Bridging The Gap Between The Present And Future
Construction has come a long way since antiquity. Think back to the architectural wonders of Ancient Greece or Ming Dynasty China. The Ancient Greeks constructed their massive temples with wooden cranes powered by donkeys, and the Great Wall of China — all 13,171 miles of it — was built primarily by hand, assisted only by simple machines such as handcarts, crowbars and wheels.
Fast forward several centuries to today, and advanced construction technologies are sweeping across every industry vertical at breakneck speeds. Construction now has access to innovative solutions that streamline the complex processes necessary for building the refineries, power plants, data centers and infrastructure paramount to our generation.
But despite the leaps and bounds humanity has made in construction technologies, the road to true implementation is still a long one. The days of donkey-powered cranes might be over, but construction is still stuck in the analog era . Even with the advent of new technologies, construction workflows are traditionally analog processes throughout the entire project lifecycle. The construction industry is no stranger to inefficiencies, delays, lost documents and miscommunication — especially when multiple external contractors or firms are involved.
One solution to these preventable problems? Widespread adoption of advanced construction technology.
Adopting Advanced Construction Technology: Why Does It Matter?
This question can be answered in short with the popular catchphrase: “data is the new gold.” Arguably one of the most valuable resources available to humankind today, data equips us with the ability to glean powerful insights to make better decisions, work more efficiently, and maximize job site safety, among other benefits.
The latest construction technology aims to capture and leverage data to empower engineering and construction firms with better decision-making tools, helping them gain a competitive foothold in the industry. Here’s how:
- Tools that serve as robust data management platforms condense disparate data into actionable insights that empower improved decision-making and smarter workflows. They enable stakeholders to easily access project information from different sources, collaborate securely and work on projects remotely, streamlining each component of a project and minimizing costs.
Take Hexagon’s asset lifecycle information management software , for example. It maximizes efficiency for industrial and manufacturing plant maintenance and provides plant operation solutions. From concept and design through plant maintenance, operations and decommissioning, this software enables data governance of all of the plant’s engineering information, integrating information on the physical assets, processes and regulatory and safety imperatives.
- Artificial intelligence technology present in much of today’s offerings empowers better sequencing, scheduling and predictive analytics capabilities.
Digital twin technology leverages AI to provide prescriptive and predictive analytics capabilities, enabling smarter decision-making for project stakeholders. By creating an identical, accurate virtual rendition of a physical asset, a digital twin’s powerful AI algorithms can predict failure before it occurs, lowering maintenance costs and ensuring that goals aren’t impacted by scheduling maintenance or part replacement.
Artificial intelligence also fills in the gaps when humans have reached their maximum decision-making capacity. In the face of schedule and budget upheavals, stress and other variables thrown at construction workers on the job, human decision-making capabilities are likely to falter. Artificial intelligence makes it possible to overcome this issue with prescriptive and predictive analytics that automatically predict outcomes and chart the best possible path forward.
- Mobile and cloud technology make it easier than ever to access data, whether on the computer, on a phone or tablet. Remote working capabilities have become vital to every industry, not just construction, in the last two years since the pandemic began. The adoption of mobile and cloud technology enables construction firms to not only stay competitive in the age of remote working but also to promote the health and safety of their employees.
This is because access to tools like license-free digital twins and BIM provides workers the opportunity to pull up the most recent version of any project’s design or doucmentation, no matter where they are in the world. This maximizes efficiency and reduces the need for face-to-face contact with other stakeholders.
- Finally, progress tracking capabilities with tools like digital twins and Hexagon’s Project Collaboration Solution keep all stakeholders involved and on the same page, enabling more consistent transparency. For example, data-centric data capture (from valves being placed in the 3D model at the design stage through laser scanning of installed quantities in construction). Altogether, this accounts for more accurate progress measurement, resulting in faster and more accurate forecasts. This presents an opportunity to be more proactive in countering schedule and cost overruns, while being able to identify the root cause of any issue more precisely. This becomes especially important as owners increasingly expect heightened communication and a more intimate involvement in their projects.
The Roadblocks Facing Technology Adoption in Construction
Though the benefits of advanced construction technologies are undeniable, EPCs and construction firms still struggle to adopt and implement them into their work processes.
It’s natural for humans to be wary of new technologies. When the automobile was first brought to market in the late 19th century, many Americans were skeptical, advising each other to simply “get a horse” instead. Today, most Americans are still apprehensive of the newest advances in automotive technology: self-driving vehicles. But despite the collective’s general skepticism toward new technologies, the automobile became one of the greatest commercial successes in history, and autonomous vehicles still promise to pave the way toward the future of mobility. We can look to the implementation of construction technologies through the same lens: though they may be less accepted now, they’re undeniably shaping the future of the industry.
This is not to discount the rationale behind the little enthusiasm for adopting new construction technologies. The high price point of implementing new technology — and then training employees how to use it — is a natural deterrent for many construction executives. What’s more, adapting to change is challenging, no matter the industry. Construction firms are typically resistant to breaking from their usual routines for fear of heightened risk and disruption to their businesses. However, despite the challenges facing the adoption of construction technology, the solutions are relatively simple and require a collective shift in mindset more than much else.
Solutions For Implementation
Accelerating the adoption of advanced construction technologies in the industry will require influence from both inside EPC and construction firms and from external sources.
First, genuine interest and willingness to adapt to new processes and technology will need to stem from inside EPC and construction firms. Though established executives may be warier of new technologies than newer hires, those next in line for succession should demonstrate enthusiasm and ability to implement new technologies in the firm once they’ve reached the top of the ladder.
Additionally, there needs to be a greater emphasis on the widespread education and awareness of these technologies. At Hexagon, we make sure that our consultants work side by side with EPC and construction executives to help them understand the business values that come from implementing advanced technologies. Ensuring the widespread availability of educational resources is key to promoting awareness and the eventual adoption of new technologies.
Embracing Innovation: A Do-Or-Die Scenario
The future is fast approaching, and those willing to embrace it stand to realize a significant payoff in productivity and costs. The McKinsey Global Institute predicts that digital transformation can result in productivity gains of 14% to 15%, as well as cost reductions of 4% to 6% for EPCs.
Future-oriented executives and other stakeholders should be proactive in reaching out to technology providers and third-party organizations to gain a general understanding of the options available to them. They will otherwise run the risk of obsolescence as the wave of innovation sweeps their competitors further into the future.