The construction sector faces a tipping point. Widely acknowledged as one of the most dangerous industries to work in, it also faced with productivity challenges while effective communication on-site can be notoriously difficult.
Worldwide, large projects can typically take 20 per cent longer to finish than scheduled, and can often end up being 80 per cent over budget. Luckily, innovation in digital technology and data offer significant opportunities to streamline and improve these processes.
Despite the long-term benefits of electronic solutions, construction is one of the least digitised sectors around the world. In particular, the Australian construction sector has been slow to embrace change. Companies that are first to adopt new technology reap serious short and long-term benefits, and end up leaps and bounds ahead of their competition.
So, what technologies are on the horizon?
The Internet of Things (IoT) allows all sorts of devices to communicate with each other and share data. This is particularly useful on a construction site, with a multitude of vehicles, machines and employees under your watch. Wearables help employees to both stay safe and access useful data on-the-go. For example, start-up Sole Power developed a smart work boot that uses sensors to gauge temperature, access Wi-fi and track motion. Similarly, Daqri’s smart helmet allows workers to record real-time information about their surroundings and displays useful info like safety guidelines directly in front of their eyes.
What does this mean for your business? Wearables offer significant safety benefits. They help operators, drivers and workers stay aware of what’s going on around them, alert them of immediate hazards and monitor movement so you can react immediately if someone trips or falls. Combining the data from wearable devices with telematics data from your machines and vehicles will give you a complete picture of your construction site.
How likely is it? Equipping every worker with a smart helmet is expensive. This change is likely to start small and build across the industry as executives recognise the cost benefits. Encouraging employees to don the wearables may also be a challenge if they have reservations about privacy, so incentive programs and sensitivity are a good idea to get them on board early.
Until recently, 3D printing was mostly used to create small, simple prototypes. It’s quickly moving into larger-scale mass production, to construct everything from concrete cycling bridges to an entire treehouse. This is generating speculation that the technology could soon be used to build houses and other infrastructure from scratch.
What does this mean for your business? The ability to 3D print parts, prototypes and even whole buildings has obvious benefits, like zero wastage of materials and faster development times.
How likely is it? John Hainsworth, digital leader at Aurecon, says 3D printing is definitely viable for construction projects – as long as “it doesn’t need to be a thing of beauty and it just needs to be rapidly produced”. It’s probably not suited to complicated projects or infrastructure with a clear aesthetic or design aim, but the development of smaller materials will speed up project timelines.
AUGMENTED AND VIRTUAL REALITY
Virtual reality has been a centrepiece of science fiction since the 1930s, but in the last few years it’s become the real deal. There are clear applications for enhanced or virtual reality in the construction industry. For instance, bring blueprints and designs to life so clients can view them before a build is completed. Or virtual construction sites that trains employees in a safe and interactive environment. Engineering firm Thyssenkrupp is already providing repair specialists with augmented reality headsets that allow them to share a video-stream of what they’re looking at with technicians in the back-office, so they can offer advice, order the right replacement parts and look up instructions.
What does this mean for your business? Virtual reality technology is more accessible than ever, with every major tech developer jumping on the bandwagon. It can help your business improve safety, reduce travel costs by implementing virtual site checks, and improve communication across geographically dispersed locations or massive, sprawling construction sites.
How likely is it? This is already becoming par for the course for more advanced companies, so it’s only a matter of time before the rest of the industry catches up. As VR- and AR-equipped headsets become more common and drop in price, they’ll become a simple way to provide employees with added capabilities on the job.
With all these innovations now firmly in our grasp, it seems obvious that businesses should be eager to take advantage of the safety, productivity and cost benefits they offer. Research does show that 90 per cent of industry leaders and workers believe they should stay up to date with the latest tech – but most also felt their workplace wasn’t at all advanced in its uptake. Technology opens doors to improve communication, keep workers safe and develop more innovation solutions for customers, whether you’re implementing GPS tracking, 3D printing or VR modelling. The businesses that jump on board first will reap the most long-term benefit.