How new technologies are transforming the construction industry

New technologies are achieving higher rates of project completion and safer grounds for on-site members.
23 October 2019

A HadrianX bricklaying robot in action. Source: HadrianX

The global construction industry is predicted to be worth US$12.7 trillion in 2022 based on a report by the Construction Intelligence Centre (CIC). 

The multi-trillion dollar business covers the construction, modernization, and maintenance of mega infrastructures from airports to stadiums. 

Construction plans may look perfect on blueprints but in reality, “nine out of 10 infrastructure projects around the world are behind schedule or over-budget,”  Bent Flyvbjerg from Saïd Business School at Oxford University stated. 

The construction delays do not discriminate, and affect even large firms despite ample resources for proper planning.

For example, Apple’s new headquarters in Silicon Valley opened two years later than planned and cost US$2 billion more than budgeted.  

Industrial experts explained it all comes down to the unavailability to monitor and rectify issues during the foundation and building stages.

“The big problem in our industry is that as soon as things start going wrong, everybody starts looking for someone to blame — developers blame general contractors and general contractors blame subcontractors, but the finger-pointing and subjectivity only cause more productivity loss.”

This is where technology intervention is needed to solve disputes with high-tech cameras capturing images and videos of construction sites by stages and automation to handle routine work, leaving more time for contractors to monitor progress. 

Early detection of site defects saves time and cost

As stated above, an inability to detect and pinpoint exact locations of defects not only leads to disruption in projects but also causes stress to on-site members. 

Photographed sites and documentation of progress are useful to a certain extent but fails to provide a comprehensive projection of the site. 

In this regard, emerging technological tools in capturing the full picture are changing the view for construction sites. 

A “digital twin” of construction sites cand be made for all stakeholders to see. On one hand, construction crew and project managers can monitor the progress of the site and detect any issues at an early stage before it escalates to a bigger issue; on the other hand, clients are reassured continuously of the site progress and contractors can propose improvements with a virtual copy of the site in real-time. 

In the end, access to a “digital twin” of the project site enables contractors to spot issues at early stages and can identify the exact stage, time and location of the defect. 

Subsequently, saving the industry large sums of money and valuable time. 

Automation boost efficiency and improve safety

Automation will change how masonry works with SAM (Semi-Automated Mason) with the ability to lay a brick within ten seconds, six times faster than a human bricklayer. 

At the same time, MULE (Material Unit Lift Enhancer), as its name suggests, is a lifting device to help transport materials up to 135 pounds. Construction workers can move heavy materials with ease and increased safety.  

Creators of SAM and MULE, Construction Robotics, will collaborate with Clark Construction Groups to build a naval base in Great Lakes, Illinois this year.

The employment of Sam and Mule promises a strong start in laying the foundation of the sites with accelerated speed and consistent quality.  

Overall, automation increases the chances of construction projects to be completed on time with minimized risks. 

Fully automated construction sites

The introduction of technology and automation in construction sites is impactful in terms of meeting deadlines, boosting productivity, and improving safety. 

However, the industry is far from seeing a construction site to be fully automated and “run” by robots. 

Heavy investments and holistic planning to incorporate technology would be required to achieve such a vision. Moreover, the industry has been suffering from a shortage of skilled workers for years with the gig shifts more appealing to younger generations.  

Ideally, the integration of technology with the industry would change the perception of the younger generation towards construction work and encourage more applications. 

With fatigue and repetition of manual work out of the equation and forward-thinking approaches in mind, the construction industry can look forward to a reduction in cost and time and a rise in efficiency and safety.

Transforming the construction industry as a whole is a sure win for the economy.