The Corona pandemic has clearly pushed companies in terms of digitalization. Companies are sending their employees home for work, educational institutions are offering their classes in hybrid form, and even the construction industry, which is still relatively based on analog processes, has noticed that digitalization must be accelerated in order to move forward.
In this article, you will learn what added value digitalization offers construction companies, what digital solutions already exist on construction sites, and why you should definitely follow the current developments.
Corona boosts digitalization
The pandemic has caused prices for construction materials in particular to explode and has led to supply bottlenecks due to temporary border closures and production stoppages. In addition to delays of projects, many construction sites even have had to abadon their work in the worst cases. However, most construction companies are making it through the crisis unscathed thanks to booming residential construction. Yet, they are facing other problems.
Strict hygiene measures, distance rules and contact restrictions also apply on construction sites, prompting a great deal of restructuring. For example, work is done in small columns and breaks are inserted between shifts to prevent employees from bumping into each other. Consistent and seamless communication plays an important role here in order to avoid misunderstandings among colleagues - but how can it be achieved? The answer is simple: digitalization.
Digitalization creates many more opportunities than just an effective form of communication. Machines, robots and artificial intelligence are supporting activities in construction that could originally only be performed by human labor. Drones monitor construction sites from the air, technologies optimize and automate construction processes, and topics such as sustainability and smart building are moving into the focus of the construction industry. Digitalization is making construction more (cost-)efficient, more transparent and safer in many respects. In the following, we present 8 digital trends in the construction industry in 2021 and their benefits based on two categories.
The current trends at a glance
I. Top 5 software and technology trends
1. (Cloud-based) project management software and software-as-a-service platforms
A (cloud-based) software solution makes construction work much easier and increases both the efficiency of construction projects as well as the productivity of contractors. By working with a digital project management system administrative errors, redundancies and a lot more issues can be avoided. From personnel deployment to material planning and equipment use to (pictorial) documentation and reporting, all important information about the construction site and the construction project can be captured in a single, digital platform in real time. All stakeholders involved in the project can access this information at any time via various devices. The confusing and error-prone paper economy is completely replaced by a digital solution. Contractors do not only create more transparency, flexibility and better coordination, but also save a lot of time, costs and nerves.
Our software solution FlexcavoOS serves as a digital fleet management system that allows contractors to manage their entire fleet from a single platform, in addition to projects and ongoing processes. Learn more about our innovative software solution here and how you can work with us to create the smart construction site of tomorrow.
2. Internet of things (IoT)
Sensors on (portable) equipment, machines, vehicles or consumables connected wirelessly to the Internet create an intelligent network on construction sites and can even connect multiple ones. They collect, process and store data about activities, movements and performance on the construction site and transmit them to a central platform, which is e.g. on the site manager's computer. Then, for example, he can warn an employee if he enters a danger zone on the construction site or immediately (geo)locate certain components - and thus save time. Available resources, such as machinery, can also be managed more effectively in this way, because analyzed data can be used to perform predictive maintenance, optimize fuel consumption, and accurately track locations, among other things. In addition to increasing safety, productivity and manageability, connected sensors generally provide more transparency and better documentation of construction projects.
According to McKinsey, 21% of German companies are currently relying on IoT applications - and the trend is rising. By 2025, the construction industry is expected to be worth nearly $1 trillion worldwide.
3. Building information modeling (BIM) and Digital Twin
With BIM technology, virtual 3D models of objects can be displayed so that digital pre-construction is possible, where problems can be identified and rectified at an early stage before they occur in the real construction. Beyond the physical and functional properties of objects, the technology also takes into account their management and operation, including maintenance and inspection schedules. All parties involved in a construction project, from architects to contractors to owners, can work on the 3D models simultaneously. Project progress, data and drawings are digitally recorded and dynamically updated, so that the digital image is always up to date and costs and risks in planning and construction processes are significantly reduced.
The virtual copy of the object is also called Digital Twin. The Digital Twin informs about the current status of created ecosystems and their influence on involved persons by data acquisition in real time. With BIM and the Digital Twin, the entire life cycle of objects can be handled virtually - from planning to management to deconstruction. This cooperative working methodology guarantees a high level of planning reliability, simplifies data and information management, reduces errors and saves a great deal of time and money.
