8 minute read 18 Dec 2020
Factory worker using tablet

How technology advances are disrupting the construction industry

By Mark Gibson

EY Global PAMS, Construction and Real Estate Advisory Leader

Mark is proud to help build a better working world, from his focus on automation and digital enablement, to leading an infrastructure contractor and developer.

8 minute read 18 Dec 2020

A rapid influx of digital solutions is mitigating risks and streamlining the global building production process.

In brief:

  • Design-oriented digital technologies include building information modeling, digital twin, augmented and virtual reality, and geo-enabled technology.
  • Digitally enhanced manufacturing, 3D printing and robotics are industrialized and componentized construction advances.
  • Construction automation includes robotic process automation, facial recognition, artificial intelligence, blockchain, internet of things and smart buildings.

IT and software companies have recognized a demand for digitization in the construction industry and are expanding their offerings to include solutions tailored for many processes. Sensors, cameras and drones are being used to monitor project progress and create smarter buildings. Automation is found in almost every repetitive process, and the industry is seeing a resurgence in industrial manufacturing to compensate for declining on-site construction productivity. Incorporating these technologies allows for more intelligent planning of construction, supply chain management and delivery.

The construction industry is experiencing technological innovations throughout the project life cycle, with the internet of things (IoT) at the forefront. In 2019, the IoT industry was estimated at approximately $270b and is expected to grow at a 26% compound annual growth rate (CAGR) for the forecasted period through 2025.1 3D printing currently holds the smallest market share of the construction industry, but substantial growth of 245.9% CAGR is expected.2 Other technologies, such as blockchain, artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics are also expected to contribute to this growth. Full-scale digitization may help escalate the construction sector and generate an estimated 12%-20% in annual cost savings within a decade.3

Construction technologies by market share projected in 2025

Sources: Pitchbook3, Grand View Research4, Market Watch5, Research and Markets6, Robotics Business Review7, Markets and Markets2,8

Note: Numbers above were extrapolated from external sources.

Design-oriented digital technologies

Building information modeling (BIM)

BIM has become the most commonly used technology in the construction industry. 73% of US contractors surveyed by Dodge Data & Analytics report utilizing BIM, with 79% of those using it on more than 30% of their projects.9 BIM is a shared knowledge resource for facility information, forming a reliable basis for decisions during its life cycle from earliest conception to decommissioning.4

Digital twin

One of the latest trends in the construction industry is creation of a digital twin to enable simulation and predictive analytics. The digital twin enables convergence of the physical and virtual world, where every process, product or service is represented by producing a digital replica of a physical asset or living entity. This allows analysis of data and monitoring of systems to identify and resolve problems before they occur and develop new opportunities for the future by utilizing simulations.

Augmented and virtual reality

Technologies like augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) have enabled construction companies and customers to visualize elements of the design, build and post-construction phases of their projects. AR is a live, direct or indirect view of a physical, real-world environment with elements that are “augmented” by computer-generated sensory input. 2D, CAD and BIM plan sets can be transformed into a fully immersive AR and VR, providing a virtual 3D overlay view of buildings and interiors.

Geo-enabled technologies

Geo-enabled technologies have unlocked the potential of location data to drive informed decision-making, process standardization and efficiency. These technologies utilize cameras and sensors to obtain data, measurements and quantities over the life cycle of a project. Drones are becoming increasingly popular to provide onsite digital asset tracking, continuous spatial inspection and progress monitoring. Cameras with 360-degree views can provide monitoring for enclosed rooms and buildings.

Industrialized and componentized construction advances

Digitally enhanced manufacturing of componentized buildings

With a heightened focus on efficiency and faster building methods, industrialized construction is on a growth path and the trend is emerging around the globe. The industrialized approach shifts many construction activities away from the site and allocates these tasks to a factory. Preassembled building components and modules are then shipped to the construction site for assembly. Pursuing this strategy helps overcome construction challenges, including speed of delivery, economic viability, quality and enhancing environmental sustainability.

3D printing

Also referred to as additive manufacturing, 3D printing digitally creates successive layers of materials to produce three-dimensional objects from a digital file. It has evolved to be a natural fit within the industry (notably polymers, metals, ceramics and concrete), usable for a variety of suitable materials and providing almost limitless freedom of flexible design. Emerging opportunities include printing piping and fittings, tools and equipment, formwork for concrete, structural insulated panels, walls with embedded MEP systems and roofs with solar tiles.

