Construction industry is briskly moving into a digital-first world. Technology advancements in the industry are helping to streamline practices, reinvent personnel and equipment management and utilize virtual and augmented reality to ideate, construct and maintain built structures. However, if we look back, the construction practice dates back to as old as the monolithic era when primitive men used mostly stones and crudely-made equipment to build structures of shelter. Over time humans improved the construction practices and began building more permanent structures by using technologies. Population growth and urbanization acted as catalysts and soon construction became a staple of civilization and laid the foundation for contemporary construction.
In nineteenth century, the United States of America, newly invigorated by the First Industrial Revolution, underwent a significant period of advancement from 1870 until World War I. This period witnessed the technological revolution wherein inventors improved upon the manufacturing processes thus, making America a mass-producer of steel. Availability of cheap steel ushered a golden era for the construction industry and massive built structures like large bridges, railroads and skyscrapers came into being. The origin of computer-aided-design (CAD) can be traced to the year 1957, which became the major driving force in the construction industry during this era. CAD provided the engineer with the ability to perform engineering calculations empowering draftsmen, designers and engineers. During this period, as a result, a plethora of companies were born and a new trend of integrating the use of CAD into civil engineering began to take place. Thus, most of the known engineering and construction firms – like ARUP, Arcadis, Royal HaskoningDHV, Jacobs, Parsons, Bechtel, etc. originated during this period.
The first major shift in the spatial technological prowess in the industry could be noticed after 1968 when GIS was developed when Esri came into being. While the company at that time was not focussed at construction – today, along with Autodesk, it offers an integrated BIM and GIS suite.
In 1975, Charles M. Eastman, an American professor, published a paper describing a prototype called Building Description System (BDS) which discussed ideas of parametric design and high quality computable 3D representations with a single integrated database for visual and quantitative analysis. This ultimately led to the origination of the modern day Building Information Modelling (BIM) which was formally introduced in the AEC industry in 1987. BIM, considered to be a path-breaking advancement in the construction industry began to be widely accepted all over the world. This resulted in a rise of companies offering BIM services and solutions, integrating BIM with the geospatial technology as well as development and improvement of BIM software over the next couple of decades. ArchiCAD application came to be known as one of the most mature BIM solutions on the market and was one of the first CAD produce on a personal computer. Further, software and hardware companies like Trimble, Autodesk, FARO Technologies and Bentley Systems came into existence during this period and by integrating geospatial technology with construction industry they continue to establish their contributions to the growth of the AEC industry.
The period 1990 to 2000 can be termed as the period of saturation in the geospatial and BIM industry wherein most of the established hardware software companies continued to invest in developing their technology portfolios. However, this period saw the origination of Hexagon and Leica Geosystems. During this time, ERP systems was the purview of these companies to create the concept of ‘one-stop-shop’ by combining their functions, streamlining operations and aggregating important data. Most of the companies reengineered their business operation processes to accommodate the logic of software during this period. However, it is important to note, these companies did not enter the market as an ‘AEC focussed’ company; but gradually expanded their technology portfolios through mergers and acquisitions and partnerships in the next phase of technology establishment – after 2000 and beyond.
What happened after 2000?
The construction industry began to embrace technologies – that’s what happened! In 2002, to advance the know-how of BIM to the masses, BIM software companies, Autodesk released a whitepaper titled, ‘Building Information Modelling’ in order to popularize the software and initiate discussions to further the use of software in construction life-cycle. In addition, in 2003, Bentley Systems, Graphisoft, Autodesk and other industry vendors together began popularizing the many benefits of BIM for the market to imbibe BIM in their manufacturing and construction processes.
Now that BIM is established as a go-to-software for the construction industry, the ConTech industry began to witness a major rise in the number of construction software. In more recent times, especially after 2015, a large number of start-up companies started blooming in the AEC industry with their main focus on frontier and emerging technologies like drones, IoT, cloud computing, LiDAR, RADAR, Augmented and Virtual Reality, Artificial Intelligence, etc. Companies like PlanGrid, Rhumbix, Katerra, AirSquire AI, Procore Technologies, 3D Robotics, Pix4D, etc. originated during this time which aimed at providing holistic solutions in the AEC industry.
Thus, in the near future, new technologies will emerge – leading to a rise in the number of ConTech start-ups changing the face of future construction technology and industry. We can only hope the technology adoption in the construction industry rises at the same rapid pace as the rise in the number of ConTech companies.