The construction industry is booming. From homes to highways, demand is higher than ever. However, although demand is increasing, productivity is not improving. According to consultancy McKinsey, worker productivity for the 20 years to 2017 increased by just 1% annually, compared to 2.8% in the global economy and 3.6% in manufacturing.
With a long-term labor shortage imminent, there are great opportunities to improve the way the industry works. Construction faces four major challenges, said Russell Howarth, CEO of the construction technology platform NBS.
First, safety is becoming more and more important. Second, the quality of the building that people expect has improved significantly. Environmental sustainability is also a hot topic as the government is talking about zeroing net carbon emissions. Finally, the industry is facing a staff shortage, and attempts to hire a new generation of workers have hit the reputation of building three dirty, dull, and dangerous Ds. Many of these issues can be addressed by making better use of technology.
Cut out the paperwork
The first major innovation is digitization. Almost every construction project goes through several stages. Create a design. Preparation for construction; Execution and construction; Operation and maintenance; And finally dismantling and recycling. Manufacturers are also involved in building everything from windows to flame-retardant systems. Until recently, plans for each stage of a project were made with pen and paper, but the process primarily involved people in different parts of the supply chain sending separate files to each other. increase.
This creates a lot of paperwork, makes it difficult to make changes in the event of a problem, and slows communication between different parts of the supply chain. Putting all your data on a single digital platform reduces the amount of paperwork and allows people at different stages of construction to communicate more efficiently compared to pens, paper, and even individual digital files. Will be, says Haworth.
For example, designers can specify buildings that meet safety standards early in development, and manufacturers can start manufacturing components that meet these requirements immediately. Jonathan Hunter, CEO of software company Eleco, says that digitalization isn’t the only benefit.
The software created by his company, which has been used for projects ranging from the Shards to the London Eye and for the redevelopment of the London V & A Museum, will help accelerate the pace of construction.
This is because by sharing data between project contractors, companies can monitor progress in real time and schedule according to the progress of the project, so if a project is delayed, the manager will be a resource. Can be added. In addition, digitization will help designers create more efficient and sustainable buildings by allowing them to more accurately estimate the cost of a building over its entire lifespan, Hunter said. say. Nowadays, both factors are becoming more and more important. Buildings with green credentials not only attract higher rents, but there is also a general perception that operating costs, not initial costs, are the most important factor in determining project feasibility. According to the survey, when looking at the total cost over the life of the building, 85% is up and construction is only 15%, he says.
According to construction project founders Ibrahim Imam and Sandervande Rijdt, digital technology is now able to bring the entire project management platform into the app, reaching a turning point where digitization is widely adopted. -Management software company PlanRadar.
They already have 16,000 clients using the software, but they think this is just one drop of hotstone when compared to the huge potential demand for digital technology. Up to 2.5 million companies worldwide can benefit from this technology.
Improved accuracy with augmented reality
Digital project management may only be the first step in the construction technology revolution. The use of augmented reality (AR) is still in the pilot stage, but it has long-term potential, says Imam and vande Rijdt. AR is similar to virtual reality in that it immerses people in computer-generated reality through special goggles or headsets. However, augmented reality does not completely replace physical reality, but combines the two, so you can superimpose real-world plans on computer graphics and compare the two. XYZ Reality has already developed tools for applying AR technology to construction. The system allows people working at construction sites to see holograms of buildings with millimeter accuracy, says David Mitchell, founder of XYZs.
This allows engineers and builders to visualize where to place buildings, structures, and accessories to see if they are built correctly. Importantly, AR also enables builders to correctly build things that existing technologies such as laser tools cannot do for the first time. This last point is important, says Mitchell, because inaccuracies and waste are the Achilles heel for the construction industry.
He states that 80% of construction work is built with unacceptable inaccuracies and 10% is so badly built that it has to be redone. This rework is not environmentally friendly in terms of costly and time consuming waste and carbon emissions. He claims that he was able to reduce the amount of rework required by the customer from 10% to 1%, saving about nine times the cost of the system.
Data changes, plan changes
Digitization and AR help ensure that all parts of the construction supply chain follow the plan, but what if the plan itself needs to be changed? At this point, most building plans are very static and difficult to change, says Juan de Dios Hermosn Ramos of technology and engineering company Ayesa.
