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News & opinion

27 FEB 2018

Tech in our built world

The future of the built world is here, and it’s full of drones, robots and 3D printers.

As technological capabilities advance at an accelerated pace, the construction industry is doing its best to keep pace. In this breakout session, the panelists discuss the blending of technology and construction and how it can be used to create a better world for tomorrow. Below I will highlight some of the key tech advances and how they are being integrated into the construction industry. 

3D printing

3D printing was certainly a hot topic. Darren Seary FRICS, Director at Fulcrum, points out that China used a 3D printer to build a bridge. Mark Fergus, Regional Director for Cumming, believes the advantage of 3D printing is mass customization. As an example he said dry wall could be created using 3D modeling in combination with robotic assembly lines. He also notes that an Arizona company used this technology to build a school and other structures. Our final panelist Nevin Sood MRICS Director at Turner & Townsend, points out that 3D printing will be especially beneficial on remote sites where resources are not immediately available  essentially providing a structural band-aid for a project.  

Drones

Drones are another well-received new technology in the construction world. They allow project managers to keep a live view of the development of projects without actually being there. They also allow for pre construction surveys and post construction assessments and reveal where there are leaks and where development may be needed. There are in fact start up companies dedicated to the use of drones for property analysis.

Imagine a science fiction movie with a massive robotic spider, only in this case it’s lifting steel beams and placing them perfectly where needed to assist in a build out.

Robots you ask?

Yes of course, it’s on the way! Imagine a science fiction movie with a massive robotic spider, only in this case it’s lifting steel beams and placing them perfectly where needed to assist in a build out. The capabilities are available now and being advanced by the minute. According to Sood however, just like in the sci-fi movies this creates a man vs. machine situation, and general contractors and site managers are choosing man. This is partly because as automation, robotics and mass customization increase, construction workers may be displaced. Displacement of workers is certainly possible, but when looking deeper this may actually be a good thing. In the UK in 2018 for example, it’s expected that there will be a shortage of 700,000+ construction workers. And this shortage permeates globally.

Virtual reality

Many construction companies are also using Virtual Reality as a sales tool. Fergus notes that using VR to show point of view of seats in a stadium increased one company’s revenue for the stadium. It can also place a prospective customer inside a new development before its even built.

Future of construction

Looking to the future of a 10 trillion-dollar construction industry, all the panelists agree that we need to continue to find a happy balance between man and machine. Technology can and should be used to tackle issues we all face like the ramifications that natural disasters have on our built world, how to accommodate driverless cars, and how to continue to create efficiency when dealing with a depleted global workforce. There will certainly be some risk and growing pains along the way but the future is here and what the man made world around us looks like moving forward will be directly tied to the marriage between tech and the construction industry.

Todd Green, Saint Mary’s Global Executive MBA Candidate, 2018