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Construction: the Technology Revolution

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The rate of technology hasn’t been growing as fast in construction as in other areas of life. This isn’t necessarily due to a lack of innovation but, quite possibly, industry culture and a lack of investment.

In light of the government targets for the sector, to be achieved by 2025, there is a pressing need to work smarter and embrace new technologies:

  • 33% lower costs
  • 50% faster delivery
  • 50% lower emissions
  • 50% improvement in exports.

The changes required will be driven by technology and that means collaboration where, some believe, there has been a silo mentality.

But, there is already an ongoing technology revolution happening in the big world of construction, and it’s a very exciting one. Building Information Modelling (BIM), robotics, flying factories, and 3D concrete printing are just a few innovations forging the way ahead.

BIM

BIM is already at the fore with the advances in the modelling of projects and we can now track all building components through the Internet of Things. Smart, cloud-based technology enables us to remotely monitor and track in real time.

For example, BIM was a core requirement for the design, construction and future facilities management of the Parkside Building at Birmingham City University. Part of their tender criteria was that BIM had to be at the core of the process - it would have to be a BIM based construction project.

Robots

We assemble buildings with standard processes, automation, and, increasingly, robots. Anyone who saw the recent BBC Building Cars series couldn’t have failed to see how major a part robots play in the process.

Using robotics on the production line isn’t new in the automotive sector and their use is continually evolving. An army of seeing robots are now part of the Ford assembly line. These robots with laser eyes can see where parts need to go, adjust themselves to even the slightest variations in positioning and custom fit each placement. They recognise any deviation, improve accuracy and deliver high standards of quality. They save humans from physical strain and injury due to repetitive motion. These are benefits ideally suited and adaptable to the labour intensive construction process.

nLink is a Norwegian high-tech startup developing robotic solutions for the construction industry. They have made the world’s first mobile drilling robot which can be used with or without BIM. It relieves construction workers from overhead work involved with measuring and drilling in concrete ceilings. This greatly reduces work-related musculoskeletal disorders, eliminates concrete dust which improves the work environment, and increases the efficiency of tradespeople like electricians and plumbers. The robot drilling competition on the nLink website demonstrates the power of the machine – no prizes for who (or what) wins! http://www.nlink.no/

Augmented reality

Being able to see what a proposed building would look like, with the provision of useful information overlays such as the position of underground utilities and overhead services, is what augmented reality does to traditional building plans.

Microsoft is using holograms to build 3D in 3D with its HoloLens holographic computer and Trimble ground-breaking innovations. Trimble is the parent company of Tekla, a leading provider of BIM software with more than 5,000 customers worldwide in the construction industry.

This initiative is helping architecture and construction professionals to bring 3D models to life, creating new ways to communicate and collaborate with remote teams across the globe.

3D concrete printing

The 3D concrete printing process was developed by the team in the School of Civil and Building Engineering at Loughborough University. It works by laying down successive layers of concrete until the entire object is created. It is capable of producing building components with a degree of customisation that has not yet been seen. It has the potential to reduce the time needed to create complex elements of buildings from weeks to hours. It could create a new era of architecture that is adapted to the environment and is fully integrated with the engineering function.

For me, this is the most exciting area of all. Imagine the endless possibilities of what we will be able to build in future. We will become more self-reliant – we will be building our own constructions with our own devices.

Artificial Intelligence

Ever since Garry Kasparov played against IBM’s chess computer, Deep Blue in 1997, Artificial Intelligence (AI) entered the public imagination. This was the first time a computer had ever defeated a world champion in match play. Fast forward to February 2011 and North America’s most popular TV quiz show, Jeopardy, when two of the show’s most successful contestants competed with IBM’s supercomputer, Watson. The computer was powered by an IBM POWER7 server which was optimised to handle a massive number of tasks at rapid speeds. These public events brought home the reality of AI and gave a glimpse into what the future could hold.

AI is already in use in construction – we can talk to our buildings and appliances, and the use of sensor networks is growing at breakneck speed. Humans and computers working together in teams will create ultra-smart constructions – in every sense of the word. Those government targets of reducing costs, increasing speed of delivery, halving emissions and improving export levels will be easily achieved.

The potential use of machines perfectly demonstrates the collaboration between man and machine and what can be achieved. The authors of the book The Second Machine Age, Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, sum it up perfectly by stating that it isn’t man racing the machine, it’s man working with the machine that will be the game-changer.

(Sources: news.discovery, Skanska Innovation, Microsoft, nLink, Loughborough University, Excitech, chessgames.com, pcmag.com).

Posted in The Wider World

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