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There isn’t much debate about the need to update the nation’s infrastructure, which most third-party assessments agree is in poor shape. As we engage in the necessary discussions about this, we must include technology in the conversation.

The bipartisan infrastructure bill passed in 2021, allocated billions of dollars toward infrastructure development, including $100 million specifically toward using advanced digital construction management (ADCM) systems. ADCM involves the intelligent deployment of technology across every phase of the construction life cycle, from design and engineering to construction and operations.

Central to ADCM is the shift from 2D construction to 3D, enabling enhanced collaboration among engineering teams, contractors and infrastructure owners by providing real-time visibility into project data. The outcome is not only immediate benefits such as reduced costs, a more productive workforce and efficient use of materials and machines, but also  long-term efficiencies in helping future teams maintain and rehabilitate infrastructure.

Adopting new technologies often leads to reconfiguring the value chain, resources and talent needed to execute it. With new technologies like autonomous machines, teams can complete more complex work with fewer people. In other words, as we’ve heard said before: Technology is not killing jobs. Technology is skilling jobs.

Technology adoption is increasing

In recent years, technology adoption has increased on jobsites, ranging from using tablets to eliminate paperwork to deploying drones to capture views of projects. Technology as a centerpiece of the construction industry could be as impactful as its deployment and adoption in any industry. It just requires acceptance and innovation.

Companies broadly use various reality-capture tools, including drones, aerial mapping and digital cameras. Documenting an asset with reality capture throughout the construction phase creates a digital twin. A digital twin ensures the project is completed as designed and moving forward during construction. It is a baseline for future predictive maintenance.

Consider also that some construction equipment can self-diagnose its health condition, order replacement parts as needed and alert owners and operators about critical events. These innovations have lowered the costs of operating equipment while extending its lifespan.

Improve efficiency in the near term

Companies must stop looking at technology as something to fear. Technology is merely the latest evolution of the modern jobsite, and contractors should embrace its endless potential as a professional partner that complements their teams and empowers them to achieve more.

For infrastructure, the opportunity is to use technology to help us make informed decisions in real time. Consider drones, for example. Deploying drones allows teams to quickly capture vast amounts of data from potentially hard-to-reach places previously difficult to obtain.

Technology can improve infrastructure in the longer term

The discussion about using technology in the construction industry often centers on improving the jobsite, allowing workers to accomplish more while staying safe. However, building roads smartly allows us to harness preemptive insight and make infrastructure last longer to serve our needs better.

Consider using technology to monitor infrastructure. Sensors can automatically inspect infrastructure, collect data and report potential problems while they are small and before they grow into a full-blown catastrophe, helping to keep travelers and the public safe.

Technology empowers contractors to onboard operators with ease. The next generation of workers quickly learns and uses new technologies. Using digital technology throughout the project also lengthens the asset’s lifespan.

There are millions of miles of roads in the country, from heavily traveled interstates to quaint stretches of backroads. They all need constant care, but which sections require the most immediate attention? Judging by the state of U.S. infrastructure, it’s difficult enough to know.

Technology can take an arduous task that is manual, costly and time-consuming and speed it up. In the process, it will enable more reliable decisions about what infrastructure projects most are in need. Additionally, with technology, infrastructure maintenance decisions can be made locally rather than centrally, which often results in better decisions.

The 'smart city' of tomorrow requires intelligent decisions today

There has been much discussion about building smart cities that facilitate people’s moves. Such a city won’t be possible if we don’t rethink how we build infrastructure.

It’s impossible to know how we will use infrastructure in the future, so we can’t necessarily build assets for what we want 50 years from now. However, we can anticipate the need for future changes, even if we don’t know precisely what those changes will be. It’s about knowing what we don’t know, recognizing what we don’t know and planning for the inevitable changes.

A digital twin provides a window into what lies beneath the surface, allowing future workers to know how to approach a retrofit or an upgrade. Instead of tearing down an existing asset, it can be overhauled for a new life, which will help to conserve resources.

The quality of life we want requires the right decisions today. As with the project itself, we can’t make informed decisions without reliable data, which requires technology.


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