Digital Technology: A Gateway to future of Construction Industry

By Adekunle Qudus Adeleke, PhD

The fad of digitalization, robotics, and the broad use of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) in the industry comprises technologies of cyber-physical systems, Internet of Things (IoT), cognitive computing and cloud computing referred to as Industrial Revolution 4.0 (IR 4.0).

The idea of IR 4.0 is to digitalize industrial practices to bring about a flexible yet massive network of production and service. The construction industry has been perceived to improve through the implementation of IR.40 same as the manufacturing industry. This implementation will provide an area where every automation in the industry will be connected through advancement in technology and will also help to manage and share information without human efforts which will lead to efficiency improvement. The concept of “smart factory” was discovered by the industry, where cognitive computing stores data and cloud computing and make decisions. However, the IoT appears operational with cyber-physical systems, which allow human to monitor the activities in real-time without the physical appearance and established the capabilities of IR 4.0 vision manifest.

With the recent studies within the domain of ICT, information, and communication technology have been perceived as an important driver of social and economic development of both developing and developed nations with its vast contributions to Gross Domestic Product (GDP), productivity, and employment. The global construction industry at present represents about 13% of the world GDP and this figure predicted to rise to 15% before the end of the year 2020 but with more adoption and implementation of IR 4.0 in the construction industry, this figure is expected to double by the year 2030. 

The advantages are obvious through its implementation as it enhances the quality of the product while it reduces time-to-market and improving the performance of operations.

However, unwillingness on the part of the construction industry in the implementation of these concepts in spite of the numerous benefits offered by the other industries. Even within the complex construction environment, the hesitancy of implementation of IR 4.0 was displayed within the construction industry, where the whole construction value chain involves multiple disjointed counterparts from all levels with a varied background to supply the specific needs and distinctiveness of each project.

The construction industry should devise and adapt to the dynamic global economy regardless of the challenges being faced. Similarly, the industry is still grappling to adopt the concepts of IR 4.0 regardless of the positive benefits it offers. There are a few hurdles within the industry which contributes to its inconsistency. At this stage, the construction industry is under a considerable paradigm shift. In fact, here are some of the most remarkable developments I believe you should be expecting for a better future of the construction industry:

Augmented Reality: Over the past few years, virtual reality has been an evolving trend, nevertheless, Construction World argues it is swiftly growing obsolete – particularly when compared with the benefits and use of augmented reality. Augmented Reality is the capacity to envision the real world via a mobile phone or a camera lens. It is a shared experience of a real-world environment where certain objects that live in the real-world are ‘augmented’ through computer-generated perceptual information. Augmented Reality as part of the latest trending technology, will be very expensive and for those industries that could afford using it now, it will transform how they project and build things. It is perceived to be a trend that will grow a lot bigger over the next few years.

Cloud and Mobile Technology: A few years back, most people could not establish what a cloud operating system was. Today, practically all mobile devices are competent in leveraging cloud technology, with the capacity to operate and use cloud-based software anytime and anywhere. The sky is the limit for cloud devices as many people are getting to know the important, including the fundamental unlimited amounts of data that can be shared and stored straightaway with the tap of a button, and at about ten times with the cost of the old sharing technologies. It is available and accessible from anywhere through the internet connection. In order to gain competitive grounds in the market, this technology will no longer be optional but mandatory for all the construction industries.

Drones: Drones are been deployed on various construction sites and they allow project managers to frequently model and map their project site, work more efficiently, and make communication easier. High-resolution aerial images are used to build a comprehensive visual recording of the site’s progress and can help in detecting any inaccuracies at the early stage of the project. Drones can also be deployed to inspect hard-to-reach or open but unsafe sites, for example, they can reduce the need for someone walking a site on foot or climb up scaffolding.

Data Ecosystem and Construction Software: Construction projects have perceived real- time collaboration software, as an essential component, and its effect on the construction industry, is projected to increase significantly in the future. The development of a data ecosystem will bring all the key industry players together and share project knowledge, experience, and data that we imagine. Another advantage of the data ecosystem is the ability to combine all current systems and processes into a single fully connected platform. Digital tools will also help to facilitate information and refuse delay occurrence, re-work rate, and the use of digital tools facilitation of information and can help minimize delays, re-work rates, and inadequate communication between the office, the site, and related parties.

