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The spectrum of technology available to today’s contractors is wide and deep. This techno-ecosystem will change just about every operational tick and tock needed to build world-class projects—from where and how people work to what equipment they use and how they record payments. 

“Generally speaking, the use of technology in construction is surging, particularly in the past three to five years,” says Chris Amato, principal and national advisory leader for the Chicago-based management consultancy Grant Thornton. “It’s becoming the cost of doing business; every player, at some point or another, is going to need to embrace it to some degree. The key questions are where to start, where to invest and how to minimize risk.”

According to the July 2017 article, The New Age of Engineering and Construction Technology, “The companies that place the right bets now will probably be the industry leaders in the next 10 to 15 years if they match their greater investment in technology with a company-wide commitment to change. Above all, they will need to alter fundamental aspects of their organizational structure, corporate culture and IT systems, with the goal of seamlessly integrating new tools into daily work.”

Read on for construction sector analysis of what’s in store for technology—also known as the fourth industrial revolution—in 2019.

AR and VR 

Both augmented reality and virtual reality will continue to have many uses in construction. Remarkably, both use virtual perception, via digitization, to help shape reality.

Jon Fingland is the general manager for collaboration solutions at Sunnyvale, California-based Trimble, a developer of global navigation satellite system technology. He says AR and VR tools help workers interact with a virtual prototype and identify potential clashes before the build process—significantly decreasing the amount of project rework.

“AR and VR solutions are changing the way construction companies design, build and operate by bringing simplicity, practicality and real-time problem-solving capabilities to the worksite,” Fingland says. “As these immersive technologies continue to advance, they are becoming fundamental elements of the constructible process for visualizing complex data and supporting more information-rich experiences.”

With the genesis of AR and VR experiences driven by state-of-the-art gaming engines, owners and operators are immersed into jobsites. They may actually “walk” the site before any ground has been broken. 

“This visualization and immersion process promotes idea sharing and better planning with the direct result of risk mitigation, enhanced safety, and saved time and money in construction,” notes Amr Raafat, director of virtual design and construction at Windover Construction, Beverly, Massachusetts. “With VR, changes to materials and design can be made in real time and well before construction has begun.

“I expect that very soon, firms interested in taking the next step will be able to accurately draw and develop 3D models while wearing AR glasses in the context of the actual construction site,” he adds. “Meaning, instead of sketching ideas on paper or on the computer screen, an accurate 3D model could be created with real-life conditions using the hologram technology. This approach can revolutionize conceptual planning by grounding early phase ideas in realistic perspective for designers, builders and owners.”

Mark Grassi serves as a principal and certified technical specialist for the Sextant Group, an audiovisual consultant in Pittsburgh. He sees the value of AR and VR as helping tell stories to owners and clients. 

“It allows them to visualize the space and for designers to bring their visions to life,” Grassi notes. “Recently, we were involved in a project where the architect utilized VR to walk a major donor through the building, providing valuable feedback from someone who likely wouldn’t be able to visualize the space through drawings alone. Later in the project, the team held a virtual groundbreaking. Because the participants didn’t have real shovels, everything was done via VR. It was a very unique experience.” 

Amanda Comunale of Victaulic, a developer and producer of mechanical pipe joining systems in Easton, Pennsylvania, expects to see an uptrend in AR and VR in 2019 as more industry members realize their value. “The use of AR and VR as visualization tools gives a realistic perspective on how a building will functionally install throughout the preconstruction phase of a project,” she says. “Everyone from the building owner to the engineers and fitters can see the model as if they were standing in a room, with a realistic image of the piping above them and in the floor below."

BIM and VDC 

Managing multiple, large projects can be a challenge, but BIM helps create seamlessness. Walt Davis, senior manager of strategic alliances for Sage Software, Inc., in Golden, Colorado, says data flow among design, cost estimating, project management and financial applications is imperative to efficiently respond to project requirements, especially as they inevitably change. 

