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How Technology Influences the Construction Industry

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ABSTRACT

The purpose of this research is to understand how technology has and will continue to impact the construction industry. The first phase of this research involves interviewing fellow workers within my own company, BMWC Constructors, to utilize personal resources and gain real life input from the array of knowledge and experience found amongst them. Our company has been in business for over 60 years and have been privy to the ever-changing technologies. These interviews will help gather insight into the changes that have occurred throughout the last few decades due to the introduction of technology and automation in this field. The final phase is to conduct my own research to gather and refine information regarding best practices and uses of various technology, as well as note any drawbacks that the implementation of technology has generated. Through the research and personal interviews, this paper will highlight the significant effects technology has had on the advancements within the construction industry.

INTRO, STATE THESIS

It’s difficult to imagine the modern world without technology. It is everywhere we look and used in the majority of our day-to-day lives. It gives us freedom and the opportunity to expand our horizons through travel, offers effortless forms of communication, and provides information at hand at any given moment. We live in a technology driven world, both in our personal lives and in business. From the introduction of the fax machine, to the more recent use of smart phones and flying drones, the impact technology has had across all industries has been astronomical. The construction industry in particular has been greatly affected by the rapidly changing digital world. Brian Acton, President and CEO of BMWC Constructors stated “I have seen more changes in our industry in the last 5 years than I have seen in the previous 30 years” (Personal Communication, July 8, 2018). Due to the new technologies introduced throughout the years, construction projects can now be completed in less time and for less money. Technology has truly positively impacted the construction industry.

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Fax machine/intro of tech in construction

The introduction of the fax machine is one of the first pieces of tech that truly revolutionized the construction industry. Rather than having to rely on the traditional mail system or driving documents between the office and site, the documents could simply be faxed to wherever they were needed in minutes. Sending material price requests to vendors, obtaining marked-up drawings from the head office to site, and sending official submittal or RFI documents were now all achievable by fax. “I’ll never forget the day I got my first fax,” stated Dennis Carroll, a Superintendent with BMWC, “I thought, ‘This is the future of construction right here. It can’t get better than this’.” Dennis wasn’t the only BMWC employee that shared this thought; Allen McIntosh, a BMWC Project Manager said in regards to the fax machine, “We thought the world had changed forever” and the Western Region President, Tony Kanaly answered “Faxing, e-mailing, and BIM/CAD are the three biggest steps I’ve seen,” when asked his thoughts on how the construction industry has changed with technology (A McIntosh; D. Carroll; T. Kanaly, Personal Communcation, July 2018).

BIM/CAD

Building Information Modeling – commonly referred to by the acronym “BIM” – is a function of using 3D computer models to collaboratively design a building (or various other disciplines within construction), rather than relying on a set of 2D drawings. The US National Building Information Model Standard Project Committee formally defines BIM as, “a digital representation of physical and functional characteristics of a facility.” It is quickly becoming common place as a part of the construction process and is growing far more advanced all across the globe. Many clashes or discrepancies can occur on site as the construction process is well underway; BIM assists in detecting issues from early onset to understand exactly where and why these discrepancies will take place, reducing errors in the lifespan of the project

Before BIM and computers, drawings had to be done by hand on velum paper. “Revisions would be highlighted on the back side of the paper so that when they were erased, you would not erase the content of the drawing. As you could imagine, things took more time back then,” stated John Pozeck, one of BMWC’s Estimators (J. Pozeck, Personal Communication, July 3, 2018) Can help Prefab things off site to save time. Better accuracy in estimation Avoidance of error, alterations, and rework due to information loss.

PHYSICAL TOOLS

Barcode scanners for tracking shipments, equipment, and materials. / milwaukee one-key Drones are well known for their use within the military for land risk assessment and bomb detection, as recording devices for concerts or sports events, and more recently as Amazon’s new small item delivery service. Possibly less known is the use of drones within construction. Drones have been used for various tasks such as surveying and mapping, capturing footage for 3-D modelling and job progress, and site visibility (Higgins, 2017). Data acquired can be used across the entire span of a project, starting from the bidding process to the handover to client. This data is imported into various software that can help a team understand current conditions and determine constructability during bidding, track progress and manage material during construction, and provide high-end footage and visual data of the final project. With the introduction of Trimble into the construction industry in 1978, came less human error, better management of risk, wireless communication, and more accurate positioning technologies with the use of GPS and positioning-centric information (Trimble.com, 2018).

