18 Sep A glimpse into the future of construction technology
The construction industry has been slowly evolving over the last decade. However, in the past three years, the speed of its digitalisation has accelerated as never seen before. Despite the digital push to what could be construction’s golden digital age, there are still construction industry players that are either undecided or perplexed in embracing new technologies and tools. Regardless of how you feel about adoption, the digital revolution is promising a platform overflowing with the milk and honey of cost efficiency and productivity boost. The time has come to consider and establish a serious digital strategy in construction. If you don’t adapt, you may get left behind.
The Winds of Digital Change in Construction
The pressure for change in the construction industry is coming from all directions as per the 2018 Oliver Wyman report on the digitalisation of the construction industry. Where are these pressures coming from? Here are what the report pointed out:
Modern construction client demands
As technology is rapidly changing our experiences in all our life aspects through disrupting platforms that create new services, products and services, today’s clients are expecting the same “connected experience” from the built environments. As clients learn to value user experience more than the actual product, demands are getting more complex. With construction, clients are demanding for more individualised services, more modular products, more connectivity and specific tracking through the Internet of Things, and more environmental concerns with regards to a building’s energy optimisation and its environmental and health impacts to name a few.
New construction technologies and applications
It has been faster and easier to create and produce new software and hardware with all types of technology you can think of available in the market today. With this comes the drop of technology costs and the increase of efficiency gains, paving the way to fresh possibilities. The use of drones, robotics, virtual reality, and augmented reality have opened up new practicabilities in construction.
The rise of construction startups
The past years, startups have been targeting the construction industry’s lack of technology use. Several have taken advantage of marketing opportunities that aim to solve the age-old productivity problems of the sector, disrupting old methodologies with digitised processes. About 1,200 real estate and construction startups around the world have been identified by Oliver Wyman, reporting that these startups have received funding reaching US$19.4 billion since 2010, wherein half the amount was raised and received only in 2017.
New construction regulations
The EU’s 2020 Energy Strategy aims to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, increase renewable energy share and decrease consumption, and achieve energy savings. To reach its targets, part of its strategy to be more energy efficient is to invest in efficient buildings and digitalisation is a great tool for making efficient buildings and for reducing the environmental impact of construction projects.
Construction’s Not-Too-Distant Future
In response to the growing pressures of digitalisation in construction, there has been a rise of construction tech companies along and their new technologies, tools and processes over the past two years. In fact, in the first half of 2018, construction tech was dubbed as the new investment darling for venture capital funds reaching a record high of US$1.05 billion. So what follows after this huge investment bump? What technology marvels do we look forward to that would change and optimise the construction industry?
BIM as a cornerstone of digital adoption and construction collaboration
Building information modeling (BIM) will be central in a company’s adoption of a digital strategy. Because BIM can be a universal platform for connecting software, apps, drones, robots, construction engines, equipment, buildings, and possibly anything, it will become the backbone of a new collaborative way of working as part of the ultimate digital strategy.
Specifically useful is the 5D BIM, which is the intelligent linking of 3D BIM objects and components with time schedule and cost information, usually referred to as 5D integrated planning and budgeting. This is significantly important as this can greatly decrease costs, improve quality, prevent delays, improve security and safety, etc. due to a universal protocol with real-time communication for follow up on site. These on-site BIM improvements will directly result in a more thorough construction value chain. Great potential awaits in using BIM as the central collaborative tool of a construction project. About 15-25% of the total cost savings are estimated with the possibility of digitalisation and industrialisation of most on-site construction processes.
Data is power
With digitalisation comes huge amounts of data from accelerated data capturing and collection. Data is the oil of the digital world but it’s also more than that. Data represents a new opportunity to analyse and generate new value and these will be a new source of wisdom for the construction industry.
VR, AR, mixed reality and robotics
Virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality enhances visualisations, allow simulations and make surveying, scanning and mapping easier and more accurate while robotics and robotics-related tools automate repetitive tasks and workflows. These interactive work processes, connected machines and automations will definitely increase the efficiency of construction operations. These efficiency gains will result in a decrease in costs, delays and environmental impacts, and an increase in safety and security.
Standardised processes, methods and documentation
Remember, digitalisation is not just about technologies. Digitalisation is also about the organisation, its people and its processes. Digitising a construction company is also about the cultural shift including the standardisation of certain construction processes, methods and documentation controls. Standardisation would result in better margins, better construction processes, better documentation control, and ultimately less time and budget overruns.
Prefabrication, modularisation and the industrialisation of construction processes and parts
Digitalisation also leads to the industrialisation of construction processes like the prefabrication of building parts, the production of modules in adjacent sites and 3D printing of specific parts. These industrialise construction processes will definitely increase the industry’s productivity and gain time for more important works on site. Additionally, prefabrication and modularisation answer the housing problem by providing affordable housing through cheaper parts and labor.
The new generation of construction professionals
The resistance of the construction industry to adopt new technology has always been attributed to the older construction generation and their traditional modes of working. However, the current wave of workers come from the tech-savvy generation and are applying their tech knowledge and skills to construction. Knowledge workers are the new construction workers and are creating emerging jobs in the sector that comes with the adoption of new tools and processes.
We are in the midst of a digital revolution in the construction industry. Even though it’s still in its infancy, digitalisation is transforming and reinventing construction, triggering a cascade of change from the main construction and engineering processes on site down to the planning and design phases up to the operations and maintenance services and all processes in between a building’s entire lifecycle. Although innovation and investment are on an all-time high, there is no universal direction yet. All we know is that the industry is going digital. Having a digital strategy is no longer a marketing approach, it is imperative. Even if you don’t want to win and just want to stay in the construction game.
If you are still trying to strategise your digital game, it is important to assess your current level of construction digital maturity. Take the 8-minute online assessment and measure your digital maturity and see where you stand both locally and globally.
About the author: Anastasios Koutsogiannis is Content Marketing Manager at LetsBuild.