“Some applications are emerging that provide functional integration under one umbrella,” Davis says. He touts Sage’s experience in fostering integration with solutions provided by industry leaders such as Autodesk, Procore and Sage’s own applications, which can take basic functions of construction project management, such as estimating, and integrate them with other software applications.

“Estimating is key in the construction industry,” he explains. “Fluctuating materials prices and changes on a jobsite can trip up a contractor. Tight integration allows the cost estimator to quickly calculate the impact of such changes and feed them back to owners and project managers.”

Integrated estimation also prevents rework and miscalculations. “The very idea that a takeoff can be leveraged over and over, updated dynamically, applied and reapplied digitally as the project scope evolves, is transformative,” says Sasha Reed, Bluebeam’s vice president of industry advocacy. “It means less rework and greater accuracy, and allows for a dynamic relationship to evolve that hadn’t previously existed among the owner, designer and contractor.”

Underlying BIM and VDC is a movement toward data democratization (i.e., access to data by all). It is aided by information modeling and effective integration; it helps construction teams collaborate better and act more efficiently. 

“For many years, the data generated by various disciplines in the construction industry existed only in silos within the organization or within multiple companies involved in the building process,” Davis says. “While desires for data security played a part, technology only recently has reached the point where these silos can be broken down efficiently and cost effectively.”

Access to data levels the playing field. “Digital systems democratize information, making it accessible, searchable and replicable,” Reed says. “Contractors who leverage technology can be nimble and responsive, and produce higher quality, competitive bids. With a digital bid response, there’s a level of sophistication and accuracy that improves the most basic of interactions during a bid review.”

BIM and VDC applications have matured dramatically during the past decade, which presents a great opportunity for industry members. “Owners and contractors alike have been going through a digital transformation during that time,” says Brad Barth, chief product officer for InEight, a provider of construction project management software based in Scottsdale, Arizona. “Building information models, along with the data they contain, can play a huge enabling role in that transition.” 

Barth says that as projects get larger, the challenge of managing the immense amount of data generated gets more difficult. “Fortunately, owners in various industries are realizing the benefits that can be achieved through a digital engineering approach that connects the design, construction and operation stages of a project through a common data environment.”

The digital transformation that BIM and VDC enables adds value. Andy Knauf, CIO at Mead & Hunt, an architecture and engineering consultant firm based in Middleton, Wisconsin, says BIM became the company’s process of choice upon the earliest discovery of its value. It has subsequently improved project quality, which was ultimately delivered to clients. 

“We started using Revit as our BIM tool for architectural teams more than 10 years ago, followed quickly by Structural,” Knauf explains. “The important benefit was that these two disciplines could coordinate designs not only with each other, but also extend the use of information inside of the models outside of documentation. This simplified and improved design processes.”

Raafat cites a Windover renovation project in which a typical BIM workflow could begin with 3D laser scanning of existing conditions to create a reality capture point cloud model within one-eighth inch accuracy. 

“The data can then be taken by a firm’s VDC team to create a Revit 3D model to support the design process and to coordinate new MEP/FP systems within the existing structure,” he says. “This mitigates potential errors or clashes during construction, ultimately resulting in saved time and money. BIM is also being leveraged by our team for life cycle assessments, virtual mock-ups, logistics and safety planning.”

Raafat predicts BIM workflows will become more automated in the next year, especially in the company’s clash detection process.

“Instead of manually combing through a model to identify issues, I envision VDC specialists being able to provide the software with specific rules to give it the object awareness required to resolve clashes automatically,” he predicts. “This would allow VDC specialists to focus more on the creativity and innovation efforts of a project rather than time-consuming tasks. It also would go a long way in eliminating the potential for human error in the process.”

GPs

Global positioning systems can sync with other technologies to produce positive results and avoid or solve problems. GPS is emerging in value and utility to improve many areas of a construction project. 

