The COVID-19 pandemic has brought unprecedented disruption to the construction industry. But there may be a silver lining. The crisis has also accelerated the use of digital construction technologies, allowing AEC professionals to make big improvements in the areas they’re needed most.
The effects of the pandemic have rippled throughout every aspect of construction — from new health requirements to reduced workforces to disrupted supply chains, project delays, and other costly impacts to operations. As a result, construction firms have had to quickly adapt just to keep projects running. Technology decisions they may have previously put off suddenly became immediate and necessary.
Yet construction technology has proven to be more than just a stopgap measure. It’s shown AEC professionals what’s possible, enabling them to take a digital leap forward. Here’s a closer look at some of the construction technology that’s helping the industry weather the storm while also realizing the benefits of digital transformation.
Extended Reality Enables Remote Work and So Much More
Virtual, augmented, and mixed reality tools — together known as extended reality (XR) technologies — are changing the way construction is done. Immersive XR technologies allow AEC professionals to more easily visualize, understand, and communicate information. By helping project stakeholders more clearly envision design intent and identify site hazards, as well as more safely and efficiently perform tasks, XR technologies are driving improvements in communication, quality, productivity, and safety.
During the pandemic, these tools took on new significance as social distancing requirements made it necessary to reduce the number of people onsite. For example, Trimble SiteVision’s camera and screen-sharing capabilities make it possible to collaborate remotely. Workers in the field and teams in the office can share a common, real-time view of the site during a virtual meeting instead of an in-person one. With a 3D model overlaid onto the actual environment, teams can conduct remote design reviews, identify potential clashes or other issues to resolve, and document project progress. Project managers can also use the technology to assign daily tasks to field crews or office workers, identify hidden utilities and possible hazards, and optimize site logistics — all remotely or from a safe distance on the site.
Trimble XR10, a mixed reality headset that can be worn onsite, further enables safe collaboration. The headset enables hands-free sharing of files, notes, annotations, drawings, and BIM overlays that teams onsite and in the office can access and view together. Experts can also train and guide workers through complex tasks and assemblies without having to physically be present by delivering sequencing instructions through the headset.
Project Data Connects Construction Teams and Workflows
Even when things return to normal, construction teams will have to perform work as efficiently and accurately as possible to avoid costly productivity killers like rework, RFIs, and change orders. But doing so requires breaking down the siloed workflows that characterize the construction business by enabling and automating the collection of accurate project data and making the information easily accessible to the teams who need it.
3D laser scanners like the Trimble X7 make it faster and easier to collect reliable data about existing site conditions and the as-built environment. The scan data can then be used to create an accurate 3D model of the site or structure. Scan data can continue to be collected throughout the lifecycle of the project to document project progress and ensure that work stays aligned to the model. The data can also be used after completion to help with ongoing maintenance and inform any future projects.
This project data becomes even more useful when it can be shared across teams. With Trimble CloudEngine, a point cloud processing software, the scan data can be registered in the field and turned into a detailed point cloud. Accessible by a variety of teams and stakeholders, the point cloud can then be used to help them model, validate, and visualize designs, as well as align project understanding for more effective communication and coordination. With shared access to accurate and up-to-date project data, teams can identify potential clashes and make any necessary changes earlier in the process, even before the build begins, as well as coordinate workflows and processes more easily when work is underway. With quality project data at their fingertips, construction teams can avoid the costly delays that hurt productivity.
Construction Technology as a Service Makes Better Tools Accessible
The “as a service” subscription model became mainstream in the early 2000s with the rise of software-as-a-service (aka SaaS) products like Salesforce. The advantages of cloud-hosted service solutions over traditional software programs include:
- Fast implementation
- Lowered cost
- Minimal maintenance
- Easy scalability up or down
- Automatic upgrades
These advantages are now available to AEC professionals through the new and first-of-its-kind Trimble Platform as a Service (TPaaS). A flexible, all-inclusive, and connected construction solution, TPaaS provides affordable access to a comprehensive suite of Trimble’s latest hardware products and software services for civil construction projects and teams. For a low monthly subscription fee, AEC professionals get the tools they need to get more done, reduce costs, and save time. The subscription also includes training, support, and automatic updates.
TPaaS provides bundled solutions to fit a variety of construction applications. AEC firms can mix and match to meet their specific needs, selecting from on machine controls, off machine controls, software, and add-ons like augmented reality (AR) and extended support plans. The flexibility of a subscription model makes scaling usage up or down easy and helps firms manage expenses intelligently, especially during times of uncertainty. It also makes otherwise cost-prohibitive tools and technologies accessible by removing the need for a big upfront investment and allowing firms to make predictable payments over time.
The Constructible Process is Transforming Construction
When the pandemic is finally in the rearview mirror, the construction industry will be in a new place. And while the road was bumpy, it’s an arguably better place than before.
Adopting construction technology has led to significant and measurable improvements in productivity, quality, safety, and communication. Accelerating technology use over the last year has helped to mitigate the effects of an unpredictable crisis while also seeding positive and lasting changes for the industry as a whole.
Technology can help the construction industry thrive during a pandemic and beyond. But technology alone isn’t enough. To learn how the constructible process is transforming construction and improving how AEC companies do business, read the white paper.