A group of my graduate students at Texas A&M University’s construction science dept. mapped the 100-year history of technological development relevant to the construction industry in the form of a Facebook timeline. By taking a comprehensive look backwards at technological milestones we can gain insight into critical information that is often overlooked.
Students compiled relevant videos, images and articles related to these developments. Over the course of this activity, various technology tools of the construction industry were discussed and below are the few excerpts from their Facebook timeline.
• Project Management: Industrial revolution led to the turnaround in the late 18th century that led to large scale construction of modern infrastructure. Such large scale developments led to evolution of project management since 1905, from Gantt chart system to PERT, CPM and ERP systems. Although, the personal computer came into existence in 1970s, computerized project management found its use in construction industry in 1990s.
• Building Information Modeling: The concept of BIM was present since 1970s but the first BIM tool was formulated in 1997. Despite the promising nature of the tool which provides a centralized data model for all the sections of the construction industry, until 2007 only 17% of the construction firms were leveraging this technology.
• Laser Scanning: Laser scanning has been around since 1960s and in 1993, first laser scanner was used by the surveyors and engineers. But the usage of laser scanner in construction industry became prevalent in last few years.
• 3D Printing: 3D Printing came into existence back in 1984 and by early 2010s it was being highly used in the manufacturing industry. In January 2013, first building block of length 2m was printed using a 3D printer and by 2014 we were able to print the an entire house within 24 hours using this technology.
• Drones/UAV: The timeline shows that first UAV was used 100 years back in 1915 during the world war 1 for military purposes, but it was not until the 2000s when commercial operations of Drones started by other industries such as film making, transportation, agriculture etc. In fact, construction industry started utilizing drones as means of data collection during past few years only.
• Artificial Intelligence/ Big Data: AI originated during the Second World War yet as the timeline shows, it was only in last 15 years that AI and Big Data potential was explored. The Intelligent Room (1999) at MIT Artificial Intelligence Lab marked the beginning of this.
For construction where productivity is a source of intense debate in recent years, integration of technology in the work processes has become a necessity to stay profitable and competitive. Learning from the history by finding association between past and present is absolutely rudimentary for construction industry to flourish.