Out-Law Analysis | 28 Feb 2022 | 2:29 pm | 3 min. read
The deployment of technology and connectivity solutions has the potential to industrialise today’s construction processes and transform the traditional construction site into the connected site of the future.
Construction companies will need to grapple with new and different technologies and requirements, engage with new and different supply chain and project partners, and develop and adapt traditional procurement, sourcing and contracting approaches and construction processes, to realise the benefits this transformation will provide.
Many of the opportunities of industrialisation, and successful transformation of the construction sector more broadly, have a high dependency on technology and technology enabled applications and solutions. This is particularly the case in relation to solutions that support the digitisation of data, digitisation of processes and adoption of new and connected technologies and devices, including in relation to the Internet of Things (IoT).
Industry is already putting some technology to use to provide efficiencies, enhance productivity, support collaboration and improve health and safety.
Examples include their use of sensors, drones, cameras, and augmented, virtual or mixed reality systems. Other use cases include connected IoT devices and systems to support and enable remote real-time monitoring of construction processes, collaboration and asset tracking. Wearables, such as smart hats, have also been deployed in some cases to monitor the health and safety of workers, geofence them from danger zones and issue alerts and support communication response if accidents occur.
The fully connected construction site of the future could also see [A1]unmanned autonomous plant and machinery and other robotic delivered construction processes to further minimise the requirement for workers onsite and help maximise productivity. Use cases are already being trialled. In South Korea, for example, Doosan has already proven the possibility of remote operation of an excavator located 8,500km away from Germany, and contractors in China have used unmanned road pavers and rollers.
Beyond the construction stage, smart assets and infrastructure supported by built in sensors and digital twins – supported by artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML)) – offer the potential to use both historical and live data to enable real-time monitoring of asset performance and operations as well as enhanced modelling, including to enable scenario simulation, testing and planning.
The vision of a connected construction site of the future is exciting and offers clear and significant benefits to the construction, engineering and wider infrastructure sector. However, the digital technologies that will underpin the operation of those sites cannot operate and deliver on their own and will require other technology solutions to come together to deliver the desired results. Networking solutions in particular will be important to provide required connectivity, for example, to connect sensors and technology and data enabled systems and solutions, and enable data to be collected and moved within a given site or project ecosystem.
Construction sites are often in areas which lack pre-existing digital infrastructure and have poor Wi-Fi and mobile data coverage. To date, this has largely inhibited the potential deployment of data-rich applications and connected construction technology, or ‘contech’. A common frustration frequently cited today is having to download 3D models or 2D drawings to local devices the night before going on-site due to download speeds in the field being so slow.
5G is considered as a potential game changer for the industry and for underpinning the connected construction site of the future.
Combining high speed and high data rate with ultra-low latency, 5G increases the viability and potential of remote-controlled and autonomous plant and machinery. Quicker transfer of real-time data means that connected environments can respond to changes or incidents more efficiently. It also removes the need to pre-download documents to bring on-site and enables the computing power required to run data-intensive files, such as 3D BIM models, to be located offsite, possibly in the cloud, and on smaller end user devices.
Increased connectivity and the resultant shift to making greater use of digital technologies will have a profound impact on the construction sector.
It should promote better safety, deliver more reliable outcomes, provide for greater precision and lead to more accurate cost prediction.
Greater automation and use of technology will also impact skills requirements. There may be fewer jobs in the industry, though more specialised data and digital roles are likely to emerge in growing number.