9 Uses of Technology in Construction and Engineering

  1. Choose a Relevant Safety Topic
As the construction and engineering industry continues to recover from the 2020 recession caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s becoming increasingly necessary to build smarter and faster while still maintaining safety compliance and quality standards.

To remain competitive and increase productivity, firms are turning towards innovations in technology. According to the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC), “29% of firms report they are investing in technology to supplement worker duties” in response to recent labor shortages.

Luckily, innovations in construction technology have made great strides in automating processes, reducing costs and improving safety and quality on the jobsite – further enhancing the industry’s projected growth.

Here are 9 innovations in construction technology that could benefit your team:

#1: Virtual Reality

Virtual reality (VR) is not just for gaming! Construction firms across the globe utilize VR in different capacities for a more immersive visualization of construction models and environments.

One way to use VR is during pre-construction design reviews. A study by the Construction Industry Institute (CII) found that the performance of design review tasks utilizing Immersive Virtual Reality (IVR) was 21.86% to 142.92% better than users who performed tasks through 3D modeling on a desktop. The effectiveness of VR in the review process can save firms a significant amount of money as flaws and needs for improvement can be discovered before construction even begins.

VR can also be used for safety training purposes. Through VR simulations, construction workers can be exposed to and practice working in difficult conditions, such as elevated heights or confined spaces.

#2: Augmented Reality

Smart hardhats? Holograms? Construction sites sure have changed… But with these futuristic changes come improved efficiency and accuracy, thanks to the science of augmented reality (AR).

AR uses smart devices to overlay virtual information upon a user’s view of the physical world. In construction, this could be used to display a 3D BIM in its real context on site.

In 2021, the construction tech company XYZ Reality released a ground-breaking AR tool for construction: The Atom, an AR construction headset. This high-tech hardhat is not only safety certified, but contains in-built computing power that can display AR on site. Through the headset’s visor, workers can view 3D models with millimeter accuracy while walking around the jobsite.

Whether it’s implemented through a smart helmet, tablet or smartphone, AR technology on construction sites can improve performance and ensure safety. For example, real-time safety information could pop up in front of workers’ eyes when they walk into a certain area on site, or supervisors could better assist with difficult tasks by monitoring what’s being seen by workers through AR.

#3: Construction Wearables

Aside from smart hardhats with AR capabilities, there are other intelligent wearables for construction workers in the field.

SolePower has developed a smart boot to improve safety and efficiency in the field. Designed for remote management, this boot is WiFi compatible and contains a variety of sensors that can detect temperature, GPS and movement.

Another type of construction wearable is an exoskeleton. Ever want to know what it feels like to have superhuman strength? Exoskeletons, or exosuits, are wearable machines with motorized muscles that multiply the user’s strength. From full-body suits to power gloves, they provide the extra support necessary to lift and handle heavy objects while preventing injury. There is even a crouch-support exoskeleton designed to support the knees of workers who need to squat for extended periods of time.

#4 Artificial Intelligence

Artificial intelligence (AI) is the ability of a machine to perform tasks that typically require human intelligence. In construction, the advantages of AI are plentiful.

For one, AI can increase on-site productivity with autonomous machinery and robots that can perform repetitive tasks, such as bricklaying, tying rebar, pouring concrete and welding.

Machine learning (ML), a subset of AI in which computer systems can learn and adapt from past experiences and data, is also of increasing benefit to construction and engineering firms. Through ML technology, systems can compute safety risk ratings for projects, generate BIM 3D models and alternative designs, assist in project planning and provide post-construction insights, such as preventative maintenance needs.

