What is Construction Technology?

When you think of industries that embrace technology, the first that come to mind might be electronics, medical advancements, and factories staffed by robots.

Construction often doesn't top that list – it's slow to embrace change.

However, due in part to growing labor shortages in the industry, it's poised to make a big leap forward. The changes that are coming will be as profound as the moment we put down the hand saws and plugged in our power tools.

What is Construction Technology?

Construction technology is, as CII puts it, "the collection of innovative tools, machinery, modifications, software, etc., used during the construction phase of a project that enables advancement in field construction methods, including semi-automated and automated construction equipment."

It's one of the major sectors of technological development, alongside medical, manufacturing, transportation, agriculture, and energy.

Construction technology, or "contech" as it's sometimes called, is most commonly used to refer to cutting edge advancements like augmented reality. However, it also includes technology that's been in use on worksites for decades, like power tools and heavy machinery.

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What are Some Examples of Emerging ConTech?

There are too many emerging technologies in construction to count, but here are a few that will directly impact active worksites and worker safety.

Drone Technology in Construction

In recent years, drone use has exploded on construction sites. One drone service reported a 239% increase in construction site usage during 2017 alone.

It's no wonder – drones provide a range of utility on a construction site.

Land surveys are faster, cheaper, and more accurate with aerial imaging. Drones can also take measurements and assist inspections of hard-to-reach places without risking human safety.

They can also be used to monitor worksites, with a variety of benefits and functions: site security, inventory tracking, worker supervision, accident monitoring, and improved communication with clients and off-site personnel.

Modular and Prefabricated Construction

Although we may not think of it as "technology," alternate means of construction like modular and prefab construction are providing the means for tighter project schedules and more efficient build-outs.

These methods are often referred collectively to as "off-site construction," because certain pieces can be completed in a more traditional manufacturing environment.

Although each method has its own particular quirks, in general they:

  • Results in less waste of materials, time, and labor
  • Lower the environmental impact of the building
  • Reduce both budgeted and over-budget costs
  • Remove weather delays and risks from most phases of the project
  • Improve safety and security due to the factory-controlled environment
  • Allows for greater consistency and quality control of the final product

The sophistication and flexibility of off-site construction have improved in recent years. The methodology has been embraced by the likes of Marriott for the more efficient construction of high-rise hotels.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Predictive Analytics in Construction

Construction projects involve careful timing and many moving parts. There's a lot of room for human error as well as bad luck.

When it comes to analyzing large and complex sets of data, it takes a computer to do a man's job. Improvements in predictive analytics, machine learning, and artificial intelligence make computers better at saving time and money for construction projects.

Software can reduce materials waste by analyzing a company's past performance and correcting for over- or under-ordering. Schedules can be adjusted and optimized using project specs, real-time delays, and even weather data.

Wearable Technology in Construction

Construction is a dangerous business – far and away the most deadly in the US. As wearable technology advances and costs come down, it may play a vital role in real-time monitoring and risk assessment.

Location tracking is one potential application with many uses. Wearable tech, in combination with geofencing, can be used to monitor and enforce entry into restricted areas of a job site. They can be used at an administrative level, to automatically track entry to and exit from an area, but they can also alert workers in real time when they stray somewhere hazardous.

Biometric sensors, voltage detectors, accelerometers, and exposure sensors for relevant hazardous materials can help workers prevent exposure to certain hazards, including fatigue or heat stroke. Pairing wearable sensors with smart tech in heavy equipment to alert operators to other workers in the danger zone.

In other cases, these sensors can be used to quickly alert others to emergencies as soon as they happen like slips, falls, heart attacks, and more. Built-in call buttons can empower workers to get help with the push of a button.

Already, we see smart PPE in the field, including hard hats, gloves, work boots, and safety vests. Some equipment needs conventional recharging, while others use kinetic energy (movement), solar power, body heat, or even components of sweat to create the required electricity.

Virtual and Augmented Reality in Construction

Virtual Reality (VR) creates a completely artificial environment where workers can practice certain tasks that may be too dangerous to drill in reality. In addition to training applications, VR can be used during the planning stage to bring a future project to life and refine the plans.

Augmented reality (AR) overlays digital plans and data on top of a real-life visual. This may be accomplished through the use of wearable tech (like glasses and goggles) or mobile devices (like tablets or phones). With enough accuracy, this could allow workers to overlay blueprints and "see through" walls.

Robotic and Autonomous Technology in Construction

Autonomous, self-driving heavy equipment isn't new – the mining industry's been using it for thirty years.

It's only recently made its debut in the construction sector. Autonomous bulldozers, excavators, and CLTs (ie, skid steers) are already on the market.

While the controlled chaos of a worksite makes autonomous heavy equipment a safety concern, these robots can prep a job site at night before workers show up in the morning.

Other construction robots work better alongside their humans. Robots are on the market to speed repetitive and often hazardous jobs.

For example, finishing drywall is hard on the human body, but robots can now perform the job just as well, and much more efficiently, under human supervision. Similar task-specific robots can take on bricklaying, tying rebar, and plastering.

There are other robots on the market for LiDAR/site monitoring and transporting heavy materials or equipment.

Robotics also dovetail neatly with prefab and modular construction since the factory-like nature of off-site construction is an environment where robots have been working for decades.

How is Construction Technology Changing the Industry?

Nearly all of these technologies are built for efficiency and productivity. Given the trouble finding skilled labor, replacing (or augmenting) manpower is a key part of that picture.

However, in this case, productivity gains often go hand-in-hand with better safety and lower environmental impacts.

Reducing waste doesn't just impact the budget; it also minimizes a project's footprint.

Wearable technology doesn't just improve safety and security; tracking movements on-site can lead to insights for improving efficiency.

Task-specific robots don't just do fiddly tasks with greater precision and consistency; they can prevent repetitive stress injuries that are inevitable when those tasks are performed by humans. Drones may be fast and efficient, but they also keep humans safe on the ground.

And finally, work injuries are time and money. Any measures that improve a job site's safety record will also prevent delays and save on medical bills, OSHA fines, and replacement labor.

Learning Technology is Construction Technology

Whether or not your crew invests in smart boots or self-driving machinery, there is a more affordable technology you can use to keep them safe: online compliance courses.

Even if you're not ready to fork over thousands for VR goggles, we've got you covered with mobile-friendly learning technology. We've been at this for more than 20 years, and we've built a large catalog of OSHA construction courses that are effective, efficient, and engaging for your employees.

Business accounts include bulk discounts, dedicated support, a free LMS to help track your learners' progress, and a wide variety of LMS integration options if you've already got your own. Find out how we can improve your safety training today!

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