Five Trends Driving Digital Transformation in 2020

Digital transformation is no longer optional for contractors. Trends dominating in 2020 are the constructible process, connected jobsites, 3D scanning, extended reality and offsite prefabrication.
By Eric Harris
December 12, 2019

2019 brought tremendous progress as data and technology continue to drastically change and improve the construction industry. Driven by the need for greater productivity, true collaboration and more connected and efficient workflows, new technologies, processes and ideas are gaining wider adoption. Those who have adopted them and had a taste of the benefits are looking for opportunities to do more, while others are racing to catch up.

One thing is certain. The market is more ready than ever. Digital transformation is no longer “optional” for those who want to expand margins, grow market share, overcome labor shortages, increase operational efficiency and deliver new services. At the same time, a report from the Association of Equipment Manufacturers, finds the U.S. construction market is steadily growing and is expected to achieve 1.7% growth in 2020. Taking advantage of this growth requires shifting from old ways of thinking and embracing changes that span people, processes and technology.

Moving the Industry Forward

Keeping up with technology and trends is critical for success, so which ones will dominate in 2020?

1. The Constructible Process. It’s time to take a purpose-driven approach to building construction with a constructible process that coordinates and optimizes the entire design, build and operate lifecycle. A constructible process ensures that data from every stage of the design and construction phases is shared, combined and used to make more informed decisions before construction starts – and before it’s too late.

Those who have adopted a constructible process are streamlining workflows, sharing data and using it to make their work better, more efficient and smarter. This constructible process is driven by three Cs: Connected, Content-enabled and Constructible data.

  • Connected construction ensures that models and information is easily shared, understood and available throughout the project. With improved visibility, trade teams can coordinate their work with other trades more efficiently. Most importantly, barriers between the office and field are eliminated. Constructible data is available to automate work in the field and field data can feed back to the office to validate schedules, automate payables and more.
  • Content-enabled data drives repeatable processes and transforms the supply chain. Designers and engineers save time developing detailed and comprehensive models by incorporating digital content that mirrors the physical world plus metadata that provides important contextual information such as cost, weight and sourcing.
  • Constructible data extends the value of BIM beyond visualization and into production. Constructible models contain the data and accuracy needed to build, create predictable plans and drive downstream efficiencies in the field.

2. Connected Jobsites. Modern technology is making it easier than ever to efficiently manage complex, large-scale projects with connected jobsites that leverage cloud-based software, mobile devices and connected systems for field layout, installation and fabrication. Cloud-based software makes it possible to share data freely and efficiently in real-time, while mobile-friendly software allows construction workers, safety managers, supervisors and inspectors alike to access the information they need on their mobile phones and tablets from the field. At the same time, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth enabled workflows take full advantage of constructible data by automating hardware such as robotic total stations and rapid positioning tools to speed up the layout and measuring processes without the need for rekeying information into controllers; GPS-enabled positioning systems for situations where line-of-sight is difficult to maintain; and 3D laser scanners for digitally establishing as-built data. And finally, peripherals offer even more exciting and creative options for achieving a productive and profitable connected jobsite through RFID tags and readers, cameras, access control gates and IoT-enabled equipment.

3. 3D Scanning. Modern 3D laser scanning continues to provide value by informing construction plans and providing valuable as-built data before and during projects. With today’s computers offering incredible storage and processing speed, along with unprecedented mobility at a very low price point, the modern commercial grade professional 3D laser scanners used in the construction trades offers scan detail and options that were unheard of just a few years ago.

These 3D scanning tools simplify workflows and can instantly and accurately collect comprehensive measurement data for construction jobsite measurement and pre-construction processes, making it easy for professionals with little or no scanning experience to capture precise 3D scanning data.

As hardware continues to improve, 3D laser scanning will become faster, more accurate and more affordable. Adoption of 3D laser scanners, along with the hardware and software supporting them, will continue to grow as lower prices and market growth uncover new and exciting ways to use this powerful technology.

4. Extended Reality. Virtual reality, mixed reality and augmented reality are transforming the construction industry. All three technologies are helping stakeholders visualize complex data and improve decision-making. In fact, according to IDC, worldwide spending on augmented and virtual reality is expected to surpass $20 billion in 2019.

VR is being used at the conceptual phase to explore how various permutations of design can impact use and flow. This technology is frequently employed in architecture, where decisions based on printed renderings or 3D visualizations delivered via 2D screens can have long-lasting repercussions on space utilization, lighting and more. With VR, architects and owners can experience first-hand what it will be like to enter the space, move around and put the space to work.

Often used outdoors, AR is a powerful visualization tool for a wide range of stakeholders within the construction sector. For example, city planners can visualize a new building design in the exact spot it is to be erected or a work crew can identify the exact position of underground cables or pipes before digging.

Mixed reality is transforming the way construction companies consume and interact with information on the jobsite. A wearable technology, MR enables workers and supervisors onsite to access precise, holographic information while keeping their hands free for work and safety. Workers can see building models overlaid in the physical environment, which enables precise visualization of building data overlaid on the physical environment on a 1:1 scale. In addition, visual sequencing provides step-by-step instructions of an assembly process. For complex assemblies, 3D views of each step with accompanying instructions help even experienced workers to avoid potential errors.

5. Offsite Prefabrication. The concept of building “modules” at offsite facilities and shipping them to the jobsite for installation isn’t new, but the ability to integrate and share accurate data in real-time has made prefabrication more practical and cost-effective. Compared to traditional onsite methods, prefabricating modules offsite can be faster, more efficient and of higher quality.

The structured environment of an offsite fabrication facility tends to eliminate many of the challenges and slowdowns seen on busy construction sites. It also has the potential to pull labor from the jobsite, leaving more room for onsite workers to do their jobs. When combined with smart infrastructure and logistics planning, this creates incredible efficiencies on what would otherwise have been a crowded and chaotic jobsite. In addition, the controlled environment of an offsite fabrication facility lends itself to higher quality equipment. Therefore, a higher-quality product can be produced.

As the construction industry enters a new era of digital transformation, these technologies and trends will play a key role in enabling seamless workflows and increased collaboration that will continue to move the construction industry forward towards more optimal levels of productivity and efficiency.

by Eric Harris

Eric Harris is Strategic Communications Manager at Trimble.

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