By Bahar Ferguson

It is no secret that technology is not taking any steps backward. It is continuously improving. There is no industry that has been immune to the affect technology is having. This influence may be positive or negative, depending on how it affects it, but nonetheless it is there and the construction industry is not an exception to this trend.

bahar fergusonThroughout the years, technology has become prevalent in every aspect of construction. Construction companies are utilizing technology well before they even break ground on a project. Everything from drones to 3D rendering software is being used to make the process more accurate and cost-efficient. Since technology is so ingrained in construction, I will be highlighting only the more recent advances.

Drones

The use of drones is a relatively new and popular tool for the construction industry. Drones can be used to fly over and survey land, evaluate the extent of a restoration project or demo and even help create the layout for solar paneling. There is no limit to how you can use a drone and thanks to the advances in technology, this helpful tool has become affordable to any-sized company.

Solar panel installers find drones exceptionally helpful. Thanks to this tool they can survey the potential installation site immediately and give the feedback needed to secure a sale. They can also snap images or videos of the area and draft the panel layout accordingly.

Roofers are also benefiting from drones for similar reasons. While it is always best they see it with their own eyes, an immediate on-spot evaluation can be done without any other equipment or effort — not to mention the risk of a drone evaluation is far less than the risk of human evaluation. The drone may crash and need new propellers, but if you or an employee falls off the roof, you’ll be out a lot more than that.

Virtual and Augmented Reality

“Dangerous” and “construction” are two words that have long been used in the same sentence. While the frequency of injuries has been reduced throughout the years, the severity of an injury for a construction worker still remains higher when compared to an average employee’s injury at work. This risk of serious injury is why VR (virtual reality) and AR (augmented reality) are going to play an increasingly big role for construction companies.

Utilizing VR technology means construction companies can not only train an employee how to use a dangerous piece of equipment, they can do it in a setting that will result in zero injuries. This training allows an employee to make an infinite number of mistakes with no consequences, so when they leave training they are experienced and ready for the real thing.

AR technology is also expected to see a large increase with building construction. One piece of AR technology in particular is the Microsoft HoloLens. This tool is a self-contained holographic computer that allows you to interact with digital content displayed around you. This means you can wear this device and interact with the designed building and its elements. You can view a building level-by-level and actually walk through the building-to-be, letting you see what the space will feel like well before it is constructed.

3D Printing

One problem that the construction industry is facing is labor shortage. With our strong economy and record-low unemployment, finding a consistent and reliable workforce has become difficult. To make this problem even worse, the strong economy means more incoming jobs to bid on (if you can staff it). Technology has a solution to this — 3D printers. And no, it can’t print a workforce, but it can print a building.

When you think of 3D printers, you may have a limited view. If all you see are rectangle boxes and a slow-moving plastic stream shooting side-to-side, it’s time to think again. 3D printers are becoming huge. Literally. There are now printers that span over 100 feet long. These new machines can actually print buildings in a variety of materials. They can print in concrete, steel, plastic and custom mixtures.

Not only are these new printers able to produce buildings in structurally sound material, they can do it quicker and cheaper than people can. Because 3D printing is an additive process rather than subtractive, you are not left paying for any wasted materials. It is an environmentally friendly way of construction.

Combining this technology with the increasingly popular modular building trend means construction companies can survive a labor shortage by building off-site without any workers and assembling later. Both methods of construction are becoming hot trends and will only become more popular as the cost for a large-scale 3D printer decreases.

Like many other industries, the construction industry is utilizing group message boards and task-oriented programs. Websites and mobile applications like Basecamp, SharePoint, Teams and Slack are designed to help a project come to fruition quickly. While this technology is not unique to the construction industry, it is a huge asset and worth mentioning. 

Construction companies typically have a large number of employees and job sites that be hundreds of miles apart, so keeping everyone connected and on task can be hard. A task orientation application helps everyone stay focused and communicate in real time. This real-time communication is ideal for solving problems quickly.

Instead of having to send a question or problem to each party individually, employees are able to post the problem to the group message board and have it analyzed by every party involved. The result is a conversation full of possible solutions and the ability to choose the best answer to your problem.

Technology changes everything. Even the basics of construction have completely changed because of the advances discussed in this article. The construction industry showcases how at the core of any technological advancement there are cost- and time-saving benefits.

Bahar Ferguson is president of Wasatch I.T., a Utah provider of outsourced IT services for small and medium-sized businesses.

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