Ours is essentially an information age. Technology has been disrupting every sector in our industries and reforming every aspect of our lives. Gone are the days when human efforts are involved in all stages of production, for nowadays robots and computers take over the monotonous work while we tackle more challenging tasks and devise creative solutions. The construction industry, for example, have already witnessed the power of Building Information Modelling (BIM) in facilitating the design, operation and maintenance of construction projects. Its broad applicability coupled with its wide adoption has established its position as an industry standard. But the construction industry is looking for more: as demand for automations surge across all industries, robots see their application in facilitating construction projects and progress management.
While BIM models have already considerably improved productivity and communication between management and site workers, they nevertheless cannot fully integrate the workflow between different stakeholders and completely realise the power of modern technological inventions. The drawback of BIM models stems from the fact that they are static, representing only one timing spot in the lifecycle of the building projects: the inception of ideas. While it is possible to exploit BIM models in construction management, the workflow is impeded by its static design. But the industry is quick to adapt: already, we see a trend for the construction companies to move from “static” to “real-time”. Increasingly more businesses are exploiting the power of Scan-to-BIM technology, leveraging panoramic cameras to document construction progress and capture site conditions on a weekly basis, greatly facilitating the process of project management.
Yet the development of technology enables further exploitation of cutting-edge artificial intelligence implementations. The construction industry will soon enter a truly “real-time” era, adopting a brand-new workflow exemplified by live construction progress tracking and underpinned by automated project management. This innovation, supported by the state-of-the-art Simultaneous Localisation and Mapping (SLAM) technologies, enable the possibility to scan construction sites with rapid efficiency and minimum human labour, thus allowing tracking of daily progress in an as-built model and the earliest detection of any discrepancy against the construction plan. For comparison purpose, indoor scan of a 100,000 m2 construction project costs 150 hours with traditional approaches; with the help of panoramic cameras, this number reduces to 60 hours; yet with an autonomous robot powered by SLAM technologies, this task can easily be accomplished in one working day, thereby creating as-built models of the construction sites.
The advantages of an as-built model are empowering and multifaceted: project management has never been fully integrated into such a completely automated workflow. Site managers are now able to visualise the progress of any construction project at any time on their laptops or mobile phones, tracking daily changes in the as-built models, verifying consistency between completed work and design specifications, and detecting discrepancies at the earliest possible stage with Scan-to-BIM integration. Quality assessment is guaranteed by real-time documentation: managers are able to verify structure conditions and detect cracks or material displacement with fully documented site conditions. Time management is also made smooth: live tracking allows managers to stay on top of the construction progress, adjust goals and milestones of the construction project, and effectively communicate with site engineers. What’s more, live tracking facilitates the dynamic prediction of resource requirements, mitigating common problems such as over-allocation of resources, thus minimising resource reallocation over long distances, optimising equipment usage and greatly boosting productivity and time management. In addition, artificial intelligence technologies also work to ensure the safety of workers through a system of early detection and notification.
The impact of this novel technology is immediate and colossal: it substantially reduces the number of accidents on construction sites and improves scheduling forecast by at least 20%, which directly translates into the reduction of project costs by minimising reworking costs and resource allocation expenditure. At the same time, it improves worker safety, assists better communication and streamlines quality assurance and legal documentation. All the advantages are brought by a smart automation with an associated software platform analysing point cloud data, both of which require minimum training to operate.
Technology advancement is bringing a whole new chapter to the construction industry. It is exciting to witness the development within this era, which calls for better communication and smarter management brought by disruptive innovations. Better, faster data capture and analysis is the future of the construction industry, and the future is already on the horizon.