#5 Near field communication

Near-field communication (NFC) uses tags to transfer data over short distances (usually within 10 inches). This is the same technology used when you pay by “tapping” your credit card. In the construction industry, NFC tags can be used to enhance a variety of needs:
  • Track tools & equipment:
    Reduce the amount of lost or stolen tools by tagging them. Require workers to use a smart device, which they can tap on the tool to bring up the tool’s information, as well as digital check-in & check-out forms. Automatic time and GPS stamps can be utilized for better traceability.
  • Access asset information:
    With a simple tap, operating instructions, warranty information, service history and serial numbers can be accessed from machinery and tools with NFC tags.
  • Make requests:
    When particular parts or tools are faulty, workers can take out their device and instantly pull up a maintenance request form with the details of the part or tool already pre-loaded. This saves time and allows quick follow-up action.
  • Verify personnel and assets:
    There are plenty of online resources and services available to help streamline your toolbox talk process. Harvard University’s Environmental Health & Safety department has a truckload of ready-made toolbox talk one-pagers.
To bolster NFC capabilities, you’ll need software to create the digital forms, such as checklists, timesheets, instructions and asset information, that will appear on a mobile device when triggered by an NFC tag.

FastField offers this very service, with easy-to-build, customizable forms that are compatible with NFC technology. In addition, all data that’s submitted is automatically stored in a secure, centralized database and processed as meaningful data that can be viewed at a glance on the FastField Dashboard.

#6: Drones

Camera-equipped drones can provide real-time data that project managers can use to monitor construction progress, check for hazards, map topography and survey sites for security. Drones can also perform quick and efficient inspections.

They can be used to survey an area for hazards before workers enter, or simply inspect a dangerous or difficult-to-reach spot. Through high-definition cameras and LiDAR, drones have the ability to provide highly accurate, real-time data.

#7: 3D printing

3D printing in construction started out as a quick way to build prototype parts. It then evolved into building scale models of architectural projects. Fast forward to January of 2022, and we now have the first 3D-printed house in the U.S. The house, a collaborative project between Habitat for Humanity and Alquist 3D, was assembled in just 22 hours.

In addition to speed, 3D printing is an effective solution for construction firms looking to optimize material usage, as well. This is largely due to the recent development of 3D concrete printing (3DCP). 3DCP has already been used in the construction of homes, bridges, wells and walls, and its market value is projected to reach $1.5 billion by 2027.

With benefits such as lower materials consumption, fast build times, lower need for labor and higher productivity, it’s no wonder why 3D printing is quickly on the rise in the construction and engineering industry.  

#8: Building Information MOdeling

Building information modeling (BIM) is a way for engineers and architects to create 3D models of projects using virtual simulation. This is an effective tool for the planning and design of structures. It also provides stakeholders with a 3D visual representation through which to collaborate and identify areas for improvement before construction even begins.

As mentioned previously, BIM can be combined with AR technology to overlay plans and 3D models in real on-site environments, enhancing accuracy and quality. Combined with VR technology, users can interact with the design in an immersive virtual setting. This can help project managers identify inefficiencies, solve problems and collaborate with stakeholders more effectively.

#9: Real-Time, Digital Field Reporting

With such a wide array of tasks, documents and KPIs to keep track of, construction teams are becoming more dependent on digitizing their forms workflows. Gone are the days of clipboards, filing folders and paper forms that can easily be lost or damaged on site.

These days, inspections, safety checklists, timesheets, work orders and any other field task can be completed on smart mobile devices. With embedded features like photo/video capture and GPS stamping, this can significantly improve the quality and speed of reports.

In addition, digital field reporting technology can automate the workflow of teams with complex reporting and approval processes between the field and the back office. For example, an inspector can complete an inspection report on their mobile device, which can then be automatically submitted to a project manager’s inbox for approval. If there was an issue during the inspection, however, the data from the report could trigger an action that would automatically send the report and an alert to a technician with a status of “Needs Repair.”

This type of automated, real-time reporting not only saves teams time, but with everybody on the same page acting on up-to-date information, safety, quality and communication are also enhanced.

FastField provides a one-stop shop for digital form automation and data analytics for construction management. Project managers can easily build a mobile form for any field task. They can also set up an automated forms workflow that can trigger alerts and actions, while making sure forms get reported to the right people in the right places. Report data is also instantly analyzed into actionable insights, which can be viewed at a glance in FastField’s customizable Dashboard feature.

Embrace the Tech side

With strict health and safety regulations, supply chain disruption, labor shortages and an increasing need to optimize cost efficiency, time and quality, the solution is clear: embrace technology. From AR to exosuits, technology that was once only fantasized in movies can now be used to significantly enhance construction and engineering operations.
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