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Disruptive technologies in the new age of construction

The construction sector, as is well known, the brick-and-mortar industry, has always been a labour-intensive industry. There is a huge dependence of the industry fabric on manual workforce, both skilled and unskilled, while the appetite for technology innovations is limited. The mindset of the practitioners in construction industry is to follow the traditional approaches of construction, which pose further challenge to any new technology adoption.  

The construction industry is, however, embracing this new age of technological innovations and disruptions, throughout the lifecycle of a project. Keeping in view the multiple phases in a project span, stakeholders are abreast with disruptive technologies to have a competitive advantage over others.  

Disruptive technologies in construction  

The use of disruptive technologies is bolstering the construction industry with innovations such as drones, prefabrication, radio frequency identification (RFID), pulsed radar object detection, smart wearables, immersive solutions (VR/AR), 3D printing, modular construction, big data, AI, Internet of Things (IoT), and smart materials.  

Prefabrication: Prefabrication is an innovative approach to modern era construction techniques, that considerably saves time and cost overruns at a project site. Be it in the buildings sphere or in ports or highways, the use of precast modules effectively increases the contractor’s confidence as general properties like curing and strength is predetermined before laying the blocks on-site. One such example is that of the 1,200m bridge on Sabah Al Ahmad Corridor, Qatar which is slated to be completed in 2021. The bridge construction needs 854 prefabricated reinforced concrete blocks weighing 200 tonnes each. These types of projects are creating milestones for upcoming projects entailing more safety features and efficiency. 

Smart Sensing Solutions is actively playing a crucial role in enhancing the safety parameters of the construction ecosystem, ranging from streets and intersections, to buildings, public spaces and critical infrastructure. These smart sensing solutions enables a user to visualize any connected city on the basis of data driven operations and situational awareness. Hamburg (Germany) is a unique example of the Intelligent Transport System (ITS) program funded by the German Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure’s “Clean Air” emergency programme. Slated to be completed in late 2020, a total of 2,000 thermal imaging cameras are being installed on public utilities like streetlamps and traffic lights. These cameras are capable of capturing high-quality digital images of traffic which will be quantified in terms of real-time traffic data, thus, aiding an improvement in traffic control and city planning. This will also help in better management of road network and on the construction sites.  

Digital Twins: The use of digital replica of a physical entity, or digital twin can accelerate the construction project activities ranging from automating the traditional designs, to production processes and operational activities. These models can replicate the behaviour and workflow involved in construction from the choice of material to component use. Digital twin models have been used widely in airports, bridges, highways, tunnels, utilities transmission & distribution, and transit systems. AECOM in its Tideway Tunnels C410 Central Contract project in London, United Kingdom is using digital twin along with Bentley’s Connected Data Environment (CDE). The phase-wise development of each site is clearly visible to all the stakeholders (nearly 40), while continuously monitoring the clash-checks and resolving issues simultaneously. This is resulting in a considerable engineering and non-engineering savings such as increased IT security and reduced travel cost by enabling real-time access of project site. 

Source: GEOBIM Market in AEC Industry Report 2020 

3D Printing and Construction Robotics together can be a novel approach to manufacturing and construction. The use of construction robots can be involved in tasks such as painting, loading, and bricklaying. The need in the construction industry to automate and integrate processes with 3D printing is leading to this collaboration. The use of robotics coupled with 3D printing is proving to be more beneficial as it is resulting in freeform manufacturing and reduced material wastage. A Dutch robotics company MX3D in collaboration with other industry stakeholders has created a new 3D printed stainless steel bridge in Amsterdam. This one-of-a-kind bridge design made use of highly mobile 3D printers creating large, complex shapes by moving between multiple axes. The bridge is also equipped with sensors in order to monitor the performance and structural integrity during its use.  

Source: GEOBIM Market in AEC Industry Report 2020

GeoBIM – shaping the new age of construction 

The use of disruptive technologies although, play a crucial role in any project execution but when clubbed with geospatial technologies, turns out to be more efficient. Similarly, the use of BIM and geospatial (GEOBIM) along with other digital technologies considerably reduces the overall project time, project cost, material use, and labour across project lifecycle. This is largely due to the efficiency attained in project monitoring and management via the use of digital technologies and predicting the outcome at any project site (predictive analytics), basis the available pool of site-information. Chenab bridge (Jammu and Kashmir, India) is a perfect example of design innovation and masterpiece utilizing digital technologies along with GEOBIM to efficiently progress through the project lifecycle phases. The world’s highest rail arch bridge costing USD 184 million faced many alignment and geological challenges affecting the design and construction stages. With the use of GEOBIM (geospatial and BIM) along with unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), a constant monitoring on project site was maintained. The Indian railways saved USD 40,000 and 225 resource days, while simultaneously reducing construction inspection time by 80 percent. 

The challenges faced in construction projects varies in each stage and across dimensions. The difficulties in terms of information sharing faced at any project site is increasing at a fast pace with the rising complexities of available site conditions and data. This gives rise to the concepts of cloud collaboration and interoperability which plays a crucial role between various stakeholders and project phases. This further lays down the opportunities for collaboration between the BIM and GIS technologies and efficiency improvements in construction workflows.  

The fore of digital technologies is expected to change the business landscape and how various stakeholders such as designers, construction managers, owners, machinery providers, contractors and subcontractors’ function at a project site. The use of these innovations gives a promising picture of an increase in construction productivity, decrease in construction cost and improvement in site safety at a substantial level. 

All in all, the potential of the construction industry in terms of material, technology, business models, innovation, and construction methods among others looks promising. The new age of construction is combining the traditional or conventional construction methods with a pinch of technology. Just like a drop in the ocean plays a huge role, similarly, a bigger impact in the pool of construction is being witnessed by increasing adoption of geospatial, BIM, and 4IR technologies.  

Also Read: Role of GeoBIM in Clash Detection