A few of the technologies on display included:
- Reality Capture - Reality capture involves the use of advanced technologies like 3D laser scanners and high definition 360-degree cameras to collect existing or as-built conditions for use during design, construction and operations. Skanska uses reality capture tools to quickly and accurately field conditions and reveal inconsistencies between what is “real” versus what is represented in the design plans. This helps optimize schedules, reduce change orders, increase predictability in the field, reduce risk and enhance quality assurance.
- Virtual Reality (VR) – Skanska uses VR to place end-users into a first-person, immersive experience that contextualizes the built environment and enables a personal connection to a space. This can help remove unknowns around design options, clarify assumptions to conceptual estimates, accelerate decision-making and promote stakeholder buy-in. There are multiple levels of sophistication for VR, each with their own benefits and challenges, ranging from 360-degree virtual worlds viewable through a desktop or headset to an interactive environment that responds to the user directly.
- Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) or Drones – Skanska is piloting drones on select projects to help monitor site progress through photos and video, assist with inspections of hard-to-reach areas, complete photogrammetry and laser scans, and augment the modeling process. Unlike traditional aerial photography, drones provide more detailed information, are quicker and often less expensive. Since they can fly into compact or challenging spaces, drones improve worker safety by reducing reliance on ladders and scissor lifts.
Constructive Thinking interviewed the following industry professionals that attended the event to get their feedback on these technologies and their thoughts on applications in their own work:
- Nicole Dosso FAIA, Technical Director, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP
- Andrew Arel, Executive Director, Operations and Design & Delivery, Disney Corporate Real Estate
- Michael d’Orlando, President, Focused Project Management LLC
What did you expect to see at the Con-Tech in Context event?
Nicole: I really didn’t know what to expect. Technology is a topic I am very interested in and I was impressed by what I saw. It was a great opportunity to speak with the vendors and test out the technologies and get a better understanding on how they are being implemented on projects.
Andrew: I expected to get a firsthand look at some of the technology trends in the construction industry and I was looking forward to seeing what the future of technology will bring to the design and construction process to advance, simplify and better coordinate the construction process.
Michael: I was given some insight ahead of time as to what technologies would be on display, and was curious to see how these technologies could be implemented in the construction process. When I got to the event, the Skanska team illustrated the use of technology from the initial proposal submitted, through estimating and the buyout phase, construction, and post completion. It was quite comprehensive and interesting.
Were you surprised at what you saw at the Con-Tech in Context event?
Nicole: Virtual Reality is something on the design side that we’re tapping into and utilizing on projects. VR is a tool that has the potential to reduce schedule and cost. I read some literature after the event that the construction industry is using it in similar ways, but also with some twists. I think there are many applications for VR. I see an opportunity to utilize it on hospitality projects. For example, you can test out room configurations, sizes, finishes and furniture at earlier stages of a project. VR may not supersede mockups, but it could reduce the waste factor and minimize schedule impact. I’ve worked on a number of hospitality projects, and after the mockups have been completed, the client will often walk through and make several changes, which could have been vetted if using VR. I don’t work in the healthcare industry, but I know that healthcare and hospitality are somewhat similar in terms of complexity of building spaces. Being able to walk through the project with VR to get early input is a huge advantage. I was surprised to see VR applied to building operations. I hadn’t really considered the advantage this tool offers building operations.
Andrew: I was most intrigued by the Virtual Reality technology applications. I demoed the tool and I was able to touch the equipment and pull up data. It really pushed me to think and question – could this really take off and would building owners really embrace this? Viewing the project was extremely interactive and I just wonder if this trend would take us there as a rule vs. the exception.
Michael: The simple answer is yes, I was surprised. The first booth I walked up to, there was a field superintendent using an iPad to track submittals of all the RFI’s (Request for Information) on the job. He was using it to identify issues and I thought it was interesting because he was finishing a project that was designed in Revit and he was using the full 3-dimnesional model to track the open items and complete the punch list for the project. I spent a good amount of time talking to him about different use scenarios. I thought it was impressive.
