A lack of construction project data is costing businesses $177B annually. Compared to other sectors, civil construction has lagged behind in tech adoption and productivity for decades.
But new tools are revolutionizing worksite measurement and management, improving efficiency, and reducing safety risks. These include commercial drones, survey data platforms, and autonomous machines.
Construction is undergoing a revolution other industries have been through
What we’re seeing today is what’s already happened to other industries like manufacturing and finance.
Construction is often compared to manufacturing to point out how far behind it’s fallen in productivity. But that’s not strictly apples to apples.
“It’s been really difficult for construction teams to offer anything like that because it’s been literally hard to capture reality,” said Francis Vierboom, Propeller’s co-founder.
Constructions sites are outdoor. They cover large areas, and, unlike manufacturing, have little uniformity in job progress.
Every site presents unique challenges, which makes that information difficult to digitize.
“But using drones in construction has changed that. You can finally close that feedback loop and offer construction teams the same kind of insights and tools that people in other industries have started to make incredibly useful,” said Vierboom.
Construction faces a $1.6 trillion productivity gap
According to the McKinsey Global Institute (MGI), “abundant gains are at stake. MGI’s research found that if construction productivity were to catch up with that of the total economy—and it can—the sector’s value added would increase by an estimated $1.6 trillion, adding about two percent to the global economy.”
This presents a huge opportunity and motivation for businesses to digitize and modernize.
Digitization hasn’t been a priority in the past
What’s led the industry to this point of vast under-digitization? Looking at the last few decades, we see how vital survey information was expensive and time-intensive to acquire.
The industry has the additional challenge of its decentralization: construction happens everywhere with highly variable demand. All of which discourages R&D and keeps building materials simple, sturdy, and assembled using tried-and-true methods.
For those in the industry, this news is nothing new.
But with new drone-based construction tools and automation technology becoming commoditized, there’s a real opportunity to change things for the better, one worksite at a time.
Centimeter-level accuracy has already been achieved
“Today, there are great rovers and cameras on the market. DJI has put those technologies into a flying robot: the Phantom 4 RTK, which costs about $10K,” said Propeller Co-founder and CEO Rory San Miguel. “They take photos as good as a $500 camera and GPS as good as a $20,000 piece of equipment, while flying 400 feet in the air.”
While this is arguably the best price-capability balance for drone surveying, the other element is accuracy. GPS technology cannot feasibly get anymore accurate before it runs into signal noise.
It’s a real-world problem of hardware saturation. When this happens, expending work on any deeper level of accuracy would be wasting time compared to fixing other problems.
How construction can improve productivity and prepare for the future today
The upcoming year will likely have many changes in store, but people are also going to start changing how they think about site operations and management; data collection and storage; and how to make their data work for them.
“Productivity gains are directly driven by transparency and proactive problem resolution,” found McKinsey & Company in a new analysis of the construction technology ecosystem.
“Digital twin platforms and reality-capture solutions enable stakeholders to minimize rework in the 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.”
Looking at the industry 10 years out, the World Economic Forum predicts that full-scale digitization could lead to savings “between $0.7–1.2 trillion (13–21%) in the design and engineering and construction phases and $0.3–0.5 trillion (10–17%) in the operations phase.”
Digitize to take the first step in closing the productivity gap
Digitization is not only a fix for lagging productivity and closing that $1.6 trillion gap, it’s the first and imperative step towards the AI-powered and autonomous-machine future.
Gathering data closer and closer to real-time? Many other industries are already there. But it’s what those capabilities mean for the next step that’s important here.
“Whenever sufficient information can be quantified, modern statistical methods will outperform an individual or small group of people every time,” according to the Harvard Business Review.
This rings especially true for long-term insights and unstructured data.
And what the construction industry is starting to realize is that it has a lot of data and a lot of different kinds of data.
So-called “big data” doesn’t erase the need for human insight. These are simply better tools to do the job. Just as the falling cost of survey data means more work for surveyors, so too does big data mean construction professionals will be able to do their jobs better.
Want to learn how else you can future-proof your construction business? Download our 2019 Construction Industry Trends and Predictions report.
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