Connected Construction: How We'll Rebuild & Revive U.S. Infrastructure
Bryn Fosburgh, Senior Vice President - Trimble Navigation, speaks at 2018 in.sight user conference. Credit: Commercial Carrier Journal
Infrastructure in the U.S. has long operated as a kind of central nervous system for the nation, enabling the movement of people and goods, and the operation of industries. But like an aging body and mind, our infrastructure is waning. It’s increasingly unable to keep up with the demands put on it by a growing population and continually evolving commerce, let alone the disruptions to the system that come with environmental and other disasters.
Construction Needs to Change So We Can Rebuild America's Outdated Infrastructure
Even on the heels of a divisive and hotly contested election, leaders on both sides of the aisle can agree that we need to channel investment into new and innovative ways to modernize and upgrade our critical systems for the future. The plan put forth by president-elect Biden proposes spending $2 trillion on infrastructure improvements encompassing transportation, clean energy, water, and digital policy.
To the extent there will be meaningful government investment, a tremendous opportunity exists to rebuild the infrastructure needed to ensure the continued health and well-being of the country. But it requires the construction industry to rise to the occasion. To revive our American infrastructure and boost its capacity to serve our needs today and into the future, the construction industry must first face its own failings.
Some Construction Companies Are Holding Us All Back
Said more simply, it’s time to put the stubborn resistance to change to rest and accept our own need for modernization. A concerted effort across the construction industry to accelerate technology adoption and digital transformation is needed. By harnessing the technologies available to us right now, we can make long-overdue productivity improvements, overcome the labor shortage, and rise to the integral role our country needs us to play in modernizing our most critical networks and systems.
Certainly, some companies are already realizing the benefits of digital transformation, but many others are clinging to what they’ve always done. By continuing to perpetuate labor-intensive workflows and siloed teams, they’re not only crippling their own ability to scale and compete, they’re holding us all back. These ongoing disparities in the construction industry only make it more challenging to tackle the infrastructure problem in earnest.
Those who have already adopted connected construction are leading the way. Now it’s time for everyone to follow suit. Read on to learn about connected construction, the improvements it produces, and how it can lay the foundation for modernization and innovation of our most critical networks and systems.
Connected Construction Is the Answer to Tackling Our Infrastructure Problem
The propensity for siloed teams and workflows has long been a problem in construction and lies at the root of the productivity issues that also characterize the industry. Connected construction breaks down the barriers that create bottlenecks and miscommunication by ensuring everyone is operating from the same playbook and on the same page.
In practical terms, connected construction relies on hardware, software, and services to unify the people, processes, and phases involved in each project. It simultaneously connects the digital world of modeling, imagery, measurement, and data with the physical world of contractors, work crews, equipment, and the jobsite at each phase of construction, starting with pre-construction planning and continuing through maintenance and operation.
By giving all stakeholders access to a reliable, current, and central source of truth about the project, connected construction facilitates better communication and smoother hand-offs. These improvements, in turn, enable earlier problem detection and resolution, streamlined operations, and faster project delivery.
5 Benefits of Connected Construction
At the heart of connected construction is technology. In addition to reducing the risk of human error and enabling faster, more efficient workflows, technology fills the gaps that historically exist in construction, linking teams across disciplines and locations—from the office to the jobsite to the fabrication shop—in ways that simply aren’t possible with traditional, typically manual tools and methods. Here are the five main benefits of technology-driven connected construction.
1. Increased Productivity Across the Project Lifecycle
Technologies like 3D modeling software, global navigation satellite systems (GNSS), laser scanning, robotic total stations (RTS), and extended reality can drive significant productivity improvements at the task level over manual methods. For example, an RTS can lay out two times the points per day with just one operator and at a quarter of the cost compared to manual layout performed with a two-person crew.
These technologies aid the development of a highly accurate and reliable constructible model that serves as a single source of truth for the project. This is where true process improvement is realized. By giving stakeholders access to the constructible model, they can view real-time project information to make better, faster decisions, as well as identify and resolve potential issues earlier.
2. Better Quality Control & Higher Quality Projects
The use of technologies like building information modeling (BIM) software and 3D laser scanners help ensure quality outcomes, even before construction begins. BIM is by nature collaborative, making it easy for multiple stakeholders to plan, design, and construct within a single 3D model. The use of a laser scanner ensures more accurate BIM models by making it possible to capture thorough and reliable data about real-world conditions. This scan-to-BIM process results in high-quality 3D models and enables a data-rich, connected, and constructible workflow.
During construction, laser scanners, as well as other hardware devices like mixed reality (MR), augmented reality (AR), and RTS enable more effective QA/QC. Using these technologies, teams can detect and resolve problems earlier, reducing costly rework and RFIs, and preventing errors from making it into the final build, both at the prefab and construction stages. The result is higher-quality projects delivered on time and on budget.
The use of mixed reality (MR) devices, like the Trimble XR10 with Hololens 2, allows teams to view and overlay models onto the work site, helping them detect and fix mistakes faster, and fill knowledge gaps.
3. Improved Safety
Project managers and work crews can use technologies like MR and AR to plan and optimize jobsite workflows around heavy equipment and other large obstacles, as well as run safety scenarios to uncover potential hazards and practice responses to them. Using the same technology, workers in the field can share progress or resolve problems with other project stakeholders, giving them the ability to visualize the project from the safety of an office.
Technology also makes it possible to safely conduct and manage work remotely, which is particularly relevant given the jobsite restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Site management software like Trimble CrewSight in combination with hardware like worker wearables and site surveillance cameras are giving supervisors the ability to monitor jobsite access, track attendance, notify onsite teams of hazards, manage worker documentation, and ensure compliance, all without physically setting foot on the jobsite.
