportunities to better analyze the data.
Moving to the Cloud
“What I am seeing is that construction firms are starting to move into arenas such as real-time, cloud-powered analytics of large and unstructured datasets. Such methods have the potential to redefine the traditionally fraught relationships between the interested parties. Architects – who want to unleash their creative energy – engineers – who have to try and make it all fit together and not fall down again – and owners, desperate to keep costs from spiraling out of control,” big data author Bernard Marr wrote recently in Forbes.
Another area where construction companies have enthusiastically embraced digitization is around automation.
Another area where construction companies have enthusiastically embraced digitization is around automation. This can encompass everything from self-driving heavy machinery that can do pre-construction prep work like digging, grading and excavating, automate repetitive tasks like bricklaying, and a host of other jobs that takes some of the burden off human laborers.
Perhaps the most prevalent automation technology is the use of drones, which all indicators point to being a staple of the construction site of the future. Drones are small robotic aircraft controlled autonomously by an operator on the ground. These tiny wonders can zip around a construction site overhead, scanning the ground to rapidly produce 3D virtual models, giving site managers detailed and real-time images of jobs in progress. Drones quite literally provide a totally new view of a construction project, and with a relatively low cost to implement, many firms have incorporated drone technology into their operations.
Mike Danielak, director of client strategy and business development at Skyward wrote in Construction Dive, “some large construction firms already employ dozens of pilots to maximize drone data at every step of the process, from marketing their services to design and project construction to ongoing inspections. Construction firms of all sizes are including drone technology or replacing old processes with drone technology entirely.”
Standardization of processes has also transformed how construction project stakeholders and workers collaborate on jobs, and technology is often the nerve center of such an undertaking. Building Information Modeling (BIM) is a recent breakthrough that allows everyone involved in a project to view realistic 3D models of site plans or proposed buildings and offer feedback or make changes in real time. The changes are automatically applied across every iteration of the virtual model, keeping everyone on the same page and identifying potential issues with a site plan before it’s built in the real world.
Slowly but surely, construction is evolving technologically, digitizing operations in the name of productivity.
Such collaboration platforms also facilitate efficient materials management, helping managers track where resources are deployed, which supplies are running low, and when to place orders to minimize downtime. Rather than depending on a paper-based inventory checklist, digital materials tracking offers a holistic view of what is needed and when, cutting down on wasteful ordering or supply shortfalls.
Slowly but surely, construction is evolving technologically, digitizing operations in the name of productivity. For a long time, the business has been a laggard in year-over-year productivity gains compared to other comparable industries, but by changing mindsets about digitization’s place in construction, it’s already catching up.