Building Information Modeling (BIM): BIM has emerged as one of the latest technologies trends which all construction industries are diverting to. It is an intelligent 3D model-based procedure that provides engineering, architecture, and professionals in construction the acumen and means to effectively plan, construct, design, and manage infrastructure and buildings. BIM also provide more will bring more precision to the building activities and authorize the exchange of significant information among the stakeholders. One of its evolution is predicted to allow construction projects more affordable and fecund by combining both safety measures and revolutionary sustainability as we anticipate to see this trend to grow in usage over the new few years.

Prefabrication, Modularization, and Eco-friendliness: Over the years, there has been an evolving drift concerning multi-trade prefabrication. A good example of multi-trade prefabrication transpired in Dubai where a 3D office building was printed within 17 days and assembling it on-site takes 2 days. The majority of experts in the construction industry all over the globe believe that we’ll be seeing more of this practice in the future. Another evolving drift is off-site construction which is also known as modularization. This drift can be compared to prefabrication, where a lot of people see it evolving over the next decade.

Modular construction has so many advantages which include reduction of construction costs, reduction of time on site, reduction of wastage on-site and in manufacturing, better visibility, and accuracy of budget and time. Modularization and prefabrication are seen to be eco-friendly because excess materials during the construction process can be easily recycled than sending dropping them into landfills.

Robotics: Robotics is another trend that is growing larger and being explored across every industry. Since robotics in construction is becoming more accurate and precise, it is projected to change the dynamics of all industries. Although the cost of robotics at the beginning will be high, in the end, it is worth giving some attention to this technology. Australia developed a bricklaying robot named “Hadrian X” by Fastbrick Robotics. Flashback to the great job done by Hadrian X in November 2018, it built a 3 bedroom and 2-bathroom home structure within three (3) days. It’s astounding right? Hadrian X has been announced to commence its first outdoor activities soon and alleviate the stress in construction project activities.

Wearable Technology: This has been seen to be one of the fastest evolving markets in the whole of the technology sector globally that is expected to worth a shocking £24.6 billion before the end of the year 2020.While a lot of people will be thinking that this is just common sense and it shouldn’t go unmentioned that wearable technology (such as;3D glasses, Google Glass, Fitbit’s, and armbands that can connect with coaches on the sidelines) will become an evolving drift which will help in keeping workers safe. It can also help to trace where workers are in case of an emergency. Communication also becomes easy via this technology where workers don’t need to be repeatedly looking down as instructions become easier and they can talk to one another through this technology. In all, this growing drift is seen to be mandatory especially for construction industries in the future.

Advanced uses for GPS Technology: GPS works via a method known as trilateration which is used to calculate velocity, location, and elevation, and trilateration gathers signals from satellites to output location information. A GPS technology isn’t a new solution, though, it’s now being used in more resourceful and creative ways. Examples include; surveying which doesn’t need to use the traditional surveying equipment, data on construction sites can be quickly and accurately gathered, and it is easier to locate stolen or lost equipment because project managers can now generate maps that will speckle the exact location of any of missing items.

Self-Healing Concrete: Finally, self-healing concrete is an invention that will biologically produce limestone to heal any cracks that appear on the veneer of concrete structures. Besides, micro-cracks may sometimes heal themselves as many types of concrete feature a specific crack-healing capacity. Self-healing of cracks in concrete would add to the lifespan of concrete structures and would also make the material more durable and sustainable.

Protracting the life of concrete may have enormous environmental advantages. Since concrete has been seen as one of the most extensively produced and used material in the construction industry many believe that, by the year 2030 there would be the usage of about 5 billion metric tons per year. Global production of concrete is currently amounted to 5 percent of the world carbon dioxide emissions, through smart concrete, our structures will be safer and also cut back on greenhouse gasses.

 In conclusion, Industry 4.0 has been evolving within the construction industry for quite a while and the technologies are seen to be on different levels of maturity. Technologies such as Modularization, BIM, and cloud computing, have risen significantly while other technologies such as augmented, virtual, and mixed reality are still being improved and somehow affect the sustainability in the industry. The application of IR 4.0 within the construction industry is still lacking enormously in spite of the availabilities of these technologies. There is part of the IR 4.0 practices that have been implemented within the construction industry and the procedures have proven a significant influence throughout various platforms. Nevertheless, the challenges transpired must be conveyed by all parties involved to guarantee a successful implementation.

Dr. Adeleke is Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Industrial Management, Universiti Malaysia, Pahang.

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Published By: EDITOR

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