For as long as I have been involved in the technology industry, I’ve also been involved in the construction industry via Connected World’s sister publication, Constructech magazine, www.constructech.com. The construction industry is truly a powerful industry. It is made up of some of the most tenacious and courageous professionals I have ever met. It has been an immense pleasure and challenge to not only report on, but also help direct how the construction industry thinks about, adopts, and implements technology.
But perhaps even more exciting, construction has come a long way in accepting the challenges and the opportunities the IoT (Internet of Things) brings and the stats tell an interesting story.
Dodge Data & Analytics’, www.construction.com, latest Dodge outlook report predicts moderate, but favorable, growth for the construction industry in 2017 across most project types. Specifically, the report predicts total U.S. construction starts will advance 5% to $713 billion in 2017.
This follows a deceleration last year in 2016, which was a bit sobering after the industry has enjoyed several years of steady growth. Dodge highlights growth in single family housing (12%), commercial building (6%), institutional building (10%), manufacturing plant construction (6%), and public works construction (6%). Other categories, however, may decline, such as electric utilities and gas plant construction, which Dodge expects to fall 29% in 2017. So now that you have a sense of the industry prospects for the year, perhaps there is no better time to consider why the construction industry needs the IoT (Internet of Things).
McKinsey&Company, www.mckinsey.com, compiled some data that is perfect for illustrating the point. According to McKinsey’s data, large construction projects typically take 20% longer to finish than scheduled, and they’re typically over budget—up to 80% over budget, in fact.
If you’re in the construction industry, this isn’t news to you; cost and schedule overruns are frighteningly normal. Unfortunately, labor productivity in construction has not kept pace with overall economic productivity, according to McKinsey’s data.
However, there are so many ways technology is disrupting the construction space in a positive way, and perhaps we just might see a day when construction can be on the leading cusp of adoption and innovation.
One persistent trend in construction is BIM, otherwise known as building information modeling, which combines non-graphical information with graphical information to create a more three-dimensional view of a project.
What’s new and noteworthy about BIM are the more advanced iterations of this trend.
These include 4D BIM, which integrates scheduling information with BIM data, and 5D BIM, which integrates both scheduling and cost estimates into shared BIM data sets. In the case of 5D BIM, this “five dimensional” representation of a project is valuable because it more completely and accurately encapsulates design intent, including what a project will cost and how long it will take.
By giving project stakeholders the ability to visualize and evaluate projects—from appearance to price, schedule, and constructability—at an early stage, 5D BIM creates opportunity for stakeholders to identify risks and make better decisions.
In the future, this trend will go much farther. First, we’re already talking about 6D BIM, the next step in the trend evolution that incorporates facilities management data. This will unlock further value throughout a project’s lifecycle. Also, augmented reality technology will make 5D or 6D BIM even more attractive by allowing stakeholders to interact with information models in new and exciting ways.
Another trend we see and hear a lot about in construction is digital collaboration. For instance, McKinsey says one reason for the industry’s poor productivity record is that it still relies on paper to manage processes and deliverables—from blueprints, design drawings, procurement and supply-chain orders to equipment logs, daily progress reports, and punch lists.
The benefits of realtime data over static, paper documents can’t be stressed enough.
Information sharing is crucial in construction, since project members are rarely in the same room with each other. And if information isn’t being shared in realtime, companies take the very real risk that team members are working off of different versions of the same project.
With digital collaboration technologies, however, construction companies can leverage cloud and mobility solutions to increase transparency, speed processes, reduce risk, and minimize errors.
The availability of sophisticated, low-cost connected devices and apps designed for construction workflows has made digital collaboration much more accessible for the construction industry.
Data, leading to analytics, is another trend in construction worth mentioning here. The IoT is making construction assets “smart,” resulting in an influx of data that can be analyzed for all kinds of amazing purposes that benefit construction companies in myriad ways. For instance, imagine a construction jobsite in which the machinery, equipment, materials, structures, and employees are outfitted with sensors that talk to each other and to a central database.
Construction companies are deploying IoT devices to monitor vehicle use, to keep track of employees, to proactively maintain the health of machines, and more. These capabilities can open doors to cutting costs, prolonging the life of machinery and equipment, encouraging employee productivity, and increasing safety on the jobsite.
Consider wearables here and their potential in increasing worker safety on the jobsite.
Jobsite safety is something all construction companies are worried about. While there have been many high-profile incidents at the jobsite already, there’s no need to mention them here that that have led to nightmare situations for construction companies.
Wearables can’t necessarily make unsafe jobsites safe, but the point is that tech tools are going to become an increasingly important part of how construction companies monitor workers on the jobsite in an effort to protect them. However, we will need to see prices come down drastically before that can happen. I will leave that point and much more for my next column.
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