How Emerging Technologies Are Reshaping the Construction Industry
Author – Joydeep Banerjee, Head of Business Development, Highbar Technocrat Limited
Till date, the infrastructure sector’s performance has typically been lagging compared to other industrial sectors such as the manufacturing industry in terms of the use of technology. Low levels of digitalization, stagnant productivity, low profitability, fragmented ecosystem, very low digital adoption, massive waste contribution, low efficiency, and high fault rates, have characterized the sector.
The Covid 19 crisis has altered this completely and has forced construction firms to leverage technologies aggressively as they try to balance worker safety with productivity. Digital solutions can help project owners with continuity as they attempt to work remotely, manage workflows and data accessibility, and monitor sites and progress. Organizations should objectively assess their requirements and current capabilities to prioritize those
investments. Many solutions can be rapidly implemented or scaled.
For example, web-based workflow tools can help remote workers provide input on planning cycles, update crew sizes and manage supply-chain disruptions due to Covid-19 in real-time. Organizations should also consider how to emerge from the crisis better positioned and more resilient. Larger investments in more advanced digital technology can help the organization in the long run.
Let us look at some important emerging technologies that can make a big difference in the way construction firms plan and execute:
Extremely popular in the manufacturing sector, digital twins can completely transform the construction sector. In simple terms, a digital twin is a virtual model of a construction site that collects real-world information about the structure. The digital twin uses multiple technologies such as AI and IoT to continuously monitor, learn and gain insights into the viability of a project. A digital twin can also be used for modeling, analysis, planning, and for ensuring adherence to regulations. As the digital and physical models are constantly synced in real-time, any deviation can help firms to take corrective actions, and use the insights to monitor the project in real-time. A digital twin can also be used to create a replica of a factory or a building and construction firms can run simulations to gauge the impact of hypothetical scenarios. This helps in significantly cutting down the project risk. Multinational engineering and construction firms are already using a digital twin of an in-progress site for rapid design iterations and constant remote monitoring of physical assets.
From monitoring and predicting cost overruns, generating optimal building designs, and ensuring worker safety by constantly monitoring project sites, AI can be used in a variety of situations for the manufacturing sector. AI solutions can also be used for real-time monitoring of construction sites, and a project which sites are likely to be way behind in project completion, based on factors such as worker shortage, inadequate finance, or inadequate raw materials. AI can also be used to monitor compliance and automatic triggers can be sent to supervisors in case social distancing norms are flouted.
Geo-fencing is a technology in which equipment or people can be tracked using GPS. It can be used to create a virtual boundary that ensures that if people intentionally or unintentionally cross the boundary, then an alert is issued. Geo-fencing can be used to ensure worker safety and prevent them from entering zones that are dangerous. For example, if an explosion is being conducted on a construction site or heavy machinery is being used, it is necessary to alert and prevent workers to enter the specified location or zone. Geo-fencing can also be used to prevent theft of expensive machinery or raw materials, and alert authorities of any unauthorized movement of equipment or people.
In construction sites, IoT can be used to track machines and equipment. IoT can also be used for proactively identifying performance issues of given equipment and repair them. Similarly, using wearables, IoT can be used to track employee movements for ensuring safety and productivity. More importantly, IoT can also be used to give real-time information on construction data to Building Information Management (BIM) systems, which can further be
used for monitoring the project closely. Similarly, IoT can be used for monitoring the resource efficiency of projects by tracking supply and utilization.
Besides these technologies, there are many exciting innovations that can be hugely beneficial to the construction industry. Drones can monitor worker safety, while digital scanners can be used for recording staff attendance. Covid-19 compliance apps including chatbots in multiple languages can be introduced over mobile applications to answer queries of workers on guidelines to be followed. Augmented reality or virtual reality technologies can be used to make workers acclimatize to the Covid 19 compliance safety norms.
Today, while technologies such as digital twins, Internet of Things-connected assets and worker monitoring, augmented reality, and labor and process automation are all on the rise in the industry, a lot more can be done. These types of innovations can help project owners not only preserve project continuity but deliver faster and better results for all.