Technology - is the construction industry using it to its full potential?
1st February 2019
A notoriously traditional industry, the construction sector has always been hesitant to embrace technology. Tech is developing at such a quick pace, and with projects often taking many years to complete, if the adoption of technology is not implemented at the design stage of a build, it is often neglected throughout the entire project. From drones to 3D printing recently, we have seen an increasing number of businesses in the construction sector realise the potential of technology and incorporate it into their projects.
Here, we look at what technologies are available within the industry and why Eurocell champion, Craig Phillips, thinks more and more people should begin to embrace them.
The construction industry lends itself to 3D printing and this technology is something that can be used to help remedy both the housing crisis and the skills shortage the sector is currently facing. Whether used to make single components of a building, or a building in its entirety, 3D printing can produce the same results as traditional methods of construction, but faster and more accurately. It is also ideal for use in projects where bespoke design means traditional methods of offsite construction are not applicable. Made perfectly to size, 3D printing will also reduce of the amount of waste coming from site which is of growing importance in today’s sustainability driven environment.
3D printing technology means a house can now be built in just 20 hours, significantly less time than the four to six months it takes to complete a production level home. Using concrete as opposed to the plastic 3D printing we see in the consumer world, 3D printing is a viable way to tackle the housing deficit whilst keeping production and labour costs down. Despite these clear benefits, the technology to implement this is not readily available, and comes at a high cost, meaning it has not been adopted into mainstream construction.
From architects, to project managers, to homebuyers, virtual reality is being used to change the construction process across the entire supply chain. Architects can use VR headsets to show contractors their vision whilst housebuilders can use the same technology to show potential homebuyers what their property will look like before a shovel has even broken ground.
It can be difficult to see the potential of a property from design sketches alone and VR can allow all parties involved in a project to see what the desired final outcome of a build is yet the technology is still being used as a novelty, rather than implemented into daily on-site life.
Whilst 3D printing and virtual reality are aspirational technologies that we are sure more contractors would love to have the opportunity to work with, we understand that they are not accessible to most tradespeople in the UK. We have however seen the adoption of more day-to-day technologies across the industry.
With good quality drones now available for just a couple hundred of pounds, this technology is much more accessible to general builders. At assessment stage, drones can be used to map out the land available and highlight potential hazards, something that can potentially delay a project.
At build stage, they are also a great way to highlight the progress of a project to share with stakeholders and also produce fantastic marketing material once the project is complete.
Wearable technology is not a new trend in the industry, but it is one that has developed significantly in recent years. Smart hard hats for example monitor fatigue and will send vibrations to the worker to alert them that that they should stop what they are doing – very important when working at heights or whilst operating heavy machinery.
Workwear has also become more technologically advanced, with heating and cooling jackets and coats with GPS trackers being implemented onto building sites. These ensure tradespeople are working at optimum temperatures, which can be difficult when working outside in cold conditions. GPS trackers can also allow site foremen and project managers to see where all staff are easily, an important consideration on particularly large construction sites.
Gone are the days when shouting and walkie talkies were the only way to communicate whilst on-site. Smart technology has improved communication and consequently safety and productivity whilst working on the job. Smart watches mean that construction workers can receive updates without needing to reach for a phone in their pocket while project management apps ensure that everyone involved in a build can be updated in real-time with photo, budget and progression updates. Speaking of apps….
New apps to make the working lives of tradespeople easier are being developed all the time. CoConstruct is a project, financial, and client management system for custom home builders and remodelers that claims to save workers 30 minutes of admin time each day.
Joist app lets contractors quickly and easily create estimates and invoices for clients and can also manage projects and accept payments. For blueprints and drawings, Fieldwire can generate fast HD plans, mark up functions, and is free!
With all this technology available at our fingertips, literally in some cases, it seems strange to see that it is not being adopted as quickly in construction as in other sectors. We spoke with Craig Phillips to see why:
“Having been in the industry for over 30 years, when I started out the technology available to use was limited and this is something that is reflected in the way I work today, something I know is true with fellow tradespeople.
“I tend to still use more traditional methods of construction, such as drawing plans by hand and working out calculations manually – the way I was taught in the beginning! That’s not to say however, that I think this is necessarily the best way of going about it! When I work with architects and other contractors that use digital applications to draw up plans and work out site calculations. When I see the speed and accuracy of their work, it definitely makes me think this technology should be used more widely.
“It is now time to look forward at the latest cohorts of tradespeople that will be coming through the ranks. Those just starting out in the industry are digital natives, they’ve been brought up using the best tech since they were children so an industry that is reluctant to embrace the latest technology will not be an attractive proposition for them.
“If we want to encourage young people to join the construction industry, we need to move with the times and start embracing more methods of construction. This will not only make construction a more attractive industry to work in, but will also improve the speed, accuracy and productivity of projects – it’s a win win for all involved.”