However, even the best plans and designs can always be done by fine-tuning in the light of unexpected developments and feedback. As a result, the next major area of innovation will be dynamic modeling, he says. In essence, this is where the plan is adjusted in the light of new data. Until now, this has been very difficult to do.
However, the combination of cheap sensors and digitization means that it is becoming more and more common for everyone involved in a project to receive vast amounts of data, showing signs of new problems. Consider an example of a building that begins to vibrate due to imperfections, or something that the architect did not expect, such as the wind, says Hermosn.
This can only be detected a few years after the building is built, at which point repairing the building can be very expensive. Sensor technology can be used to pick up such vibrations early in the project, alerting stakeholders that the design needs to be changed.
The idea of information flowing from buildings and infrastructure is still in its infancy and is expensive to implement. However, as the industry as a whole is far more open to the use of technology, we see significant fundamental changes in this direction over the next few years, creating great opportunities for companies in this area.
Robots and humans work together
One of the reasons the construction industry isn’t keeping up with the productivity gains it experiences in manufacturing is because it’s one of the least robotized industries, says Kevin Albert of robotics firm Canvas. .. He argues that it’s no coincidence that manufacturing and logistics increased productivity in the 1980s when industrial robots began to become mainstream. Implementing robotics in these sectors has been easier. The industrial environment is standardized and certain, but each building is different.
However, the development of sensors has made it increasingly possible to automate dynamic and uncertain environments, such as building sites. A good example is Canvas’s unique robot, which focuses on drywall finishing of buildings. This may look like a niche area, but it is very labor intensive and very physically difficult for workers who need to prepare the paint and then apply and polish it. The build process tends to create bottlenecks.
By automating part of the process, the robot can reduce the time required from 5 to 7 days to just 2 days, allowing humans to focus on robot instructions and fine-tuning the paint. This makes the job safer and more interesting, especially for young workers who feel that construction tools, skills and career paths do not speak to them.
The idea of robots and humans working together will change the structure, says Universal Robots Kim Powlsen. Traditionally, robots have been considered dangerous and need to be trapped behind cages and glass screens. In the not too distant future, they could be smaller, battery-powered, wheel-mounted, and much more mobile than their factory cousins.
Combined with making them easier to program, this should allow them to be brought to the field and adapted to specific conditions.
This approach is reflected in the behavior of Universal Robots. Rather than building a dedicated robot for each task, we designed the basic hardware so that individual companies such as Canvas using the robot could change and customize it as efficiently as possible. This is still relatively new, but Povlsen is optimistic. He says we’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg in terms of what robots can do, as the construction industry is far more open to the use of robots.
Addition of exoskeleton support
You can also improve what humans can do by using exoskeleton wearable machines that support and protect users. Relieving pressure on the body can play a major role in improving the health and safety of field workers, said Vice Dean of Sustainability at the University College of Estate Management and a visiting professor at RMIT University. One Graeme Larsen says. They have the potential to enable construction workers to work longer, be less tired, less ill, avoid injuries, and perform physical labor for posterity without harming the body.
Increasing evidence supports this, says Michiel de Looze of TNO Netherlands, who focuses on applied science research. Last year’s study looked at a group of plasterers who were offered to use the exoskeleton to help with their work. Instead of resisting the device, the plasterer, who spent most of his work on his head by hand, found the exoskeleton useful.
More than 90% of those who participated in the study felt that the exoskeleton provided additional support, and half reported less fatigue at the end of the day. The industry is rapidly approaching a turning point in exoskeleton adoption, and the number used is steadily increasing, deLooze says. This is especially noticeable in some of the most physically demanding and repetitive tasks, and less useful in more dynamic tasks with higher movements and flexibility.
The exoskeleton is now beginning to move from a very basic spring-based one to one that uses a motor (called an actuator) to adjust the level of support provided. Jason Jones of exoskeleton company Ekso Bionics and William Shaw, the company’s senior adviser, acknowledge that the construction industry is becoming more aware of and accepted for assistive technologies.
For example, companies are increasingly looking to the exoskeleton and expanding their construction workforce to include older, smaller, or weaker workers. Device types are also more sophisticated and may soon be available for stacking and picking up materials, a previously inappropriate task. Ultimately, the benefits of the exoskeleton are so great that they can be in the form of personal protective equipment in the long run, Larsen said. T
Although unlikely to happen soon, recruitment is a complex process involving a variety of stakeholders, but like the helmets that are in widespread use today, it will eventually become mandatory for a particular task. There is a possibility.
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