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Five Trends That Will Define Construction in 2017

Posted: November 1, 2016 | Project Management

By Don Henrich, COO, Assemble Systems

During the next 12 months, we’re likely to see many exciting trends in the A/E/C industry. These growing trends are expected to become standards and to be used in all types of construction projects.

These trends are not only influencing construction, but also influencing many other aspects of our lives. The five trends that will define continued improvement of construction projects are:

  1. Scanning becoming mainstream
  2. 3D models and 3D data continuing to grow in usage on projects
  3. Sensors being used more and more throughout projects
  4. Wearables defining location of people and crews
  5. Video and still cameras gaining usage to capture work in place

Scanners

Ten years ago, scanners typically cost about $100,000, took significant time to set up, and created specialized data sets that required special software and powerful hardware to use the point clouds generated.

Today some scanners are handheld, cost less than $5,000, and come with all the software needed to utilize the data. New, more powerful scanners that can capture high density point clouds rapidly and augment the scan with high resolution photography cost less than half of the $100,000 figure from 10 years ago.

The rapid drop in cost, the ease of setup, and the large improvement in software and hardware allow these point clouds to quickly be registered, measured, and converted into vector data sets that can significantly improve the efficiency of a construction project. In addition to this type of use, the low cost and ease of use has enticed firms to begin to capture more and more of the progress from their teams by scanning an area weekly or, in some cases, even daily. Scanners are also being put to work to make sure that concrete slabs are perfectly flat and to check that steel beams are properly formed.

3D Models

Recently, a Chief Estimator at a large national construction firm said to me, “The fidelity of a model grows on the team over time.” While he was pointing out that everyone involved with the use of 3D models needs to assure themselves that the quality of the data is good enough to be useful to the construction planning process, he also was talking about how that becomes the catalyst for deeper and more continued use of 3D models.

Once planners and estimators working on projects become familiar with 3D models and learn how to check them for accuracy, they can then leverage them for incredible time savings. One workflow frequently done is 2D takeoff ,which is estimated to take about 75% of an estimator’s time when using 2D drawings. This time can be reduced to approximately 15% when using a model. Even if you allocate an additional 30% of the same time to quality assure it, you are still ahead by a whopping 30%. You can also quickly assess changes in future versions of the design – saving perhaps 90% of the time that a traditional approach would take by using automated model change analysis.

Sensors

Sensors will continue to be used for many purposes, including performance of structures, tracking of people, safety of large equipment, keeping track of the curing and moisture content of concrete, and monitoring health and safety concerns, such as air contaminants.

Many structural components in a project are delivered to the site unstressed, and therefore are not loaded until they are put in place. It is critical to know that these structural objects are loaded properly or, more importantly, not overloaded when the project is complete.

Sensors from environmental factors – such as ambient temperatures, as well as wind or other forces – can help builders manage the safety of the project. In the crane or lifting industry, there are huge objects being lifted into place by slender cables and booms. Equipment like this is designed to be safe, but in order to stay safe, the owners and operators of the crane must be sure that the lifting capacity has not been exceeded and that preventative maintenance on the crane has been done at the proper intervals. Furthermore, large cranes that have high vertical reach are subject to strong wind forces, so they must have sensors to monitor all weather conditions and to make sure that operation is safe.

Concrete sensors available today can be placed on rebar and buried in the slab. These powerful low-energy Bluetooth (BLE) devices are inexpensive and easy to place. They also offer a free smartphone application to collect the data that tells the construction team the temperature and the amount of humidity in the concrete as the chemical process of curing proceeds. Sensors like these can save large amounts of heating and cooling expense for the project (as concrete curing is affected by weather and temperature), as well as prevent losses from claims resulting from floors being laid on top of “damp” concrete.

Another type of sensor is the air quality type. Pollutants such as volatile organic compounds (VOC’s), as well as gases like carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide, must be non-existent or at safe levels to ensure worker safety.

Noise, temperature, humidity, and other site conditions are also detected and kept at safe levels by jobsite sensors. Sensors will not only be more and more useful during the construction process, but many will be left in place to monitor the health and safety of the structure itself. These will serve to provide the owner with advance notice of maintenance requirements or problematic conditions of critical building systems as the years wear on.

Wearables

Wearables continue to grow in use. RFID (radio-frequency identification) tags are popular today and uses include automated check-in and check-out of workers through sensor-enabled gates to help track contractors on the site. These wearables, typically attached to helmets or badges, can also help construction managers track the compliance of the project at any time for local labor laws, safety, and training. They can help track time in locations to determine if a task or trade is on schedule or is falling behind. Wearables are also invaluable during an emergency, as handheld sensor wands can quickly count and name all people reporting to a muster point and inform the emergency teams if everyone is accounted for.

Video and Photogrammetry

The use of video and photogrammetry from still pictures is exploding at project sites. Five years ago, there were video cameras mounted high over a site to show an overall view of the site. Now, in addition to those cameras, there are video drones that can survey the site, track progress, and even investigate problems in a large facility that were reported by sensors. Video is emerging as a serious method to capture events over time at a site. There are relatively inexpensive video cameras available today that can record weeks of construction activity 24/7 at a project.

Photogrammetry is also playing a larger and larger role as time of flight applications continue to emerge and improve in resolution and ease of use. There are initiatives to capture the amount of material moved in a shift or a day from simple photos that can compete with high-end scanning applications.

The A/E/C industry is making good technological strides toward better efficiency, safety, and tracking of projects. An integration strategy to bring these pieces together will be more important than ever, with the goal of sharing all this data between applications and groups. Let's spread the information rather than keeping it bottled up. Let’s all prepare our teams to learn about these innovations and implement them to the benefit of our employees, our projects, and our customers.

About the author: Don Henrich is Chief Operating Officer of Assemble Systems. He brings extensive experience in building organizations and market share for their products, and is responsible for strategy, marketing, sales, and customer success. Mr. Henrich was most recently head of Global Sales for Trimble Navigation’s General Contractor business, where he led a team of employees and partners marketing, selling, and supporting the Trimble Buildings portfolio. Mr. Henrich joined Trimble in 2012 via the acquisition of Vico Software, which he cofounded. Prior to starting Vico, he joined Graphisoft US in 2004, where he was Vice President and General Manager, and where the ideas for 5D BIM emerged.

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