Drones, augmented reality, wearables, 3D printing — every day, the future of the construction industry moves a step closer to becoming today’s reality.
In the midst of rapid technological advancement, space-age innovations are being put to practical use at construction sites all over the world; from drone mapping and augmented reality to 3D printing and robot builders, modern technologies are making the construction industry faster, safer, and more efficient.
For a vision of the future, civil engineers need only peer through a pair of augmented reality inspection glasses. As Forbes reports, the construction giant Bechtel is testing a headset that can overlay a building’s digital blueprint over the site’s physical features, allowing a foreman to track progress while a computer automatically logs the details. This not only improves the speed and accuracy of the surveying process, but provides a boost in quality and safety as well (these glasses could even warn workers if they’re entering an unsafe area). The augmented reality firm Daqri also recently released a product, the Smart Helmet, that provides instructions on building techniques and repairs to onsite workers. And many firms already employ similar technologies that function on iPads.
But smart glasses are just the tip of the iceberg; another promising development is the use of drones. As a separate Forbes article notes, flying drones can automatically inspect entire worksites, entering hard-to-reach or unsafe places with ease and mapping areas in full 3D rendering. They can also survey large land areas up to 50 times faster than could human ground teams, as Cyberhawk claims.
Drones are also beginning to take the form of large construction machines like diggers, which can work efficiently and accurately from a 3D-modeled map with a human overseer riding shotgun. Drones don’t eliminate the need for live workers on site, but can rather automate many manual and/or hazardous tasks. That said, companies like RoboticsX have plans in the works for robot builders to construct the first-ever buildings on Mars.
Indeed, much of the actual building and construction process will soon be automated with the use of 3D printing (or additive construction), modular building, and prefabrication. The speed and quality with which these technologies can be leveraged to construct new buildings is impressive, to say the least: a Chinese firm built a 57-story skyscraper in just 19 days using prefabricated, Lego-like materials. As Building Design & Construction notes, the process would have taken about two years to complete using traditional methods. Companies like Siemens are trying to take the next logical step, combining 3D printing — which allows building materials to be constructed onsite or nearby — and mini robot builders that will “swarm” collaboratively in order to erect structures on command, as QZ reports.
Some Things Remain the Same
All that said, “old” technologies will also have their place in the future of the construction industry. Radio frequency identification (RFID) technology, for instance, has been around for over 20 years, and yet is still used by construction site operators to tag and track the movement of thousands of items on site, as NCBI observes.
In the same way, construction will never cease to be “dirty work” — fugitive silica dust is still a major issue at even the most technologically advanced worksites. At Midwest Industrial Supply, Inc., we’ve provided innovative, industry-leading solutions for construction sites for over 40 years, using advanced synthetic polymers in our products to dramatically improve business outcomes while minimizing environmental impact.
That’s why, wherever technology may take the construction industry in the years to come, Midwest will remain an essential ally in combating site dust and stabilizing surfaces, ensuring that important infrastructural work continues without a hitch.
Visit Midwest at the PCI Precast Show in Cleveland, March 2 – 4, Booth #694.