Technology – the Answer to Construction’s Productivity Problem?

22 May, 2019

Soben’s Scott Smyth shares his thoughts on the impact of technological advances to the construction industry.

We are currently at the forefront of a global technological revolution, which Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum Professor Klaus Schwab, describes as the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

This revolution is fundamentally changing the way we live, work, communicate, and how we develop our industries.

There are many in the construction industry that would like to see the sector more fully embrace the opportunities provided by this revolution.  So far, construction has failed to catch up with the efficiency gains that industries such as manufacturing have seen as a result of adopting new technologies, and its productivity is suffering as a result.

In this article, we explore some of the technological advances that could provide the answer to construction’s productivity problem.

Drones

Drones, or Unmanned Ariel Vehicles (UAVs) are becoming an increasingly common sight in the UK.  With the construction industry under constant pressure to improve productivity, drones offer a unique way of gathering information in record time.

A report by PwC anticipates that drones will boost productivity of the UK construction industry by 3.1%, largely thanks to the added speed and accuracy they bring to the process of site surveying.

Autonomous Vehicles and Teleoperation

Prototypes of some autonomous construction vehicles have already been created, and are being suggested as the answer to improved efficiency and safety on site.

Automotive engineering consultancy, HORIBA MIRA has developed three unmanned construction machines in conjunction with JCB.  The machines are designed to facilitate remote mapping, surveying, and construction, which can be integrated with centralised BIM.

Taking the concept one step further, at a recent construction conference, Doosan introduced the concept of long range remote TeleOperation , where it demonstrated the remote control of an excavator in South Korea from a trade show booth in Germany using 5G communications technology.

AI

Although studied by academics since the 1950s, AI has experienced a huge resurgence in the 21st Century thanks to developments in computer technology, data, and theoretical understanding.  AI technology is considered one of the major disrupters to business, with global consultancy EY stating that the biggest risk of AI to business is that of non-adoption.

There are companies that are developing AI solutions specifically for the construction industry. ALICE Technologies has developed software which analyses millions of scheduling options for construction projects optimised for cost and time, based on knowledge and information input by planning and construction teams.

Another company using AI to benefit the construction industry is Disperse which uses 360 degree site scanning cameras to continuously monitor progress on site, which is monitored for progress and anomalies using computer vision. This information is fed back to the planners, contractors, and sub-contractors providing early warning signs of any problems, potentially avoiding problems that could impact cost and timescale.

It is clear that we are on the precipice of huge technological advancement that could massively impact the construction industry.  The question is, are we ready for it?