Industry 3.0 to Industry 4.0: The Journey for the Construction Industry

Contractors embracing Industry 4.0 in the evolution of interconnection and information transparency should view it as a journey, starting with a shared vision of why, followed by what, where, when and how.
By Jim Mansfield
March 3, 2020

Industry 4.0 (I4.0 or I4) has been described as the subset of the fourth industrial revolution, which encompasses technology, software and processes that are not typically associated in discussions about constructing smart cities, buildings, hospitals and municipalities. Who builds those smart cities, buildings, hospitals and municipalities? I4.0 for the construction industry is present today and is growing at unbelievable rates or “growth at the speed of data.”

Data is everywhere today and has been for years. Data is plugged into complex algorithms and delivered it to whoever needs it, when and where it is needed to drive efficiency, ease of constructability, sustainability and safety throughout the industry.

Digital technologies have been advancing steadily inside the manufacturing industry since the Purdue Model, which defined computer-integrated manufacturing (CIM) in the late 1980s to early 1990s. Today, digital technologies advancing autonomous construction; building designs that promote prefabrication and modular construction; 3D printing and additive manufacturing; augmented reality and virtualization; wireless monitoring and connected construction equipment are being adopted in the construction industry. These technologies deliver Big Data to the cloud for predictive and prescriptive analytics to aid equipment, machine and process learning.

These data sources come from wired and wireless connectivity and sensors, connected to systems that can visualize entire construction sites across all skilled trades, which helps enable decisions to be made independently or as a unified team. This is referenced as process learning or system learning. This technology is a new trend that drives toward data collection and data exchange in the construction process and equipment, which includes cyber-physical systems (CPS), "Internet of Things," Industrial Internet of Things (IIOT), cloud computing, cognitive computing, artificial intelligence (AI) and more.

Contractors are interested in embracing I4.0 (referring to the next step in the evolution of interconnection and information transparency) and want to enable technical assistance from systems to support decentralized decision making and autonomous task performance. While the drivers and value behind their desire to embrace I4.0 are certainly there, many have yet to adopt the already advanced technologies of the third industrial revolution or digital revolution; this is especially true in the construction industry.

Within the construction industry, design firms, general contractors, mechanical contractors and electrical contractors embracing the myriad of technological advancements referenced above are seeing significant cost savings throughout an entire project life cycle.

For example:

  • It’s possible to achieve a 20% to 30% reduction in the design cycle by utilizing integrated software platforms, 3D scanning and virtual design capabilities.
  • By incorporating 3D safety training and other proactive safety methods and technologies, the prevention of even one recordable safety incident can greatly impact the overall cost impact to the project.
  • Collaborative digitization of previous projects to replicate similar layouts, assemblies and sub-assemblies can provide greater efficiency, while reducing waste and quality defects during construction by 30% to 50%.
  • Technologies exist today to analyze complex projects in real-time to determine the variability of employee performance, schedule deviation, material costs and many other factors. This real-time information enables site leadership to be agile in the adjustment of various business processes and/or site workflows to maximize schedule and cost performance.

Today’s struggle to hire, train and retain the skilled labor needed to support the increased demand of smart cities, manufacturing facilities, buildings, hospitals and municipalities, continues to be a daunting task. The adoption of I4.0 in the construction industry is rapidly redefining the skill sets and technology competencies required for construction companies to remain competitive. Organizations that don’t have a plan to adapt and adopt I4.0 and commit to solving the labor shortage through internal training and focused retention will slowly begin to decline and lose market share.

This doesn’t mean contractors have to do something today. The jump from I3.0 to I4.0 is not for the faint of heart and should be considered a journey. It took approximately 35 years after World War II to advance to, and eventually through, Dr. Joseph Harrington’s vision of CIM. It took 40 years for manufacturers to begin to adopt and implement the advanced software and hardware technology sets, enabling them to optimize their manufacturing operations. They must remain diligent in the constant pursuit of reduced manufacturing and product costs to remain competitive. The journey for the construction industry to adopt similar advancements is still in its infancy and most construction companies are just now starting to talk about it. Watch for those outliers that are beginning to embrace I4.0 technologies, software and processes, though, as they will become the market leaders.

Today, top hardware and software providers have the technologies available to connect and enable smart architectural, electrical and mechanical design for organizations and construction sites, but who are the companies offering this, how are they doing it and to what end? What data and from what sources are needed to collect, store, calculate and share to enable machine, process and system learning? The simple answer is that it’s different for every organization. Hence the need to approach I4.0 as a journey, focusing first on an organization’s alignment of a shared vision on the why, followed by the what, where, when and finally how.

Slow down to speed up. Spend the required amount of time in a discovery and planning phase to gain organization-wide alignment from the shop floor to the top floor on why the organization wants this. Then, keeping the end goal in mind, try not to focus on too much at one time. What things can be connected and measured that can provide the information needed for improvement? Let the value of those improvements drive decisions on what to prioritize during the journey. Select hardware, software and execution partners who possess the subject matter expertise to help contractors along that journey and who are willing to remain engaged with them as advisers, coaches and mentors, assisting with change management and change adoption.

by Jim Mansfield
Jim joined Faith Technologies in May of 2015, and has more than 30 years of Automation & Process Controls experience leading manufacturing and operational transformation teams within the food and beverage, metals and mining, consumer product and many other discrete and process industries. As a Solutions Architect, Jim is responsible for the needs analysis, design, development, implementation, management, and troubleshooting of automation and process controls projects, with an emphasis on client business solutions, project management and data system integration. Some of his additional responsibilities include coaching, mentoring, and providing guidance to project leadership and teams, ensuring projects are successfully completed on time/within budget, meet safety guidelines, and exceed customer expectations.

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