Since the serious cost explosions in major construction projects in Germany, such as the Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg or Stuttgart 21, the use of BIM for public construction projects has become a legal requirement. According to a study by PcW, the construction industry sees a lot of potential in BIM technology.
FlexcavoOS integrates manufacturer's telematics data from machines with data from fleet and project management and displays it in a holistic user interface. This provides contractors with a virtual image of their fleet and allows them to manage it digitally. Learn more about our intelligent fleet management system here.
4. Artificial Intelligence (AI)
For a long time they were considered science fiction, conquered only the film industry and even scared some people: Artificial Intelligence. Machines that are not only able to speak and learn, but can also independently identify, analyze and solve problems are part of artificial intelligence. Using human cognitive thinking as the starting point for its programming, AI can, for example, recognize certain patterns from large amounts of data. Based on that, it can quickly develop solutions that would take a human more than twice as long. An increasing supply of data, or a defined amount of data, is a prerequisite for machine learning so that the AI can develop independently and learn as it goes along in its life cycle. For new tasks, it does not have to be reprogrammed each time, but functions almost autonomously and its capabilities may even eventually surpass those of the human who developed it. The technology is not yet widely used in construction. Yet, in combination with other digital trends, such as BIM or robotics, it can provide significant quality improvements and cost savings as well as great relief for employees and greater safety.
5. Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR)
Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) also contribute to greater safety on construction sites. For example, real camera images can be used to simulate hazardous situations, which can be used to train employees to avoid accidents at work. In addition, planned objects can be virtually integrated into a planned environment so that problems can be identified and important decisions can be made before construction begins. There is also a huge benefit for the customer. Thanks to the computer-generated reality, he receives a visualization of the building object and can evaluate it before the actual construction.
II. Top 3 hardware trends
Depending on their design and performance, drones can be used on construction sites to supplement cranes for transporting small materials by air or for documentation and monitoring tasks. Their use eliminates the need for other technical means such as helicopters. In places that are difficult for humans to access, they provide a quick overview by monitoring, controlling and inspecting construction sites from the air so that changes, movements and construction progress can be documented and tracked without risk. Drones can also photograph large construction sites. Equipped with thermal imaging cameras, they can even inspect existing buildings for leaks.
Autonomous machines or humanoid robots can be used around the clock. They do not exhaust or injure themselves, and work more precisely than humans when used correctly. They not only assist skilled workers, but can even compensate for a labor shortage in an emergency. Unlike humans, machine-assisted colleagues are able to carry heavy weights with ease and work in hard-to-reach or dangerous places with little risk. Since they are hardly affected by changeable environmental factors, such as the weather, they can be used in many areas of construction.
3. 3D printer
Nowadays, houses can literally be printed - even in record time and with remarkable dimensions, as the example in Dubai shows. The Emirates is home to the world's largest three-dimensionally printed building, 9.4 meters high and with a usable area of 640 square meters, which was built in just two weeks. There could soon be more houses like this in the future, as gigantic 3D printers, most of which resemble cranes and are equipped with a nozzle at the front, revolutionize the construction industry. Like their robotics counterparts, they are making up for human capital shortages and speeding up construction processes, while at the same time saving on building materials and reducing waste. After the model is created on the computer and sent to the printer, it pulls building materials such as cement, plastic or concrete up layer by layer until the finished building is in place. The quality of the printed buildings is no different from those constructed by using conventional methods - a true miracle of technology.
Digitalization enables significant increases in productivity and quality on construction sites, while at the same time creating more safety and transparency. However, digitalization should not be an end in itself just because digital is trendy at the moment. It should increase the company's own efficiency and simplify the work for everyone involved in the construction project. In short, the digitalization of a company is a strategic management issue. It can come with problems that should not be ignored, such as high investment costs in robotics or a lack of acceptance when introducing new software.
In our next article, you will learn when digitalization makes sense for your construction company, how you can remove obstacles in this regard, and how we can support you as a digital partner.