Technology is breaking boundaries in numerous industries, disrupting traditional processes and impacting productivity in a positive way. The construction industry is no exception – hard hats and high-vis are no longer the must haves onsite, replaced with wearable technology, drones and blueprints in the cloud.
Consider 3D mapping and printing. Once a time-consuming process with much back and forth between different suppliers, concept design and development can now be done in a matter of hours, using a variety of printing materials to create and test products. Results have been truly phenomenal with Chinese company WinSun recently unveiling a series of 3D printed buildings including a six-storey apartment block and a mansion, all built in a single day. To achieve this, large segments of the structure were 3D printed in their factory using a mixture of concrete and construction waste, with an incredible 20ft tall, 33 ft wide 3D printer. Once all the components were fabricated, they were shipped in and assembled. WinSun stated this method allowed them to save up to 60% of the materials usually need with traditional building methods, and also required 80% less labour – remarkable efficiencies in cost.
Site automation is another significant technology changing the way the construction industry operates. Autonomous vehicles and equipment are now commonplace in the mining industry, with driverless trucks navigating difficult and treacherous terrain underground. Site operators can work remotely from a control centre offsite, operating multiple pieces of equipment simultaneously. The benefits of this technology are significant with reduced workplace injuries, as well as reduced employment costs paired with an increase in productivity, with trucks able to operate 24 hours, 7 days a week.
Self-flying drones are also being used to map out and manage large scale construction projects. When completed manually, mapping a site can take up to a month however with a drone, the entire mapping process can be completed within minutes and data is relayed in real time, allowing the process to be repeated and tracked daily and reducing the need to extend deadlines or budgets. Drones also reduce the likelihood of error, as they are able to capture intricate and minute details, delivering much greater precision than the human eye.
Still on automation, robots are making their way onto construction sites, completing tasks such as beam construction, brick laying, drilling, digging, and painting, and the list goes on. Similar to autonomous vehicles, robots can be operated and monitored remotely, reducing the number of employees on site and reducing labour costs, with robots able to complete work faster and more efficiently than the mere human.
Wearable devices have also hit the construction industry with glasses and hard hats becoming ‘smarter’, providing visualisation, augmented and mixed reality and improving workplace safety. Technology enhanced safety vests and boots, smart watches, and health trackers are being implemented to monitor employees’ activities and movements as they work through different environments (e.g. extremely hot weather conditions, repetitive task work). Sensors and other equipment can also monitor the number of workers onsite and notify management should there be a sudden drop, indicating a worker has taken a fall.
Blueprints and field documentation have also gone digital, with the help of cloud based software platforms providing digital plans, as well as collaborative working, information sharing and version control. Having one central data repository that enables collaboration increase project efficiency as well as improving employee productivity and output.
The construction site of today is different, the way we develop, build and manage has changed, thanks to technology. The impact is significant, bringing with it improved efficiencies, reduced costs, and increased productivity. The message is clear – to stay competitive in a sector that continues to challenge us, these technologies must be embraced.