Over the last decade, rapidly evolving technologies have revolutionized almost every industry and sector; telecommunications, financial services, transportation, retail and more. However, the world of construction is ranked amongst the least digitized sectors globally, according to the McKinsey Global Institute’s digitization report*. Spending on technology and R&D both typically account for less than 1% of revenues. Belatedly, however, the construction industry is now at the cusp of a new era in terms of technological innovation.
As an important industry on a global scale, construction has a significant economic impact, with an estimated market value of US$10 trillion per year and employing about 7% of the world’s working-age population*. With the top construction markets expected to experience sizeable growth over the coming ten years (as evidenced in the graph below), the industry is set to be of increasing importance to the global economy.
Applying new technologies, processes and innovations can have a significant impact on the construction industry, in areas such as efficiency, the reduction of project durations, the improvement and reduction of defects correction processes, automated robotics, mechanics, and much more. Innovation and technology application in the construction of critical infrastructure is undeniably prioritized on the public agenda. Complex projects, tight schedules and increasing demand for large-scale construction all necessitate the application of the latest technologies and innovations.
This in turn creates enormous opportunities around the world for those who are creating software solutions for site optimization, project organization processes, schedule shortening mechanisms and innovative materials and tools. Construction technology can be applied to the different aspects of the construction process (materials, equipment and services), and can extend across the full project life cycle. Research conducted by McKinsey has indicated that although it is still in its early stages, investors have demonstrated interest in the construction tech area, with construction tech firms raising US$10 billion of capital from 2011 to early 2017*.
Thus far, the majority of innovation has been around tools for digital collaboration and back-office use, with the implementation of tools and new materials at scale proving a challenge. Below, we review some of the key areas in which construction can benefit from technology and innovation:
When early survey estimates and ground conditions differ considerably, it can cause both time and budget implications for projects. Advanced techniques that offer high-quality visualization can be integrated with tools such as BIM (Building Information Modelling) to improve upon existing surveying tools. Lidar is one such technology, which uses drone or similar unobtrusive technologies to survey in challenging environments (dense, environmentally sensitive or historic sites).
McKinsey identified 5D BIM as being a future transformative innovation that would greatly benefit the sector. However, for Linesight, it isn’t in the future – it is now, and we have been developing and using 5D for a number of years. It is being applied across both Cost and Project Management, and the capabilities are considerable, resulting in increased productivity with regards to quantity extraction, estimation and change management.
One of the most significant benefits we have seen to date is the project/data analysis, which can now be carried out and applied in areas such as model development tracking, clash analysis, area analysis. In addition, the use of 3D information allows for the application of data to future projects, and can assist clients with future projects.
With the industry’s productivity having declined in some markets since the 1990s, and research by the Global Projects Database revealing that large projects typically take 20% longer to complete than scheduled, it is evident that there is significant opportunity for technology and digitization to offer improvements. The lack of real-time information sharing can cause considerable delays and make the analysis of project data more difficult.. Digitizing workflows can boost productivity, enable more seamless collaboration and communication and offer significant time savings. With the proliferation of mobile devices, we are seeing the emergence of cloud-based technologies facilitating real-time document and information sharing, on-site collaboration and issue tracking. We expect to see this evolve rapidly over the coming years.
The IoT is a major topic within the tech industry, and was covered in our recent ‘Hyperactive Hyperscale’ white paper. It offers applications across multiple industries with Gartner estimating that the number of connected devices will reach 26 billion by 2020. The application of IoT in the construction industry offers huge benefits, enabling site equipment and machinery to communicate with a centralized platform, which would help to measure performance parameters. This in turn could assist in addressing the productivity decline mentioned above.
Building materials are a US€1 trillion global industry, and with sustainability and cost typically at the forefront in terms of considerations when approaching a construction project, it is not surprising that the use of alternative materials is on the rise (discussed in a recent Linesight Insight piece). The industry is increasingly looking towards materials and processes that are more environmentally friendly, and those which offer distinct benefits in terms of cost, durability and buildability[FD1] [FD2] . These include composite sheet piles and fiberglass reinforcements, as well as a whole host of new and innovative materials, and applications of materials.
It is evident that construction technology is evolving at a considerable pace, and catching up with the digitization of other industries. As such an important industry to the global economy, the implementation of key technologies into construction is of fundamental importance.
* Statistics taken from McKinsey & Company Capital Projects and Infrastructure Insights - https://www.mckinsey.com/indus...