For example, look at the time a worker actually uses tools to complete tasks. Bobby Ball is the chief operating officer of Birmingham, Alabama-based Jovix, a company that offers a materials readiness application designed specifically for industrial construction. Ball cites data from the University of Texas’s Construction Institute: More than half of the average construction worker’s day (historically about 10 hours) is for “time on tools.” The worker loses about 1.5 hours waiting on or looking for materials. This leaves only 3.7 hours of actual time using the tools and equipment to be productive. 

“Geo-contextual automation reduces pick times via GPS and increases transaction efficiencies,” Ball says. “GPS location of materials also reduces schedule risk by enabling the real-time reporting of material status, location and other actionable data, including lost material and fabrication delays to quickly inform decision-makers.”

Chris Wiegand is the CEO and co-founder of Toronto-based Jibestream, an indoor mapping and intelligence platform. He says that 2019 is going to be an exciting year and will use technology such as indoor maps via the internet of things to virtually mirror jobsites using geolocation technology. 

“In 2019, more construction sites are going to start creating indoor maps and digital twins of the sites for the construction process,” Wiegand predicts. “Incorporating this with location-based technologies from the outset will mean that IoT use cases—wayfinding (a method of spatial problem-solving to help navigate from place to place indoors) for jobsite staff, asset tracking of high-value equipment and machine learning applications for process automation—will have a significant impact on the construction industry and will ultimately result in smarter cities.”

GPS works well with other technologies to help prevent problems and solve latent ones. “We worked with a contractor building a five-story residential and commercial complex in a downtown area,” explains Brian Saab, CEO and founder of Seattle-based Unearth Technologies, a software solutions provider that digitizes construction jobsites. “Before starting construction, the company settled on a data collection and storage app to track and record the entire project. Drones were flown at regular intervals for comprehensive progress documentation that they would then use as a base map on top of which they stored their project data.”

Saab explains that quite by accident, a work leader overlaid site plans over drone imagery views only to discover impending issues that, if left unaddressed, would result in rework. This prompted him to sync with GPS-enabled 360-degree cameras, tag a visual depiction of the problem and promptly inform all stakeholders. Consequently, much rework was avoided. 

Mobile Apps

Applications via smartphone or tablet are part of the currency to exchange digital information. Apps work in harmony with other technologies to provide the building and construction team with tools to be more productive, particularly for dispersed and mobile construction workers and leaders. 

“Apps are increasingly designed for construction managers who don’t spend a lot of time at their desks, increasing their effectiveness in the field,” says Dan Taylor of Software Advice, an Austin, Texas, company that provides research and user reviews on software applications for small and mid-sized businesses in various markets. Taylor sees apps as a boon to the mobile construction worker and dispersed team manager whose workspace is out and about, rather than localized. 

Sergey Sundukovskiy is co-founder, chief technology officer, and chief product officer for Carlsbad, California-based Raken, which offers a digital app to create daily reports, time cards and project insights directly from the field. He notes that the construction industry has traditionally been conservative when it comes to adopting new technologies, but the modern marketplace is forcing this attitude to change. 

“With labor shortages and increased competition squeezing them, companies are turning to technology to help boost their productivity,” he says. 

Drones

Drones have been an upward trending technology, and it looks like more applications are on the way. 

“The industry has experienced a 239 percent growth in drone use year over year, higher than any other commercial sector,” comments Scott Cannon, CEO of BigRentz, an online construction equipment rental marketplace based in Irvine, California. “Their aerial vantage point and data collecting abilities make them a viable tool; benefits range from onsite safety to remote monitoring. As the industry grows and construction projects become more complex, drones in construction will continue to skyrocket in 2019.”

“Imagery from drones and other cameras will be increasingly used to feed into software that generates 3D models from 2D imagery, and even compares to 4D BIM models to measure progress and sequence issues,” says David Gaw, founder and CEO of Sensera Systems, a sensor and wireless communications firm in Woburn, Massachusetts. 

Drones of tomorrow will have improved technology that will be more efficient, according to Timothy Harris, co-founder and CEO of Swift Navigation, a provider of global navigation satellite system technology. 

