- Drones, 3D printing, augmented reality, and the Internet of Things are making great impacts on public construction companies.
- These technologies will disrupt the industry’s traditional practices while yielding significant savings of time and money.
- Construction planning and strategy are changing to embrace and support these technologies as they proliferate.
Look out, Jetsons, here we come.
Technology is bringing radical change to the construction industry. Computing power and materials development have come together to provide new ways to plan, create, construct, and maintain infrastructure.
Drones, 3D printers, augmented reality, and the Internet of Things are making huge impacts on the way we build our cities.
Drones have grown beyond military and hobby applications. From the moment someone thought to strap a camera to one of these babies, numerous uses have come to light. A prime example is insurance companies using drones to examine roof damage after storms. Instead of sending an adjuster up on the roof, the adjuster is trained to operate a small drone to take video and images for future analysis.
Training is another area that will expand as the demand for trained drone operators grows.
Drone use mitigates liability for the insurance company. It also increases safety for the worker who no longer needs to risk life and limb to look for dented shingles.
Drone use in construction is proliferating. Examples include:
- Monitoring project progress
- Performing tasks in hazardous areas
- Surveying dangerous or hard-to-reach sites before work
- Conducting asset inventories
- Providing laser scans to complete the point cloud
The impact of drones will be seen increasingly in strategic infrastructure planning. Correspondingly, we will see the need for the IT infrastructure to support image storage, recording, and manipulation. Training is another area that will expand as the demand for trained drone operators grows.
Also called additive manufacturing, 3D printing is already making inroads into construction. Major developed markets are already using the technology in manufacturing. China and the Netherlands are experimenting with 3D-printed buildings (including plans to 3D print high-rise public housing). However, the most common use at this time is printing original or replacement components onsite or at the manufacturer.
3D printers have three primary uses of interest to construction.
- Material extrusion of concrete, ceramic, polymers, and other materials.
- Power bonding by adding adhesive or solvent during the printing process.
- Wire arc additive manufacturing (WAAM) to produce metal objects drop by drop using an electrical arc and a robotic welder.
3D printing is set to reduce construction costs by reducing project completion time and making more efficient use of resources. Labor-intensive tradespeople, such as electricians and plumbers, could see a boost to their efficiency with access to custom components and just-in-time stock printed onsite.
Shipping costs are also likely to decrease. With a job-site printer, only the raw material needs to be transported. Ports and transportation infrastructure usage could change. Also, we’d be apt to see waste reduction through melting down and recycling components instead of sending them to the landfill.
VR and Augmented Reality
Augmented reality is somewhat like a head’s up display—it overlays images or data on the physical world. While several BIM solutions allow you to walk a client through a drawing, AR architecture lets you place the drawing in the context of the existing world.
AR will most certainly impact the planning and development of infrastructure, including testing out methods of navigating transportation hubs or determining how traffic is affected by a particular project.
AR will most certainly impact the planning and development of infrastructure, including testing various methods of navigating transportation hubs or determining how traffic is affected by a particular project. AR and VR can also be used for government and public buy-in. For instance, it can show officials or the public how a change in a road will look before it’s started, or how traffic will be rerouted during a highway makeover.
The Internet of Things
The Internet of Things, or IoT, is a shorthand way of talking about how appliances, vehicles, structures, electrical grids, among other things, will “speak” to each other (and us humans) through a connection the World Wide Web.
IoT’s current impact on construction has to do with preparing support for it. Smart cities and smart grids increase the need for IoT infrastructure while buildings are redesigned and built up from the foundation to take advantage of IoT.
The benefits of IoT in Construction include: real-time tracking and control of equipment (and of the integrity of existing structures) through embedded sensors, safety and location monitoring of employees and contractors. It also delivers context-specific information to workers on the job site through augmented reality (see above).
For each step we take to make work more efficient, we spawn new technology to automate or simplify work in order to save money and improve safety. As the technology discussed in this article becomes commonplace, other technology will disrupt it.
Next question: how long will it take for flying cars to become a thing?