Impact of Technology on the Construction Industry
Technology is helping a lot of industries to improve their processes and productivity, the construction industry is no exception. This industry is regarded as one of the most information-intensive industries as a lot of processes require real time and extensive exchange of information between workers and stakeholders. Using the right technology at the right time is crucial to achieve time, cost and quality objectives of your construction project.
It is vital that companies evaluate their technological needs before opting for a solution. One of the biggest limitations for any construction industry is the software they use on a single computer where information can only be accessed from one location. Cloud-based software has significantly open new horizons and allows remote access to information without it being tied to a specific geographical location. An example of a cloud based solution is Assignar which offers compliance and workplace management for contractors working in the heavy construction and transport industry. Companies such as UGL Limited, John Holland and Perfect Contracting have successfully implemented and are satisfied using their services.
Assignar provides features like work allocation, timesheets, license and competency management as well as payroll integration. The tool was initially designed internally for ‘infraworks’ to be kept on the shelf, but due to high demand from subcontractors it was rolled. Their package includes a mobile application that lets managers capture safety related information of their fieldworkers.
Recent technological advances have made construction sites more productive and less stressful. Construction projects involve a lot of machinery to be transported to the site which creates a risk of machinery being misplaced or stolen potentially costing companies millions each year. These machines also pose a safety hazard if left unattended. In response to these issues construction companies are implementing bar-codes / QR Codes on their equipment to solve this issue. Just by scanning these codes with digital readers at the beginning and end of each workday, companies are able to track their equipment better.
Telematics, which is a combination of words Telecommunications and Informatics, goes a step further by monitoring machines in real time. This technology lets managers know exactly where their machine is, if its being used and if it’s in need of service. Two major benefits of this technology are streamlining resource allocation and reducing theft. The data received from Telematics can also be used to reduce idle time, that wastes fuel and causes equipment wear. Wacker Neuson Telematic provides a similar GPS positioning solution for construction machines. Their system not only provides operating time of construction machines, but also information on GPS location and operating conditions. JDLink is another Telematics system designed to connect workers and managers remotely to their equipment.
Smart wearable sensors are being used to track workers, which is also having a positive impact in the construction industry, especially in terms of workplace safety. Several companies are now putting smart sensors in their workers boots, helmets and wristwatches to get real time data on the employee’s health and safety. For example, hard helmet sensors can alert managers in the event of an incident occurring. These helmets can monitor employees’ health in extreme outdoor environments using the sweatband sensors that measures the heart rate and temperature of the wearer.In the future, we can expect these helmets to be smarted and include augmented reality where workers can safely map their environment and monitor metrics. This will ensure that the workers understand the processes more quickly and less time is spent on each step with fewer errors are made. A Los Angeles based start-up – Daqri has designed a similar model. Boot sensors can monitor how long workers have been on their feet, allowing them to track the amount of time spent between breaks. Similarly harness sensors can monitor the number of workers onsite and notify managers in case there is a sudden drop in height indicating a worker has taken a fall.
Quite often, it is very difficult for workers to undertake tasks in awkward and dangerous places. Instead of using expensive surveying tools and heavy machinery, cheap drones can be useful to quickly survey the site and build maps. These flying gadgets installed with high resolution cameras are already forming an integral part of business operations of some innovative construction firms. With the advancement in 3d Modelling technology and extreme resolution cameras, 3D models of construction sites can be designed in no time.A company can also use this technology as a marketing tool enabling them to create a buzz about their company using interesting imagery and videography captured.
Drones can also be used to keep a schedule on track and reduce down time, ensuring efficiency of workers onsite. Detailed shots taken from a drone can keep stakeholders constantly up to date of the progress of a project. The larger the construction site the more helpful a drone can be at monitoring the project. However, most companies are still reluctant to use this technology due to its potential for hacking or loss of power, which could result in personal injury, physical damage or even death.
Some other technological trends would be 3D printing which will allow building parts or entire buildings to be manufactured using concrete printing technologies, powered robotic exoskeletons that are fitted to workers to boost strength. Smart metering can also be used to help companies alter their water and energy consumption habits.
With all of these developments in technology, there is one major drawback which will have a profound effect on the industry in the future and that is job losses arising from the decline in demand for manual labour. A recent estimation made by CEDA is that as many as 40% (5 Million) of Australian jobs are at high risk of redundancy from new technologies in the next 10 to 15 years. Many areas of manual work will be taken over by smart affordable machines. According to the report, white collar worker roles are at high risk due to advances in the field of artificial intelligence. There are a lot of jobs undertaken by engineers, surveyors and designers which are already being done by machines. Robotics is already being used in construction industry to weld structural steel for buildings which can be a faster, more accurate and efficient.
Google has built its first quantum computer that is 100 million times faster than digital computers and will be able to work alongside humans and undertake most creative tasks and decisions. They will be able to communicate and learn as they go.
In conclusion, whilst we believe that manual jobs will be replaced by machines, technology will create more jobs than it will destroy, by creating alternate departments where decision making and human involvement is crucial. Hence, construction companies should consider investing in upcoming technological trends to reduce their long term cost, be more productive and get a competitive edge in the market.