“By utilizing real-time kinematics (RTK) GNSS technology, eliminating the need for ground control points and developing smart autonomous drones that can fly data collection missions on their own with little operator input, project managers can obtain fast and reliable centimeter-accurate results to make much more informed decisions without leaving jobsites.” “Whether it’s time equaling money or accuracy leading to efficiency, the benefit of using technology to improve survey operations is evident.”

Smart Equipment and Telematics

Construction equipment rental and usage are becoming more efficient with the advancement of telematics that can monitor and control machines while gathering data for advanced analytics to drive smarter decisions. 

According to Cannon of BigRentz, equipment rentals account for 47 percent of industry revenue. By the end of next year, the majority of bookings will be “touchless,” meaning no personal interaction by phone or in person with any bookings. 

Cannon says that in 2019, more contractors will go online to schedule their heavy rental equipment with single-source platforms and networks. Increasingly, they will use self-service technology to order equipment, extend or terminate the rental, report any issues and manage invoices, all through mobile, tablet or desktop computer means. “We see this touchless rental trend growing by up to 55 percent in 2019,” Cannon predicts. 

“All our company information is stored on the cloud, and all our field staff works on large iPads, which are great for accessing information right there onsite,” notes Grey Marker, CEO of Marker Construction Group in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. “Our smart equipment is utilized mostly through Procore. Having instant access to information, whether we’re in the office or on the jobsite, is a convenience that gives us more efficiency in our jobs. This is the direction in which the industry is moving. As the technology improves, so do our processes.”

In addition, more equipment is outfitted with telematics. Tomas Keenan is CEO of Hicksville, New York-based Top Class Installations, a firm that installs mobile electronics and GPS tracking systems in equipment. Keenan says installed sensors that enable telematics allow the aggregation of big data. “What the telematics provider does with this data is where the magic happens,” he says. “This brings us to what I believe is the future of telematics.”

Construction Accounting Software

Accounting and payroll software for construction is improving the tenor of finance for today’s agile construction companies through cloud-based solutions and jobsite-specific apps.

“By modernizing operations with an integrated, cloud-based construction management package, contractors can rid themselves of the headaches of manual processes that can handcuff construction projects,” says Matt Harris, chief product officer for Viewpoint. “Digitizing the office and the field takes paper out of processes, but more importantly, it saves time, reduces errors and improves communications. Together, these add up to not just overhead cost savings, but also improved operations. With more complete and accurate data on job costs available through construction accounting software, contractors can generate better estimates, know earlier if a project is at risk, and build reliable benchmarks against which they can measure performance.” 

Cloud-based solutions also set the stage for payment automation. “When a transaction is made, workflows within integrated software packages can automatically route payment approval tasks to the right people within the organization to speed up the payment process. On the vendor side, the cloud allows for intuitive online portals or kiosks that let firms submit payments, track their status, see relevant information for their job or order, and much more,” Harris adds.

Accounting apps help streamline financial data. Mike Ode, CEO of Strongsville, Ohio-based Payroll4Construction.com, says the impact timekeeping apps have made for construction offices is easy to underestimate. “As long as they’re implemented effectively with the right supporting systems, these apps can take guesswork out of each project component’s true labor hours and costs,” he says.

Overall, accounting and payroll software brings productivity and profitability, says Jeff Weiss, chief revenue officer of Ontario, Canada-based CMiC. He emphasizes the importance of data platforms that are cloud-based and on-premise to manage all financials, projects, resources and content asset data in one place. Weiss says such technology allows firms to optimize productivity, minimize risks and drive profitable growth with little to no added overhead cost. 

CPM Software

The right project management software, when properly implemented, can result in a lower overall cost of construction to the owner, according to Barth of InEight. “Including the cost of the relevant software licenses is usually in bounds, depending on the nature of the contract,” he says. “Increasingly, the owner may mandate the use of a specific project management system, or compatible system, and in those cases the licenses are often paid for by the client. However, like other investments contractors make, whether it’s people or equipment or technology, it’s not so much about covering their costs.”

