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Top 10 Emerging Technologies in Construction

January 1, 2019 by Robert Koehler AIA NCARB, and Matt McGregor in School Business Affairs

This article originally appeared in the December 2018 School Business Affairs magazine and is reposted with permission of the Association of School Business Officials International (ASBO). The text herein does not necessarily represent the views or policies of ASBO International, and use of this imprint does not imply any endorsement or recognition by ASBO International and its officers or affiliates. 

For many construction professionals, the future is now. Technology efforts myriad tools that the building industry was told would be available "someday." That "now" is redefining processes, deliverables, accuracy, and communication.

The best news is that education leaders are the recipients of those emerging benefits.

Here are 10 technologies that will serve school districts that are renovating, re-purposing, or starting new construction projects.

1. Virtual Reality
If you have ever completed a project and were unhappy with the results, help has arrived. Virtual reality bridges the visual gap and allows you to experience the space by "walking" into your design, observing materials, lighting, volume of space, and more. You can position objects in the space to sense what they will be like in realty. You'll be able to see specific details, for example,

  - What is the line of sight from the front office?
  - Will students and guests find their way easily because the flow naturally makes sense?
  - Does he anticipated arrangement of the room work for the number of students in the class?

But possibilities don't end there.

2. Augmented Reality
Not long ago, the only way architects and construction professionals could see their plans was on paper or in computer simulations. Now, those in the building industry and their clients can strap on a pair of hi-tech goggles containing sophisticated software and experience a holographic, interactive view of their concepts and layouts.

This augmented reality (AR) - sometimes called mixed reality - combines vision with the real world, providing an accurate view of what the future could be. As thoughts, plans, and designs emerge and progress, districts and their architectural teams can see the design come to life-virtually-and change the plans in mere minutes.
With AR you can overlay a digital model with real-world information. You can see where a duct or wall is supposed to be installed while "walking" the construction site. You can envision an entire building from various positions on the property, comparing angles and views. 

Virtual and augmented reality take the mystery out of the planning process, allowing stakeholders to see and understand what is possible, reducing frustration and rework, and ultimately creating better, more functional buildings.

3. Drones
Drones, quadcopters, and other unnamed aerial systems no longer just extensive toys. The construction industry uses them in a variety of ways to produce timely information and useful "drone's-eye views."

They're being used to survey progress, to review site logistics and staging, and even to conduct quick safety audits. Additionally, it is now possible to inspect remote or difficult-to-reach areas like rooftop equipment, as well as to conduct digital surveys using special attachments like sensors, lasers, or scanners. 

With their ability to be quickly mobilized, to examine the perimeter of the job site, to identify the placement of equipment and vehicles, and to check on individuals, drones provide the additional data for surveillance and better decisions. They also improve employee safety and job site security.

4. Project Management and Communication Software
Current software now digitizes processes like estimating and bidding, while also facilitating communication among stakeholders. Using the latest digital tools reduces the risk of errors that can result in expensive and time-consuming backtracking during construction.

Software enables teams to collaborate in real time on files, task lists, schedules, notes, images, and drawings. Such apps and software suites allow supervisors, clients, and managers to chat, view personnel availability, stream video or web conferences, or even take control of another person's computer to collaborate and maintain mutually agreed-on details. 

Some examples of common apps and software products are Microsoft Teams, Slack, Procore, Viewpoint, Vista, and Skype for Business. Many of these project management software products are cloud based, allowing anytime, anyplace access to project information by the design and construction team, as well as by the client-using a computer, tablet, or smartphone. 

Greater transparency, via software, can often reduce and misunderstandings throughout the construction process. 

5. Three-Dimensional Printing and Prefabrication
Uses for 3-D printing within the construction industry are growing every day. These systems can provide small-scale models for presentation and review, as well as entire parts for project installation. Three-dimensional printing of entire buildings is even being attempted through a concrete extrusion process. 

Prefabrication allows for more precise installation of elements, which can be formed in large, integrated and coordinated portions. These 3-D elements can be placed precisely using "total stations" - highly accurate GPS or laser positioning. The benefits include improved accuracy, reduced waste, increased safety, and less manpower. 

6. Facilities Management Software
Enhanced software allows districts to use building information modeling (BIM) to track warranties, maintenance items, system use, security, room assignments, and more. This information helps districts stay  on top of their largest assets and significant expense points. And now, the instant accessibility via mobile devices allows the maintenance department to make more timely and informed decisions.

7. Digital Plans and 3-D Content
Districts and construction personnel can access digital plans and 3-D content from the cloud through tablets and smartphones to gain real-time information for making decisions in the field. 

When used properly, digital plans offer the following advantages during construction:
  - The most current plans are always available.
  - Updates are instantly shared, including construction bulletins, photos, addenda, and scope changes. 
  - District personnel, subcontractors,  and suppliers can regular access 3-D views in construction documents to communicate design intent, increasing communication effectiveness and proper delivery. 
  - Digital plans allow more use of color without expensive color printing. They have the ability to zoom in and out of objects and even digitally measure items or share comments on specific recommendations right on the plans.
  - Digital plans display punch lists with items tagged for action directly on the plans. 

8. QR Codes and Barcoded Items
Construction and project items may have QR codes or barcodes relating to an object ID in the BIM. Items are scanned as they are installed, which automatically updates the BIM to reflect progress. This capability allows more effective and efficient tracking during the construction project.

Moreover, the tracking can trigger additional purchases for the next stage of work for more effective scheduling. The tracking codes can also link to user manuals, warranty information, equipment invoices, and related historical correspondence.

9. Laser Scanning
Laser scanning captures an accurate representation of existing buildings and systems, which can then be modeled or new objects " clashed" against for proper coordination. This technology has a variety of uses and can allow the district to visualize existing conditions beyond the results of photos and taped measurements.

Perhaps the greatest benefit of laser scanning throughout the construction process is the ability to compare the installed progress with the digital model to evaluate accuracy, allowing for the adjustment of future prefabricated items before delivery and installation, while providing another accurate method of tracking the percentage of completion.

10. Automated Bricklaying
Automated installation of masonry significantly reduces labor cost. Some automated brick systems can lay 3,000 bricks a day, compared with a construction worker's average of 500. With some systems, the conveyor belt, mortar pump, and robotic arm combine with a worker who feeds the bricks into the machine. A second worker smooths over any excess joint mortar. 

As mason professionals retire, we can expect automated bricklaying to become more mainstream in a field that already sees a worker shortage. 

Take the Next Steps
Becoming aware of technology's effect on the construction industry can be a great first step as a district considers its next construction project. These 10 technologies will increasingly affect how that district plans, designs, constructs, and uses its buildings. 


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