Emerging Construction Trends that Accelerate Digital Transition
After decades of under-digitisation, the engineering and construction sector is making bold moves in a new era. A new McKinsey analysis of the construction technology ecosystem finds emerging trends, solutions, and increasing technology use cases that are disrupting the way we plan, design, and execute projects.
Artificial Intelligence and Analytics
AI and analytics have boundless potential use cases in the construction sector. Machine learning applies to the entire construction life cycle, from preconstruction through O&M, particularly in reality capture in conjunction with computer vision, as well as for the comparison of in situ field conditions with plans.
By applying machine learning to an ongoing project, schedules could be optimised to sequence tasks and hit target deadlines, and divergences from blueprints could be caught closer to real-time and corrected using a variety of predetermined potential scenarios.
In the immediate future, the research expects AI’s proliferation in the sector to be modest. Few leaders have the processes, resources, and existing data strategies in place to power the necessary algorithms and meaningfully implement this technology. However, the potential impact is so large that the industry can no longer afford to ignore it.
3-D Printing, Modularisation, and Robotics
The construction industry is also moving toward a manufacturing-like system of mass production, relying on prefabricated, standardised components produced off-site. Research finds that consistent use of these techniques on projects could boost the sector’s productivity by five- to tenfold when it makes sense financially.
These systems include applications such as fully automated prefabrication processes that turn a 2-D drawing or 3-D model into a prefabricated building component or fabrication directly off a 3-D model or drawings. Metal 3-D printing of long-lead components such as joints enables the production of high-performing components and, ultimately, more efficient, cost-effective parts.
On the robotics side, the industry is at the beginning of its journey to embrace the hardware innovations that enable field augmentation with exoskeletons and drone-enabled yard, including construction robotics such as bricklaying or welding robots or self-driving heavy machinery to make construction safer, faster, and more affordable.
These advances are particularly important given a labour shortage in many regions, as well as the natural ceiling of human physical productivity. Pairing humans with robots can assist in tasks that would take a human worker more effort (for example, lifting heavy objects and placing them in exact coordinates).
Digital Twin Technology
Digital twin platforms and reality-capture solutions enable stakeholders to minimise rework in the construction field by allowing a dynamic view of the project and real-time comparison of progress to design blueprints—and the ability to adapt those blueprints as the work progresses and inevitably results in changes.
The most exciting applications of twin models can be found in the seamless integration of 3-D models generated by drone imagery, turbocharged by live key performance indicators that are monitored using Internet-of-Things (IoT) sensors.
This approach creates an exact digital replica of a project’s physical reality, allowing to rapidly advance data accuracy and incorporate as-built data into 3-D models for automated, real-time progress updates. It also enables users to virtually interact with “mixed reality” models that combine 3-D design and as-built configurations.
These applications can reduce decision-making cycles in a construction project from a monthly basis to a daily basis through full automation of the project’s scheduling and budgeting updates.
Supply Chain Optimisation
The current procurement of materials, equipment, and labour for the construction market is a largely manual and cumbersome process. However, marketplace platforms for the buying and selling of goods, as well as hiring, have gained traction in certain regions, enabling players to match supply with demand.
These marketplaces have huge potential to optimise the construction supply chain, improving productivity and profitability, and enhancing competitive bidding by improving transparency on costs and availability of materials, labour, and equipment for both future and ongoing projects. Marketplace platforms will become increasingly important given the rising use of prefabricated components that manufactured off-site.