The new technologies in construction

Let’s be clear: The construction industry has been lagging behind in technological development. With a few exceptions, such as structural calculation programs, most techniques used for planning, scheduling, budgeting, and construction remain unchanged for decades. They rely on basic software support that performs operational tasks but fails to integrate different actors in the process.

Most ongoing construction projects face similar issues to those encountered forty years ago:

– Budget estimates often deviate.
– Architectural plans are incomplete, leading to on-the-go problem-solving during construction, sometimes requiring demolition and reconstruction of completed sections.
– Overly ambitious project schedules, without accurate performance studies, often result in longer-than-expected completion times.
– Poorly designed technical plans or plans that fail to account for intersections or clashes between elements, discovered during construction when it’s challenging to resolve.
– Tender documents (public or private) with incomplete information, leading to subsequent contractor claims.

Many jest about needing to hire two companies to estimate costs independently and then adding the totals together to get an accurate estimate. There’s also a widespread belief that project completion times will likely double from the initially promised duration.

A colleague rightly suggests that every time construction begins on a new project, it feels like reinventing the wheel, owing to a lack of capitalizing on past experiences.

Fortunately, this is changing due to the rapid adoption of emerging technologies in the sector.

The most significant development is Building Information Management (BIM):

BIM is a collaborative work system based on managing a single repository containing all designs (architectural, structural, plumbing, electrical, and special installations) in a 3D model. This creates a “digital twin” of the future construction, visualizing all intersections and missing details BEFORE work begins.

This allows for quick planning adjustments and joint resolution of missing details during the planning phase. It ensures a completely constructible design, leading to more accurate budgets and project schedules.

BIM isn’t limited to the planning phase. It’s also used for post-construction control, providing real-time 3D information for detailed comparison with the initial plans, resulting in faster adjustment decisions.

Benefits of BIM include:

– Identifying and solving potential issues during planning, leading to smoother coordination, reduced rework, and early conflict detection.
– Shorter construction times and faster deliveries.
– Doing more with fewer resources, reducing human error and increasing reliability.
– Automation is at the heart of BIM technology, optimizing design and construction processes with sophisticated software that simplifies complex tasks, increases precision, and minimizes errors, ultimately optimizing costs, times, and reducing unforeseen events.

In addition to BIM, other complementary tools include:

– Artificial intelligence and machine learning, which analyze data from previous projects for insights to use in new projects.
– 3D printing for rapid and reliable construction.
– Augmented reality for immersive design visualization before construction.

These tools herald a transformative future for the construction sector. Those who fail to embrace them risk falling behind in the competition.

Although BIM was conceptualized in the 1970s and the first software, “Archicad,” was released in 1980, it’s only in the last decade that it has gained widespread adoption. As of February 2024, major construction firms have dedicated BIM teams and are abandoning traditional 2D designs. Public tenders increasingly require this technique.

Smaller companies lag behind due to licensing costs, particularly Autodesk’s high annual fees. However, there’s a global effort to develop open-source BIM programs, which could democratize this technology further.

Welcome to the future!

Finally, the construction sector is catching up with technology. It’s about time!

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