Change Leader: Technology Is Changing Construction More Than Ever Before
Virtual Design and Construction (VDC) Consultant Viet T.P. Pham of MT Højgaard in Denmark and Regional VDC Manager Blake Potts of Rogers-O’Brien Construction in the United States are experts in digital construction who use Pix4D’s drone mapping technology for site surveying.
The greatest challenge in the construction industry is productivity—or, to be more specific, lack of productivity. Investing in the most advanced technologies for surveying and monitoring projects has become essential, marking a turning point for an industry that often has been considered slow to change.
“If you go to construction sites today, not a lot has changed in the past 50 years,” says Pham. “2D drawings in paper format are still used, resulting in errors when we have wrong versions, slowing actions and thus delaying the schedule. Technology can change a lot of the issues we face today.”
The use of new technologies, both on and off site, is addressing today’s construction challenges. For example, Potts cites the need to coordinate construction documents as a big problem in the construction industry—a problem that can be solved through automation.
“Both design and construction schedules are getting shorter and shorter,” he explains. “Consequently, it’s easy for important details to be overlooked. From the construction side, it means we have to begin learning our projects earlier and to a deeper level than ever before. Questions or clarifications we might have asked the design team during construction now have to be asked before we break ground. This has led us to change the way we work; this is where virtual design and construction is important.”
Simple tools like apps or tablets can ensure drawing updates, revisions and changes are shared. Virtual reality changes design reviews and provides immersive visualizations. Also, 360-degree cameras optimize documentation, and drones can capture, track and inspect. Integrated 5D models provide an overview of project sequence and track costs throughout the entire project lifecycle.
“Basically, we have to do more with less,” adds Potts. “So we need to be as efficient as possible while minimizing errors. Technology can help us tremendously in this regard. Take something simple, like the hyperlinking of digital project drawings. This is such a simple concept, yet it yields tremendous value for contractors. It saves time by enabling us to quickly find information in the drawings: we can now easily add key information to them and go mobile by placing these drawings on a tablet.”
To be able to transform construction into a much better, attractive and inspiring industry, work processes need to change. According to Pham, this is the cornerstone of VDC.
“It’s important to stress that VDC isn’t the new [building information modeling], but a way of working: VDC is engaging earlier and cooperating closely with the entire value chain. It’s about testing new collaborative models, methods and technologies, without altering what works.”
VDC entails virtually designing projects prior to the start of construction to ensure complete coordination. According to Potts, the easiest way to describe it is that projects are built twice: once digitally and once in the field.
“By building our projects digitally, first we can identify and solve issues prior to the start of onsite construction—where these issues could impact schedule or potentially cost,” he explains. “We see the greatest amount of benefits when we are able to collaborate with the architects and engineers during design. That way, we can provide feedback on cost and constructability before the documents are completed. Not only does this provide our owners with extra value, but it minimizes requests for information to architects and engineers during construction, saving everybody’s time.”
Pham and Potts foresee the use of photogrammetry by drones and fixed cameras as an upcoming trend in site-surveying technologies. Such technologies enable them to rapidly gather as-built data from job sites that can be used for a number of different purposes, including survey data.
“The really exciting thing is that this data collection can be done quickly, in an automated fashion,” says Potts. “Our teams no longer need to request this information; it’s already there. This is a huge time saver. Over the next couple of years, I believe we will see the accuracy of this data increase to the point where it can begin to compete with equipment like total stations.”