4. More Transparency & Visibility into Projects
Technologies that integrate tasks and processes and store and protect data in the cloud enable stakeholders to easily access schedules, cost data, and critical next steps involved in their particular piece of the project. They can visualize for themselves where discrepancies, clashes, or mistakes are occurring so they can make better decisions and resolve issues quicker before the issues impact the project’s schedule, budget, or quality. They can also audit, track project progress, and even reduce fraud or malicious behavior.
By giving everyone involved greater project visibility and access to the same reliable and current project information, project delivery can be accelerated by 30 percent over conventional design, build, operate, and maintain methods.
Trimble Connect streamlines workflows by providing coordinated construction information for everyone across the project lifecycle, enabling every stakeholder to share, review, coordinate and comment on data-rich building models in real-time.
5. Greater Sustainability & Less Waste
Tools like machine control, BIM, and digital twins vastly improve accuracy during the planning and build phases, helping teams avoid errors and minimize rework, including reducing the wasted time, money, and fuel that come with it when stakeholders have to make trips back and forth to the jobsite to mitigate issues.
With these technologies, project owners can control costs and create greater sustainability for the project at hand as well as future projects. By understanding exactly what’s being built and how, projects can use fewer materials, generate less waste, and maximize the potential of all raw materials, and owners can make smarter, more cost-effective decisions.
The Constructible Process: Connected Construction In Action
The Constructible Process is the way in which connected construction can be applied to teams, processes, and jobsites. The Constructible process operates from the principle of the three Cs: Connected, Content-Enabled, and Constructible Models and Workflows.
Connected means all phases and trades are connected, allowing information to flow back and forth between teams for easier, more effective collaboration. No matter the platform, device, or phase of construction, project teams can access the information they need, when they need it. By ensuring any changes that happen during design or construction are updated everywhere, in all files, models, and drawings, teams can avoid slowdowns and delays, and keep building toward on-time delivery.
Content-enabled means teams can access comprehensive content libraries—i.e., managed content—to get up-to-date manufacturer specifications and pricing. Instead of BIM staff having to spend valuable time creating DIY content and documentation, a managed content system saves time and ensures accuracy by giving teams access to the right manufacturer content at the right time. Managed and continually current content enables repeatable workflows, improved field work, and more prefabrication.
Constructible Models & Workflows
Constructible models and workflows means project teams can choose the integrated tools and technologies they prefer to access the precise data they need, apply it to their own processes, and help them communicate with others, thus turning the project vision into a built reality. Teams in the office can share information with teams in the field and shop, including exact materials, positions, sizes, counts, gauges, and other critical details needed to build and fabricate, ensuring that each trade has the same updated information as the next and can effectively coordinate with each other.
Digital Twins: Another Essential Tool of Connected Construction
An important component of connected construction that’s gaining steam in the industry is the concept of digital twins. A digital twin is a virtual model of the project created by gathering real-world information about the building or structure using wireless technology like drones, sensors, cameras, and other IoT-related devices. Each time new information is gathered, the digital twin is updated to reflect it, while advanced analytics and AI-powered technologies continually “learn” about the project to analyze and measure its profitability and performance.
Because the digital twin acts as a living model of the project, it can be used as a simulation or proving ground to test different building methods, such as prefabrication and on-site assembly. Teams can use the digital twin to experiment with options and analyze expected outcomes before they make changes that impact the actual physical building, structure, or work site.
Whatever is learned in the digital twin can then be applied to the real-world environment to reduce risk, save costs, and improve return on investment. The digital twin can also be used to inform future enhancements to a project by providing detailed knowledge about the existing structure.
How a Connected Jobsite Makes Innovative Infrastructure Projects Possible
A connected jobsite makes it possible to undertake infrastructure projects and manage the sheer volume and scale of moving parts involved. Through cloud-based software, mobile devices on the jobsite, and WiFi-enabled hardware and equipment, companies can corral the complexity of large-scale infrastructure projects, confident that critical information won’t get lost in the shuffle and without worry of bypassing a key team or stakeholder. Every person on site is connected and updated at every phase, making an otherwise overwhelming project more manageable.
For example, project teams can create a geometrical representation of the infrastructure asset using digital tools and then couple it with attributes like soil types, placement of utilities, or heavy traffic patterns to discover unforeseen overlaps or gaps, potential safety hazards, or design flaws that need to be addressed before the build begins. The representation and accompanying information become the constructible model that can be used by all stakeholders throughout the construction lifecycle.
As the work progresses, the constructible model can be continually updated at every step. By providing a single source of truth for everyone involved, the model gives work teams access to the always-current information they need to accurately track costs, identify and resolve issues, and stay on time and budget. At the same time, it helps facilitate communication and manage expectations with owners and other stakeholders.
Rebuilding U.S. Infrastructure for Today & Tomorrow
Many traditional construction methods and processes have outlived their effectiveness and cannot respond to the infrastructure imperative. What’s needed to upgrade our country’s infrastructure today and enable the innovations of the future is full-scale digital transformation in the form of connected construction.
Envision roadways that double as WiFi hotspots to facilitate commerce and improve business efficiencies, or collect rainwater and divert runoff to retain and preserve groundwater in communities. Exciting and forward-thinking projects like these will draw new users and seed new industries, driving acquisitions and investments, and inspiring innovative partnerships and approaches that create a sustainable funding base for decades to come.
Connected construction can make innovations like these and many more possible. By embracing the role technology plays in improving productivity, quality, transparency, safety, and sustainability, the industry can build the smart, connected infrastructure needed to carry us into the future. Connected construction holds the key to turning our infrastructure visions into reality.