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Can construction connect more with technology?

Construction industry is not known for interacting with technology

Last year, the construction industry was found to be one of the least digitised industries. Alongside the fact that construction labour productivity has not kept pace with overall productivity[1], it seems the need to invest in technology to keep the industry running is a given. These tools are aimed at increasing efficiencies, reducing cost and ensuring, as much as possible, that projects run on time – so resistance to change seems nonsensical, particularly when this is one of the goals for large builders and developers.

Whilst the construction industry isn’t necessarily known for its connection to technology, there are a surprising amount of tools that have arisen to help those within the sector, such as virtual reality (VR), including 3D building modelling. From 3D walk throughs to sell a property, to 3D VR modelling used to pitch architectural projects, there are numerous benefits to adopting this technology. In addition to the increased efficiencies and reduced costs, it can allow builders to stand out from the crowd when marketing their property to consumers and gain an edge on their competitors.

One such VR process which is widely used in construction is building information modelling (BIM). Using this system not only provides a model; it also offers data management capabilities that can keep everyone on the project team on the same page at all stages of the build, from conception to construction documentation and maintenance.

However, augmented reality (AR) is at a much earlier stage in its adoption, partly due to health & safety concerns, the need for a large data repository and the complexity of tracking constantly moving data. However, the benefits of AR far outweigh the concerns and this is evident by the recent investment of £1m of funding into a consortium from Innovate UK[2]. The investment is aimed at developing an Augmented Worker System (AWE), which will pioneer the use of virtual and augmented reality for the construction industry. With a focus on reducing cost and waste, and increasing productivity, the system will improve the construction process at every stage, delivering “faster builds to a higher quality with fewer defects and more sustainable buildings.”

With construction projects often plagued by problems, working off old school paper blueprints and drawings makes it harder to capture, analyse and share data with the different contractors involved in the process. But tools like these are reinventing the industry, with innovative ideas adding to it at every stage, for example, the smart helmet designed specifically for industrial settings from Daqri[3] which is BIM compatible and allows construction workers to share and view various building elements, data and plans. Not to mention the SmartReality app from JBKnowledge[4], which allows users to hold a smartphone or tablet over designs or plan files and see 2D drawings projected as 3D models. This offers a unique and exciting way to communicate design intent and such developments in technology allows us to visualise virtual objects and designs in the real world.

It is therefore entirely possible that in the future, these tools will be used to show prospective buyers their future home. The industry is some way from this yet, but it is exactly why continued investment in the construction industry is imperative to ensure it has the capabilities to respond and react to developments and changes. Through programmes like the government’s Digital Built Britain (DBB) and through the development of innovative new technology, planners and architects are given more opportunity to collaborate with contractors, whilst reassuring clients and addressing any concerns they may have.

Steve Mansour is the CEO of construction insurance specialists, CRL.

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