This is how technological advances are transforming the construction industry

Technology is changing the way we live and work at a rapidly increasing rate. From smartphones and smart home systems to entertainment and gaming options, new innovations are being introduced every day. Even the construction industry, which has a reputation for being traditional and resilient to change, is adopting high-tech advances that can help carry out projects on time with less manpower and in a way safer.

“What I have noticed in the last five years is that technology companies are solving construction problems. We are seeing a lot more software and very easy to use products. They’re not just built around a person who has 20 or 30 years of experience, ”says Chris Brown, director of preconstruction and advanced technology at Willmeng Construction.


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This is not to say that people in the construction industry are Luddites. Construction information technology, or BIM, has been used for more than a decade to create 3D representations of what used to be limited to 2D technical drawings. Now, however, new products are improving old technology and taking advantage of new ways.

Adding value

Ken Smerz is the CEO of Zelus, a company specializing in BIM and virtual design and construction (VDC). During his time as an authorized contractor in California, he learned the value of precise measurements, and that nothing is built exactly according to the intended design. To help create an accurate image of already built environments, Zelus uses lidar scanning to create a digital representation of reality.

“We use lidar scanners on tripods or drones to shoot approximately one million light points per second. Whenever the laser touches something, its light bounces off that surface and returns to the scanner, ”explains Smerz. “It’s the same technology police use to see if you’re driving too fast, but it’s recently been used in the construction field.”

Having precise measurements in the form of a BIM model is crucial when installing prefabricated elements and provides a common template that allows the different trades to coordinate their work.

“Prefabrication seems to be easy. You build what is shown on the model, you take the object to the field and theoretically fix it in place, ”says Brown. “But if a trade installs a sprinkler pipe in a place it wasn’t supposed to be, it’s possible that this prefabricated piece won’t work anymore. Now you have to cut it and change it in the field.”

Fewer reworkings have a positive effect on project deadlines and budgets.

“The reports of the National Institute of Standards and Technology show that 13% of all the costs of the project in new constructions come from reelaboration. Using 3D technology, we can detect where an electrical conduit may collide with mechanical systems to help reduce reprocessing and compress schedules, ”says Smerz.

A similar technology can help keep track of progress in a workplace. Scott Root, executive director of strategy and innovation at Kitchell, uses a program called OpenSpace to create a visual representation of the workplace using 360-degree cameras. The program uses artificial intelligence (AI) to assign full percentage values ​​to images, so that subsequent captures can show the progress made since the last capture.

“During the pandemic, we didn’t have our design partners or owners in the workplace as often as they used to. But OpenSpace sent them real-time information so they could watch any day and see progress,” Root notes. for our part, we can use the aspects of artificial intelligence to understand, for example, when the drywall comes in and what percentage is already there, which falls directly into our construction management plans. “

New ways of seeing

Virtual reality (VR) has also entered the field of construction. Wearing a VR headset allows employees and customers to interact with a 3D model and get a better sense of the spatial relationship of the elements before a single shovel touches the dirt.

“In a phase of traditional design, the customers see several iterations of a project. If we can bring it to virtual reality and make it go through real-time iterations, we can get decisions to solidify faster, ”says Root.

Virtual reality also allows people who will ultimately work in a space to influence design. For example, during the design of a hospital room, medical professionals can use the RV to provide information about everything from the flow of the room to the placement of electrical outlets.

“They’re not builders or designers, but if you can make them feel like they’re doing their job in a virtual reality environment and using their experience to experience how a space works, I think that’s where we get the most value from these tools. says Root.

Because virtual reality headsets cover the wearer’s field of view to create an immersive experience, they are not currently used in the field. Augmented reality (RA) headphones, however, are closer to the size of the glasses and provide a digital overlay on what the user sees in real time.

Boe Evanson, Weitz’s senior project manager, used Microsoft’s HoloLens AR headphones and software called VisualLive to use BIM models in the field during the recent expansion of Sagewood, a facility for seniors in North Phoenix. The facility’s underground garage had a 14-inch-thick rear tension slab with thousands of tension cables running through it, with little room for error in penetrations entering the slab.

“We used the HoloLens AR headphones to cover the deck before pouring. We were able to see our pipe penetrations going up the deck and then through the HoloLens, see the projected hologram on the walls to make sure those pipes were falling on the walls as they were supposed to, ”Evanson recalls. . “We took several items and were able to resolve them before pouring this slab, which might otherwise have been a problem for us.”

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