As disruptive a force as the pandemic has been on global construction work, C&E firms have been adapting to their new environment with technology. This has enabled companies to ensure their workers can remain productive from the safety of home.
In many ways, COVID-19 has accelerated the rise of technologies that used to be on the periphery or supercharged the adoption of solutions that had already experienced some mainstream uptake. Fifty-eight percent of executives polled in a recent survey by Cisco admitted to having adopted technology they had previously ignored or rejected.
“As bad as this situation is, it’s also pushing the industry forward into a better place,” William Sankey, CEO of Northspyre, told Construction Dive. “Maybe where it would have taken seven to 10 years to catch up to where the finance industry is in leveraging data, I think that transition will now be underway in the next two to three years.” Sankey may know just what he’s talking about, as his New York-based company provides data analytics solutions that help predict and manage unplanned changes on construction projects.
We took a look at five technologies that construction firms have relied on more heavily or repurposed for our new work-at-home reality.
Digital Meeting Tools
Face-to-face communication is a cornerstone of workplace culture. Unfortunately, it had to take a back seat when masks and social distancing took over, leaving many workers feeling isolated and disconnected. Digital communication platforms have a life preserver for many companies throughout the pandemic, from Google Hangouts to Skype, to Zoom, to Cisco Webex. Being able to see your coworkers’ or clients’ faces changes the dynamic of the communications and helps foster a more productive work environment. A Webex study conducted well before the pandemic said a whopping 87% of remote workers felt more connected to their team, thanks to videoconferencing.
Cloud Collaboration Tools
Although many construction companies always depended heavily, even just weeks before the pandemic, limited meeting size restrictions and job site social distancing in place have led to adopting a different approach. More and more plans and documents are now finding their way to the cloud. This gives everyone involved with the project, regardless of location or time zone, access to the same up-to-date information. Thus, everyone remains in closer contact, and the chances for a costly or time-consuming miscommunication are lowered. Taking construction project data to the cloud creates a much more collaborative environment than sending around a PDF or spreadsheet, which could already be out of date by the time the recipient sees it. Cloud collaboration also allows for seamless integration of your entire suite of software applications, shareable company-wide to anyone on the platform.
Another collaboration technology that has been given a boost during the pandemic is Building Information Modeling. BIM transforms 3D building models into incredibly detailed digital representations that anyone on the project team can view from their mobile device. Any changes made to the model are viewable in real-time, enabling a high degree of collaboration. A cloud solutions provider like Procore BIM allows you to skip installing modeling software and call up a file, no matter how massive, in seconds using the app and web viewer. BIM also lets field teams compare real-life project conditions to the models more easily to ensure they’re in sync, even on a socially distanced job site.
Robotics have advanced tremendously in recent years. They can now accomplish construction tasks that used to be the sole dominion of humans workers, ranging from bricklaying to sheetrock hanging to rebar tying. Robots also aren’t susceptible to the coronavirus, which has given our steel-and-silicone friends a more prominent seat at the table. Even before COVID-19, ZDNet was heralding the impending arrival of “a robotic remodel” of construction, under which the pandemic has only lit a fire.
Humanoid robots who can hold a conversation during a coffee break might be a few decades away. However, there are plenty of ways robots have already begun stepping in. For instance, drone-based aerial site inspections can already be done remotely by a skilled operator, so it’s an inherently socially distanced technology. Boston Dynamics “Spot” robot dog has already been used for site walks and even more advanced applications like 3D laser scanning and progress monitoring. Look for more automation and robots on job sites going forward as a way to comply with on-site personnel limits without sacrificing productivity.
Remote Photo Documentation
As cameras have gotten smaller and more powerful, they can be put in more places than ever and produce images so realistic, they make you feel as if you were right there. Add WiFi capabilities, and you’ve got a self-contained device capable of capturing and delivering highly accurate project imagery.
OpenSpace is a jobsite photo documentation solutions provider whose 360-degree camera perches unnoticed on top of a hard hat. As a worker walks the site, it captures a detailed layout of the entire job site. OpenSpace then combines the collected images and renders them into an immersive, Google Street View-like 3D representation of the job site in a matter of minutes. The visualization can be viewed from anywhere, allowing off-site workers to view the project as if they were there in person. Furthermore, with OpenSpace’s integration with Procore, you can export your photos directly into Procore and use them to build observations, clarify RFIs, or add to your punch list.
“Similar to how telehealth will improve accessibility by bringing the doctor to the patient,” OpenSpace CEO Jeevan Kalanthini told ZDNet, “rather than the other way around, we believe that ‘tele-building’ will soon take off to scale the expertise of our superintendents, project managers, inspectors, and foremen. If your captures of the site are high-quality, you can reduce the amount of in-person visits needed, saving time and money, as well as improving knowledge transfer.”