The earlier you’re able to identify problems on a project, the better you’ll be. It’s all about early identification of issues. Adopting technology early on to assist is a very forward way of thinking. A lot of firms shy away from technology because they don’t want to change the way they do things. To be a firm of Skanska’s size, adopting and pushing down to the field is really impressive.
What technology are you the most excited about?
Nicole: I am really excited about how the 360 photography software can be implemented on projects. There are a lot of advantages it can offer such as remote monitoring and remote punch listing. It can aid in responding to RFI’s and addressing field conditions.
In the longer-term, I am excited about the capabilities of drones. I have been following the drone activity for some time and I am excited about how it could be utilized in construction in the future. The opportunities are endless. This wasn’t at the event, but I also could see robots in the future working hand-in-hand with drones in the construction industry. I predict, and this is not all that far out, repetitive types of activities and high-risk jobs will lend themselves well to this type of technology.
Andrew: I am blown away by how far the construction industry has come with the adoption of technology. BIM coordination is a good example of technology being applied to the construction process. It gives the ability to, in a virtual way, coordinate around existing conditions and structures through computer-generated design, which 15 years ago was done in colored pencil. It is interesting to see how far the industry has come in such a short period of time. I walked away from the event with an understanding of how all of these technologies can be used. It was clear that they were primarily created for the design and construction industries, however they can also be used valuable for building owners after the project is completed, which is really why I attended the event. I am excited about the potential use this technology can have in facility management.
Michael: It was not one thing that excited me specifically, rather the overall adoption of all the technology was remarkable. The impressive part is the ease of use of these technologies for the end user. It wasn’t cumbersome. Because of that, I think you’ll see success. There’s always someone in the office that can use technologies and easily troubleshoot, but the fact is not everyone can adopt as easy as that individual. So when you see someone in the field that’s building the job utilizing a technology in an efficient and insightful way, that’s the most impressive piece to me.
What are some of the major benefits you think technologies such as these will have on your business?
Nicole: Technology fosters collaboration. More and more projects today are design-build or utilizing alternative delivery methods, where the designer and contractor work together from the beginning of a project, providing unified recommendations to the schedule and budget. I think you will continue to see closer collaboration on projects and technology has a way of fostering those relationships, which can benefit the client and everyone involved.
Andrew: These technologies will result in the ability for owners to immediately take ownership and operations of their facilities and make putting together facility management plans easier and more efficiently.
Michael: The more data we can pull the better everyone will be. I think these new technologies and the wide spread adoption of them will assist in troubleshooting design, constructability, logistics, and cost issues. We can save time and money for our clients and assist the design team while doing so. Bad information early on in the project lifecycle is not as bad as bad information later in the project. The sooner we can validate with some level of accuracy, the more opportunity we have to affect the outcome.
What do you think will be the greatest challenge in employing construction technologies such as these on projects?
Nicole: I think that at the end of the day, we can’t be afraid of technology. Our office exclusively uses Revit as a documentation tool. If we had said no to BIM almost 20 years ago, we would not be where we are today. There has to be a certain amount of risk taking to move technology forward. We can’t be afraid of change. It’s more a matter of being smart on how technology is being implemented, determining which projects make the most sense and where it can bring the most value. We also have to be cognizant on how this new technology is rolled out. Education is a big part of the equation. The individual leading the charge on the project needs to truly understand what is trying to be accomplished.
I believe that schedule and cost, as well as collaboration is where technology will have the biggest impact and role as we move forward.
Andrew: I think the greatest challenge will be making sure that enough of the industry is leveraging these technologies to maximize the benefits.
Michael: The greatest challenges will be adopting these technologies into practice and educating workers on how to use the technologies. The larger companies will have the resources to adopt quicker, however, the smaller companies and trade level contractors may not have the resources initially. With the larger companies, such as Skanska leading the way, I think the trickle-down effect to the smaller trades will happen.