The construction industry has traditionally been slow to adapt to new technologies, but things are changing.
Construction companies are keen to control costs (including increased costs due to supply chain issues), improve efficiency, maintain productivity while dealing with labor shortages, and enhance safety, and protect data bases from cyberattacks. New technologies, including robotics, 3D printing, cloud and mobile computing, augmented reality, blockchain, and cybersecurity, are helping construction companies achieve those goals.
Here are some key takeaways.
Augmented Reality (AR) vs. Virtual Reality
Augmented Reality is a technology that superimposes a computer generated image upon a user’s view of the real work. Virtual Reality, on the other hand, creates a virtual environment to replace the real one.
AR has uses in many industries. For example, shoppers using AR can see what furniture or appliances will look like in their own homes and offices. Medical professionals can also use the technology to visualize organs and simulate procedures prior to operations.
Similarly, in the construction industry, AR permits the users — with advanced cameras and sensor technology —- to create models with all existing building data. AR headsets are placed on safety helmets or workers use handheld devices. The user, whose AR devices orients to the user’s point of view, views the building data digitally displayed over the physical surrounding in real time. So, using GPS and cameras, Augmented Reality presents real time data to the user as he or she moves through a building space.
Project Planning: Augmented Reality is used in project planning, to generate 3D models directly onto a 2D plan. The models are combined with Building Information Modeling (BIM) so that construction companies can produce detailed, interactive models of projects from the outset — allowing owners and project teams to conduct a walk through before a project is executed.
Automated Measurements: AR equipment can measure height, width and depth of spaces. Construction companies incorporate this data into existing models to get a total view of how the project will look. Workers with an AR unit can tap the unit to automatically take measurements of the built environment to compare against the BIM model. In turn, they can quickly make adjustments if there are inconsistencies.
Project Modification: AR has the ability to make changes to building models directly at the site. Users wearing or holding an AR device can display interior and exterior views of a structure and make modifications to virtual plans while keeping the original view intact. Engineers will be able to virtually remove or relocate structural components and modify a building’s layout with just a few taps on the AR device. Further, digital data is continuously updated.
On-Site Project Information: Field workers can view information (location of pipes, walls, outlets, switches and ventilation) in layers, and toggle between layers to help monitor a project against its building plan. AR also allows users to virtually see the building’s progress against its schedule.
Team Collaboration: All users can share notes and videos of errors or design issues in real time, reducing the cost and time it takes to resolve problems.
Safety Training: AR can simulate hazard scenarios and equipment to educate workers. With the help of the AR headset, workers can access virtual drills, instruction and safety scenarios.
|Current Usage of AR in Construction|
|3%||Have not used AR and are not interested in the technology|
|46%||Have not used AR and are interested in the technology|
|19%||Have explored or are exploring AR applications|
|15%||Have tested or are testing AR applications|
|17%||Have used AR on at least one project|
The benefits of Augmented Reality are that the process streamlines projects and keeps them on schedule while preventing expensive reworking and improving collaboration. On the other hand, the equipment is susceptible to adverse weather conditions, digital information is static, a strong internet connection is required and there is a learning curve.
As with Augmented Reality, construction is seeing an increase in the use of robotics because of the reduced supply and increased cost of labor, safety issues, and the desire to increase productivity.
The construction industry has found many uses for drones: site mapping, surveying, site planning, building inspection, structural inspection and progress monitoring. The adoption and increased use of drones has been driven by low acquisition costs, enhanced navigation features, autonomous flight capabilities, increased battery life and multiple types of onboard sensors.
3D printing has great promise for the construction industry. It provides the ability to create and produce tools and parts to precise dimensions, on or near the project site. 3D printing can eliminate the dependence on supplies from international locations, reducing the cost related to the vagaries of supply chain issues. Some 3D work can be done in days or even hours, instead of weeks. 3D printing can also reduce human error, and decrease waste in the production process because components can be printed to order.
However, 3D printing has been slow to gain traction in the United States. The hurdles are the up-front costs of equipment and a lack of people trained to design computer models and operate and service the equipment.
The first 3D printed house in the United States was completed in December 2021 in Williamsburg, Virginia using an Alquist 3D printer. The 1,200 square foot home is a three-bedroom, two-bath concrete structure that can withstand hurricanes and tornadoes. The exterior was built in 28 hours.
Construction was the third most common industry to experience ransomware attacks in 2021 in North America – 13.2% of all attacks that year. Experts believe it is because the construction industry is largely unregulated regarding cybersecurity and privacy. Furthermore, construction involves sensitive financial data, which is attractive to hackers. Construction companies also work with multiple vendors, each one a possible entry for hacking. Nevertheless, 74% of construction related organizations are not prepared for cyberattack and do not have a response plan in place.
The risk of cybersecurity may depend upon a number of factors:
- The nature of the project (public infrastructure v. residential home builders)
- Customers (government, corporation and/or individuals)
- Technologies involved in projects (the internet of things, drones GPS, biometrics)
- Jurisdiction in which the business is located and the project is constructed
- The nature of personal and sensitive business data in a particular organization (hospitals, financial institutions, state or federal governments.)
Owners, developers of projects, construction companies, suppliers and vendors need to evaluate these risks and determine the types of precautions that should be taken to prepare for ransomware attacks.