BIDDING

The bidding process is one of the major areas within this industry that has seen a huge jump in efficiency and cost savings. The bidding process begins with building a cost and labor estimate from drawings and specification documents to form a material take-off, then submitting a proposal of this work to a client to bid for the chance of managing a construction project from beginning to end. In the past, all material required to put together a bid was in paper-form and all take-offs were done by hand. A multitude of software programs are now available to assist with blending the bidding process and automation. There are apps that now make estimate take-offs quick and easy with the ability to digitally measure, note, and generate take-off sheets, rather than using highlighters and rulers on hard copies of the drawings. New bidding software often has built-in databases to store material costs and labor rates (cost of labor per activity performed), automating the input of costs and rates into the bid forms, ready for final review. Measurements, revisions, referencing back to certain material, pricing, and laboring is no longer the arduous procedure it once was.

When a client releases the drawings and associated documents to contractors, they commonly share these via a file sharing and storage site that requires a private sign in and password. Previously, drawings and documents had to be picked up from the client or mailed to the contractor depending on the amount of paperwork having to be passed over. If a contractor wished to handover a submittal or a RFI (request for information), these would have to mailed and often times the turnaround for a response could take anywhere from 4-6 weeks (T. Kanaly, Personal Communication, July 12, 2018). Now that people are able to share and send large files almost instantly, there is no longer a need to plan out how long it’ll take to mail something or worry about the distance of your potential client’s office.

SOFTWARE/APPS

Bidding software, such as Accubid, McCormick, and PlanSwift, offer material databases for effortless input, automatic take-off of material and their related components, vendor pricing databases, drawing storage, and bid summaries. The estimating procedure varies from person to person which can, at times, cause inconsistencies. These programs offer a large step-up from what estimating once was; from doing all measurements by hand and thumbing through paper-based resources, to automating labor and cost values and referring to built-in specifications. These programs can help create faster, more precise estimates by keeping them consistent, decreasing errors and removing redundancy. Accubid is a recent addition to the BMWC estimating team that, once fully implemented, is expected to decrease the time it takes to undertake bids.

Bluebeam is a popular tablet and desktop-based program that is seen in various construction trades, often used for viewing multi-page documents, marking-up drawings, quantity take-off for estimates, secure form generation, site logistics, and much more. Bluebeam is an impressive tool that is used widely by architects, engineers, and general contractors, assisting in the project design, construction, and completion processes. This tool has taken repetition and frustration out of many processes that had previously been completely paper-based. Revisions to drawings or documents were previously extraordinarily time consuming, requiring every detail and measurement to be done by hand. This program has streamlined countless construction practices, saving both time and money.

SMART PHONES/APPS

This new software has undoubtedly assisted in automating numerous aspects of construction as well as familiarizing new efficiencies within the system. A lot of tools now benefit from the use of programs such as Bluebeam and Accubid and other programs that can be taken on the go. Examples of tech that allow these programs to be used anywhere are smart phones and tablets. Smart phones and tablets have seen a huge increase in use on and off the construction site due to their compact, mobile, and robust offerings. With a wide-ranging selection of new mobile construction apps, it has become easier to make changes and oversee plans via a digital platform. Tablets can easily be hauled and stored around site, eliminating the possibility of disordered or damaged drawings. Handling a large set of drawings or blueprints can pose as an unnecessary safety risk around busy construction sites when required to carry them for long distances or up and down ladders, making the need for a compact device crucial. With tablets, one is able to keep all files in one place and effortlessly refer to any required drawing or document. This also allows for any quick note taking or marking-up to refer to at a later time.

Smart phones bridge the gap between those out on site and in the office. Aside from the obvious means of communication associated with smart phones such as calling, texting, and e-mailing, construction workers can now quickly refer to snags and send any relevant pictures to document the situations occurring on site. “Through smart phones and tablets we’re also able to communicate in real time, using both video and audio, with people off site. This is huge in resolving complex issues that require ‘eyes on the problem’,” Brian Proud, a Project Manager with BMWC, added (Personal Communication, July 2, 2018). Many apps are now available to use such as construction management apps, which can be used to instantly update or send progress or analysis reports, logs, and estimates between others within the company using the app, or scheduling apps to allow workers to better collaborate and schedule when they’re out and about.

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