Physical robots

Robotics that allow complex physical tasks to be performed with minimal human intervention are becoming more common in the construction industry. There has been extensive development of methods to automate various trades. Robotics are being utilized for bricklaying, welding and concrete pouring. Employing robots to perform typical human labor provides construction efficiencies, precision, reduced human labor and enhanced safety.

Construction automation — supporting work through digitization

RPA

RPA is one form of automation, commonly used for repetitive and mundane tasks. A computer software program that operates repetitively with rule-based processes, RPA replicates and collaborates with the actions of a human being, interacting with the user interface of a computer system. It improves speed, accuracy, consistency and cost of executing these routine tasks.
RPA can enhance project controls and tasks related to project finance. Financial forecasts may no longer require manual entries in Excel. Instead, the robots can collect data from multiple systems, while algorithms build forecasts based on past and present data (using predictive analytics).

Facial recognition and biometrics

Facial recognition captures graphical information using multiple data points like distance between the eyes and facial curves that are unique to individuals. The information is stored utilizing an algorithm in a database. When accessed, the system scans and matches the facial information by applying it to the algorithm. Current investment includes facial recognition to enhance safety at the construction site, access control and productivity monitoring. As the technology progresses, it can potentially change the landscape of physical security, payroll systems, project controls and resource optimization, helping to reduce cost and enhance control.

AI

AI is a label given to computing systems that exhibit the ability to perceive information, retain it as knowledge, and apply it to making decisions. AI may also interact in ways that seem natural to humans, while simultaneously learning from those interactions by utilizing machine learning. AI can drive productivity improvements as the systems augment human skill sets and reduce the need for tedious human effort.
Current AI efforts include project schedule optimization through historical data, identifying unsafe worker behavior through image recognition and classifying signals and patterns to deploy real-time solutions. This allows AI to prioritize preventative maintenance through enhanced analytical platforms. As this technology progresses, it will optimize project supply chains by tracking and analyzing complex data, such as providing the ability to employ artificial neural networks to predict cost overruns.

Blockchain

Blockchain helps provide the construction supply chain increased functionality, efficiency and visibility. It has the potential to encrypt and protect key elements in construction operations and supply chains. This technology could potentially handle all contractual relationships using concepts like smart contracts and electronic verification. Blockchain-enabled distributed ledgers can enable better transparency and accountability in construction projects by addressing scope creep, contract changes and elimination of waste to reduce costs.

IoT

IoT enables the connectivity of assets and big data analytics, providing new insights for project teams by capturing large amounts of reliable data in real time. Emerging opportunities include installing monitors at the beginning of construction to analyze output (energy, utilities, labor, etc.) and optimize supply chain interaction and site conditions. IoT enables green buildings to complete tasks, such as shutting down unnecessary systems when the building is unoccupied and opening and closing louvers automatically to provide optimal levels of natural light.

Smart buildings

IoT establishes the overarching framework for smart buildings, which are constructed to provide autonomous improvement strategies and recommendations (utilizing AI, RPA and machine learning). This enhances the well-being and productivity of users while simultaneously saving operational costs and increasing building efficiencies.
Building managers are looking at smart buildings to analyze space users’ needs and move beyond the traditional lessor/lessee relationships.

Conclusion

The globalization of capital, emerging technologies and changing demographics require the real estate and construction sectors to rethink traditional paths to successful management of the built environment. To remain competitive, companies must explore new structuring options, improve the efficiency of operations and balance portfolios to maximize return on investment — all while mastering digital disruption and gaining a deeper understanding of customer preferences.

New technologies and market competitors continue to emerge. The rapid evolution of construction and real estate technologies emphasizes that those who act fast and decisively, embrace disruption and focus on achieving long-term flexibility will emerge as the leading organizations in the future. Companies should include digital in every aspect of their operations to achieve maximum data-driven insight. With technological innovation quickly expanding, now is the time to embrace disruption, use change to enhance productivity and prepare for the progressive digital evolution within the construction industry.

Summary

With technological innovation quickly expanding, now is the time to embrace disruption, use change to enhance productivity and prepare for the progressive digital evolution within the construction industry.

About this article

By Mark Gibson

EY Global PAMS, Construction and Real Estate Advisory Leader

Mark is proud to help build a better working world, from his focus on automation and digital enablement, to leading an infrastructure contractor and developer.