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5 Technologies changing the field today
Technology is moving fast nowadays. It feels like there isn’t a month that goes by without hearing about a new tool or gadget that is going to revolutionize the way we work on site. Here are the top 5 technology trends that you are likely to see in the field in the next few years and more importantly what they mean for your job.
Robots & drones
A construction site is by nature a challenging environment for robots and drones. It’s difficult to navigate, always evolving and dangerously full of humans.
It’s highly unlikely that we are going to see builder robots evolving next to humans on site in the next few years. However, 3 scenarios are going to develop in the short term:
- Prefabrication robots: Operating construction robots in a controlled environment to produce prefab units (very much like a car assembly line). Human workers on-site would later assemble those units.
- Inspection Drones: Small monitoring drones (flying or crawling) documenting site activity from the air or from inside the building with 2D/3D cameras.
- Automated 3D printers: see below
Mobile construction apps
About 65% of workers on-site now have smartphones. Construction is adopting mobile devices en masse, ending the isolation that has been the norm in the field. Just like it was the case for the personal computer, the hardware is carrying software with it that is going to profoundly reshape the way we work.
Connected apps and mobile collaboration tools are providing leverage and connectivity to individual workers on-site. This is reducing and decentralizing management. We are therefore likely to see flatter, more efficient project organizations appear with less hierarchical levels.
Though BIM usage in the field has been long coming, a phenomenal momentum powers it. Making 3D models IS the way we design a building today and that’s not going away any time soon.
However, it’s not yet the way we are building it. 2D remains the most powerful interface for humans when measurements and precision are central to the building process (like construction). Computers however don’t have any bias toward 2D or 3D when measuring distances. In the case of 3D printing it goes even further: both the design and the building process are done with 3D data.
BIM is going to continue gathering steam on-site as an invaluable source of data/insight. The practical implementations will explode with the integration of 3D printing machines or inspection drones that will close the loop around the model (design, build, inspect).
If you are talking about a game changing technology, this is it. As of today the technology revolves around concrete/foam for large items and metal/plastic for smaller parts.
Printing entire building is many years away. We will need to rethink everything (from the design of buildings, the construction procedures and even the supply chain of a site) before this can be done on any kind of scale. However, some use cases are already suited to the task:
- Custom parts manufacturing regardless of material
- Prefabrication of concrete units.
This one is probably the least sexy trend of all. Prefabrication promises to double the efficiency of construction by taking complexity off the construction site and into a standardized plant where most variables are controlled (material supply, weather, etc.).
Out of all five trends mentioned above, this is probably the one that will have the most impact on the industry in the next 10 years. There will still be site crews focusing on erecting steel and assembling complete units. The real question is, whether individuals or machines will produce those units.
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