The revolution in the AEC industry dates back to 1963, when Ivan Edward Sutherland, an American computer scientist and Internet pioneer, developed “Sketchpad”, the first computer-aided design (CAD) with a graphical user interface. Sketchpad led to human-computer interaction, breaking new ground in modeling programs in the construction industry. During the ’70s and ’80s, Sketchpad further established the computational representation of geometry in construction that enabled display and recording of shape information.
However, the construction industry as a whole could not fully capitalize on it and hence was considered the least digitalized sector. But over the last few years, with the combination of architecture, engineering and construction (AEC), the industry is leveraging modern technologies and taking giant leaps towards digitization. This is important because while developing economies are grappling with inadequate infrastructure for their growing population, the developed ones are focused on repair and replacement of their aging infrastructure.
In 2016, 15 top AEC companies earned $125 billion revenue. According to a report, the industry is expected to be worth $10.3 trillion by next year. It is growing at an exponential rate and is at a stage where technology is a must for future growth. Let’s have a look at a few technology trends that will help the AEC industry in scripting its success story in future.
Real-time data and Internet of Things
Real-time data is a prerequisite for any industry to embrace digitization. Real-time information helps in efficiently managing labor and material. The construction industry is moving towards automation through IoT, which enables machines to constantly position and verify projects and complete them in a short span of time.
Further, with the help of IoT, a connected construction site can be created for better project planning as well as long-term management. Data gathered from every direction can be used immediately by managers to assess the status of material delivery and installation, location of workers and how they are using the machinery. IoT can also keep a tab on important aspects such as temperature monitoring, excessive noise, smoke, dust particulates, prevention of damaged property, freezing temperatures, product failures, loss of pressure, fire outbreaks, water leaks, among others.
Safety and security have always been a major concern at construction sites. To achieve maximum safety, soon, robots may take up risky jobs and eliminating the need for humans to perform tasks that may put their life in danger. AI is expected to enhance the safety culture and empower safety managers to view risk indicators that can help them in focusing on issues, projects and opportunities that require immediate attention. Along with this, AI-driven analytics and positioning can enable numerous innovations — from self-driving equipment to site-aware robotic welders and fastening specialists.
Digital Twin is the virtual model of an asset. It pairs virtual and real world together, which allows project developers to see the digital model of a building. This helps them to avoid extremely expensive change orders. A Digital Twin contains all the information of the physical object. It is a representation of all its aspects — not just the mechanical or geometric representation but also an electronic representation, including embedded software, micro software, product data, sensor data, etc. In AEC industry, this technology is seen as an opportunity that can enhance asset performance, help mangers anticipate adverse environmental effects during its life cycle and forecast maintenance activities based on sensor data.
Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality
Virtual reality replaces the real world with a virtual one. The technology has already gained immense traction in the AEC industry, where developers use it to review 3D environments of architectural designs. Virtual reality is used at the planning stage, where it helps project managers to avoid extremely expensive change orders by pinpointing potential issues early on.
On the other hand, augmented reality supplements the world with digital objects of all sorts. It is used on site as a tool for creating a structure exactly the way it’s supposed to be designed. This speeds up construction projects and minimizes errors during the actual building process. AR interprets the external world in real-time. Microsoft has already released a proof-of-concept for an application of its HoloLens AR-enabled glasses to guide a project by eliminating the need for physical blueprints.
Through wearable devices, workers can stay in constant touch with their site supervisors. Some of these devices include GPS-enabled smart vests that have features like vital monitoring, emergency buttons and built-in alert systems. Then there are smart helmets with features like fall impact detection, emergency alerts and video recording. Finally, there are smart glasses like HoloLens that allow workers to record videos and receive instructions from their managers in real-time.
In case of an accident, these devices can come in handy and save lives through slip and fall detection. Also, a manager can track his worker’s exact location through GPS. As manual counting of workers and safety checking is prone to error. Wearables enhance the element of accuracy by providing detailed data. Above all, wearable devices keep workers connected with their team members at all times.
Like Artificial Intelligence, cloud is being used across sectors for the simple reason that it offers a platform to save all the data generated from multiple sources. Till date, the adoption of cloud technology is very slow and the main reason behind this is use of traditional software by AEC firms. However, the future of AEC industry lies in cloud technology as it will help companies in reducing software and infrastructure expenses while exploring new areas of innovation.
For AEC firms to take part in the digitization process, they will have growing data storage needs. Graphic programs, animation and rendering files are huge, not to mention the photographs of existing conditions, field conditions, work in progress and completed work. These photographs are of high resolution and require a lot of storage. Through cloud, managers will be able to access all the date from one source without really requiring a high performance laptop.
The chain in Blockchain is the chain of transactions in the form of ledger entries about assets like money, data, maps, documents, etc. In reality, tokens containing the metadata of the assets are transacted. The actual physical transfer happens separately. Block refers to the grouping of transactions related to each other. A way of looking at a Blockchain is to consider it as a ledger where all transactions are entered.
Construction brings together a large number of people to design and shape the built environment and interaction between so many people can lead to confusion. In such situations, Blockchain can help to reduce confusion and enhance clarity. Blockchain records value exchange, administer smart contracts and combine them to form Decentralized Autonomous Organization (DAO) and certify proof of existence for certain data. The technology keeps a watch on how information is shared between everyone involved in the project.
As BIM is rapidly becoming a standard requirement in the construction industry, using Blockchain as part of the BIM process would significantly increase the level of transparency of data, resulting in increased trust amongst project collaborators.