He adds that the return on those investments is measured in the competitive advantage gained in the marketplace and the reduction of costs and project delivery risk for clients. 

“Like equipment, field technology simply has become part of your real cost of delivering a project on time and on budget,” says Fred Ode, CEO and chairman of Strongsville, Ohio-based Foundation Software. Ode advises that when evaluating construction project management software, easy-to-use functionality is imperative. An often-overlooked question is how that data is accessed.

“That question applies both to how individual users can get the information they need and how the data can be integrated with other systems already in use,” Ode explains. “It’s critical that the project management system is built on an open platform because the data it contains will be in demand by numerous roles, both internal and external to the organization. Within the roles and permissions you define, you want to enable easy access to the data so team members can get what they need without sending emails back and forth or making requests for IT support.”

For an incremental cost, CPM software usually can be added to an existing enterprise resource management system, further streamlining project communication, especially when the solutions are on the cloud. “The substantial advantage is that all these applications are built on technology stacks that in turn point to and draw from a single database. Having one single source of reliable information is vital to any organization that aims to be driven by data,” says Viewpoint’s Harris.

Accessing the compendium of data from a project is aided by artificial intelligence. It helps gather accurate data easily and cuts down on the administrative burden of log keeping. 

“Watch for new AI technology that can automatically collect project data such as materials delivered, worker counts and safety observations that can then feed this information directly into daily logs and safety incident reports,” says Matt Man, CEO and co-founder of San Francisco -based construction intelligence platform indus.ai

360-degree Technology and Jobsite Cameras

In 2019, expect to see more and better jobsite cameras as new players enter the market and costs continue to drop, according to Louis Wood, owner of Defend It Yourself, a security equipment installer in San Antonio, Texas. “As cellular data speeds up and solar power technology and camera quality improve, jobsite cameras continue to perform better while costs keep dropping,” he says. “Thermal imaging, panoramic cameras, extreme low light cameras and higher image resolutions continue to increase the quality and reliability of footage used to detect unauthorized access to construction sites. New video analytics are able to analyze motion events in footage and detect whether a moving object is a vehicle, animal or person.” 

Sensera Systems foresees new and added value via visual technology. “Different value propositions can be best served with different imaging techniques, including fixed cameras, drones and hand-held 360 capture,” Gaw explains. “Photo documentation of indoor aspects of a project are best served with hand-held image capture, and 360 can be a good choice. For real-time jobsite monitoring to deliver time-lapse or analytics to detect events of interest, a fixed camera is likely the best choice, as it requires no human labor and can monitor 24/7. Some advanced applications being tested now include using crane-mounted cameras.”

Gaw adds that jobsite imaging can help project teams to identify problems earlier and react faster. It also integrates well with other technology and helps collaboration by keeping teams transparent. 

Wearable Technology

Wearable technology for construction has come of age. Smart helmets and smart vests are examples of wearable gear that are more commonplace and coming down in price, Man says. “A lot of the items still rely on a stable wireless mesh network to work well. As more wearable technologies are deployed in the field, it’s becoming clear that we must have WiFi all over the jobsite for things to function properly.” 

Wearable technology that stores and loads information can accelerate the review of modeled data at the worksite. “For example, Microsoft HoloLens helps companies more effectively interpret and interact with physical and digital information and their spatial relationships. In this way, they can review their models overlaid in the context of the physical environment,” Fingland says. 

Bluetooth technology continues to add value to wearables and can automatically monitor who is entering and leaving the jobsite, what zone they’re in and if they have permission or the right documentation to be there, as well as create reports. It also can be used to quickly identify workers who are injured or need help.

“Wearables are improving safety at construction sites by providing the ability for a general or trade contractor to track the location of employees in real time,” says Jim Marquet, managing director at Graham Company, one of the country’s leading insurance brokers. “If they’ve fallen, or if something’s fallen on them—the nightmare scenario that every general contractor fears—the sensor has the ability to report the accident in real time.”

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