The construction site is changing rapidly. Automation, new technologies and methods—and the demands to continuously improve cost, schedule, safety and quality—are all pushing modern construction management into a completely new era. We hear the buzzwords: the Internet of Things, the connected jobsite, analytics. But what do they really mean for the day to day work on a jobsite? How will they really impact the true business goals of construction?
Building Information Modeling (BIM)
BIM provides the base framework for integrating and relating pieces of information about the project. It starts with a CAD model of the structures and can add cost, schedule and other information tied to the model. Imagery from the as-built site can be automatically related to the BIM, providing 3D structure and organization to the photographic documentation. The “time” portions of the BIM model also support the automation describe above around project milestones and material requirements.
Drones & Ground Robotics
Drones are being deployed today to provide site survey, photography and inspection functions on the construction site. Autonomy functions are starting to appear, allowing drones to operate without training-intensive human operation. Fully autonomous drone flights will allow repeatable image capture and other site monitoring functions to be carried out with minimal labor from the construction staff. Mobile ground robots can be assistants to the crew to move materials around the site, saving time, and improving safety.
Internet of Things (IoT)
The Internet of Things (IoT) is a broad, often confusing technology trend that has to do with processing, sensors and communications moving more and more into everyday “objects.” In the context of construction automation, this is most easily seen in an application like asset tracking. Today’s asset tracking is largely centered on GPS systems being added to large, heavy equipment. But there are a number of technologies, such as Bluetooth Low Energy beacon, that will help take asset tracking down to the tool level. Having low-cost, ubiquitous location and tracking information on assets and materials on the site will have a large impact on construction workflow. The same technologies can be applied to the tracking of people and access to site locations. As these become more widespread, they will be applied to managing workflow and staff, materials handling and safety. Today, embedded sensors with communications are being used to automatically measure curing of concrete and shaving days and weeks off construction schedules while maintaining necessary safety parameters.
Augmented Reality (AR) is a set of technologies used for displaying digital information overlaid on the real world. AR will be particularly relevant for bridging CAD/BIM models of structures to the structure being built. It will streamline and simplify all construction tasks that involve “matching” the plan with where you currently are in the process. AR can make information retrieval as simple as standing and looking at a site location and having (only) relevant information appear.
Wireless and self-powered systems
Nowhere is wireless/battery powered capability more valuable than on a construction site where the landscape is, literally, continuously changing. Running wires or even having power is most often not an option. Trends in low-power electronics and high-bandwidth wireless communications such as LTE will continue to have a huge impact on construction by being able to bring the digital tools directly onto the construction site instead of staying locked in the trailer.
Video and Sensor Analytics
Video or sensor analytics is a suite of technologies for using algorithms to do detection and identification of events and patterns in digital data such as images. This technology will have a large impact in such construction areas as automatically recording project status (e.g., automatic identification of a material or asset type and location), implementing safety policies and site security. Companies are already starting to deliver applications that can analyze workers on a site to determine if they are wearing necessary safety gear.
Automated Site Monitoring
Automated site monitoring is a systems-level approach to weaving together many of these technologies into the “nervous system” of the construction site. Sensor data flows into the automated site monitoring system and is combined with BIM information, safety policies, work procedures, user information and more to generate alerts and information to simplify the project team’s jobs—in real-time. The automated site monitoring system is aimed at reducing costs, improving safety, managing schedules and improving quality.